General aviation's perspective on maintenance training

General Aviation's Perspective on Maintenance Training The Impact of Technology By Fred Workley November 1998 Fred Workley is the president of Workley Aircraft and Maintenance Inc. in Manassas, VA. He is on the technical committees of...

This is because general aviation covers all civil activity except the air carriers. As noted earlier, this sector of the industry encompasses a wide variety of aircraft from single-engine, piston aircraft built prior to World War II to the latest state-of-the-art, multi-engine jet aircraft. Old aircraft are still in service and they will be around a long time with proper maintenance and corrosion control.

Most technicians in general aviation need to have many mechanical skills as opposed to being a specialist. These skills tend to be basic skills such as working with sheet metal, servicing hydraulic systems, and trouble shooting electrical malfunctions.

General aviation, at one time, was viewed as a training ground for the airlines. When the airlines were hiring in great numbers, this was true. With the onset of layoffs at many airlines, newly graduated technicians from schools, who had sound basic mechanical skills, were finding their first jobs in general aviation. Many still find life-long careers at fixed base operators or at air taxi operators. The airlines are hiring again, but so is everyone else including the general aviation sector.General aviation also offers individuals apprenticeships and work experience, so that those who have not gone to a formal Part 147 school might qualify to test for the Airframe and Powerplant license. Likewise, general aviation provides those with military training exposure to civilian aircraft and gain work experience in order to qualify to take the Federal Aviation Administration written tests.

The individuals with military experience tend to be older and more experienced than other entry-level applicants for employment; however, the military personnel tend to be specialists. Often they must expand their specialty areas and acquire a broader range of basic skills to maintain general aviation aircraft. As school populations slowly shift to include minorities, disadvantaged individuals, and women, these groups are finding ready employment in general aviation. Many small aviation businesses are finding that it is to their advantage to actively recruit and financially assist these groups. Some businesses have started promoting the AMT occupation within their local secondary schools so that they have a local pool of future employees. This often requires a long-term commitment to technician training. Later in their career, many of these general aviation technicians acquire advanced skills that enable those holding an Airframe and Powerplant license to qualify for an Inspection Authorization. Many have general radiotelephone licenses and have taken advanced technical training that may include manufacturer's schools that teach selected aircraft systems.

Many general aviation aircraft currently incorporate 40 years of design technology. General aviation is constantly updating and adding modifications to the fleet by replacing engines, instrumentation, systems, and navigation equipment. This includes very high bypass engines and electronic instrumentation known as glass cockpits that replace the conventional dials and gages with electronic visual displays. These general aviation aircraft use computer monitoring and test systems with built-in test equipment called BITE, navigate with Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and in the very near future will incorporate fly-by-wire and fly-by-light systems. One of the big needs in the general aviation sector is to have technicians who can adapt to this new technology as technological advances are accelerating.

More and more old aircraft are being retrofitted with new and advanced systems. Technicians need to master this new technology. Also, technicians who are capable of learning the latest hardware and software will be in ever increasing demand in all general aviation categories, and they will be increasing the value of their skill. This alone generates an on-going demand for training.

Automation in testing and the use of new materials for repairs are two specific areas of training needs. This includes not only the challenge of glass cockpits, but also automation in once common repair processes. It takes a complicated machine to make repairs to composite materials. Instead of using rivets in sheet metal patches, we now use boron lay-up patches that require a high level of installer proficiency since they must be placed correctly the first time with controlled temperatures and pressures. Aircraft maintenance technicians, who have long dedicated careers in general aviation, are now finding that they are required to bridge the technology gap from the simple, unsophisticated equipment that they have known all their career to some very high-tech skill on the latest systems and equipment.

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