There is encouraging news for aircraft maintenance personnel from the world of training suppliers.

Going back in time, I recall when attending a maintenance course was a big deal for most technicians, not so much initial systems but any kind of refresher or self-improvement lesson. Remember when the boss said, “I’ll send you to training, but what will you give me in return.” Of course, many a manager learned the hard way that it was, to coin a phrase, pay me now or pay me later. Hopefully those days are gone and your organization accepts the costs in time and money to train.

According to the latest figures, there are, approximately, 223,000 operating aircraft in the U.S., 204,000 needing a licensed tech or MRO for sign off. These aircraft range from J-3s to A-380s and 787s. Putting aside the dope and fabric gen, current and future aircraft require technicians to be knowledgeable on subjects that include — fly by wire, glass cockpits, AMS (aircraft management systems), electronic documentation, human factors in the workplace, composite structures, alternate fuels, and high-tech metallurgy.

Unfortunately, the deficiencies in courses taught at 147 schools and the needs of modern maintenance will continue until the FAA commits to rewriting Part 147. Look at some of the differences between U.S. requirements and EASA. EASA necessitates practical training to work on specific equipment and all approved U.S. EASA repair stations must incorporate human factors training.

For the future

What should today’s technician training include beyond the standard systems courses? Try the following: critical thinking skills, human factors, fatigue management, communications — the ability to convey ideas both verbally and in writing, and appreciation for quality, integrity, and efficiency.

With the previous in mind, why be excited about the future? To begin with, it is clear more organizations are learning that training is a necessity and that there is a payback.

Look at the recent study related to fatigue management done by Dr. Bill Johnson, chief scientific and technical advisor to the FAA. His study proved that the ROI for the investment in fatigue management training was in excess of several hundred percent producing significant savings in personnel and aircraft accident experience. As management realizes financial gains, more investment will be made in training. As training companies recognize profit from costs to develop more sophisticated learning tools there will be greater program improvement. As Dr. Johnson stated “… investment in training is market driven.”

Relating to the previous, predictions call for a need for some 33,500 new airliners by 2030, and another 10,000 business aircraft by 2018. That’s a bunch of new, sophisticated airplanes that require expert, cost-efficient maintenance. And a lot of it will be done in the U.S. My friend, John Goglia, informed me that there will be a need for some 10 to 12,000 licensed technicians in the U.S. in the next five years.

This demand for well-trained technicians will require better, more cost-efficient training courses. Current and on the horizon, are:

  • Courses that use desktop computers to replicate systems. For example, see what happens throughout the hydraulic system when the gear is lowered.
  • Interactive 3-D programs that enhance realism and learning by doing.
  • Virtual aircraft courses that enable technicians to enter compartments and check or replace components, just as if they were in a real aircraft.
  • E-Learning, used to deliver courses to disparate audiences worldwide at the same time, bringing greater economies of scale.
  • Greater use of simulators for engine run up and taxi practice. This results in less risk to the aircraft and powerplant and provides a better learning environment.

In summary, there is a growing need for smart, qualified technicians. Aircraft maintenance training is moving ahead to keep up with the demand. There are fewer reasons for inadequate preparedness in maintaining aircraft.

Nick Sergi has a rich background of aviation experience. He retired as Director of Maintenance Training Services for FlightSafety after more than 34 years of service with the company. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an aviator, both fixed wing and helicopter rated.