It’s no secret that aviation mechanics are in short supply and that the shortage is growing. The growing shortage is due to a confluence of factors: retirement of senior mechanics, fewer A&P students in the pipeline, and the airline layoffs of the last decade.
Many mechanics laid off from the airlines have found other work — some for better pay, some for better hours and some for both; but for whatever reason, they aren’t returning to the aviation maintenance work force.
This presents opportunities for better pay for MRO mechanics that are traditionally paid less than their brothers and sisters at the airlines, especially the majors. Usually the economics of supply and demand mean that a commodity — whether a product or a service — that is in short supply will command a premium. For some reason, that has not always been true for mechanics, especially MRO mechanics.
So, how does a mechanic go about getting paid what he or she should be worth in the current labor market? Here are my top five suggestions:
1. Know the aviation maintenance market.
Find out what airlines — both 121 and 135 operators (passenger and cargo) — and other aviation maintenance providers in your area are paying mechanics with your knowledge, skills, and abilities. Find out what particular skills and abilities are valued by these maintenance providers.
2. Assess your own knowledge, skills, and abilities.
It is important to properly assess your level of skills and abilities against what the market values and needs. You may be very skilled in a particular area but if it’s not a skill that’s needed in the marketplace, it will not help you augment your salary. (For example, I knew a mechanic who spent many years working in a seat shop. He was a whiz at his job — which is an important job; but it was not until he was laid off that he found out, to his chagrin, that there was no market for his skills.)
3. Add to your digital knowledge.
There’s no question that mechanics with knowledge of avionics and electronics are particularly desirable. Adding these skill sets is a way to enhance your current pay, and could help you retain a job if a new round of layoffs hits your shop. (Mechanics I know with these skills who got laid off, did not stay laid off for long, as they were snapped up by other companies.)
4. Market yourself.
Most mechanics I know do a lousy job of selling themselves. But that’s what you need to do to get noticed — and have your pay reflect your worth to the company. So make the time to meet with your boss and discuss opportunities for advancement. Of course, listen to feedback from the boss — maybe his/her assessment of your skills is different than yours. And always stay positive, no matter what the boss says!
5. If all else fails, look elsewhere.
If you can’t get the pay you believe you deserve where you’re working today, you may have to look elsewhere. Sometimes that requires relocating to a different city or even a different part of the country. These aren’t easy decisions for people with families — I know I relocated a number of times in my career — but it may be what you need to do to get ahead.
The labor shortages are not good news for the aviation industry; but they could be good news for the individual mechanic.
John Goglia has 40+ years experience in the aviation industry. He was the first NTSB board member to hold an FAA aircraft mechanic’s certificate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.