FAA makes the regulations and oversees the AMT schools. School personnel adhere to the regulations, develop and deliver curricula, and try to ensure that current training is matched to learners’ needs and to job requirements. There are many opportunities for improvements.
Earlier this year two conferences dedicated sessions to asking students about their perspective as the recipients of maintenance training. The sessions were at the Halldale World Aviation Training Symposium (WATS) and at the National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA) Maintenance Manager’s Conference. The students articulated a mature and respectful opinion of the FAA and of their respective schools. However, the students were perplexed that aviation maintenance training rules and practices have not evolved like most other training and education, in other college classes.
The students were from Western Michigan University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and Middle Tennessee State University. In most cases the students were in the final stages of programs that award a university degree and preparation to certify as an Airframe and Powerplant aviation maintenance technician. Most of the students were in the lows 20s, or late 20s if they had some military experience.
Let’s look at the student perspective.
Why do students gravitate to aviation maintenance training?
Every student had a clear reason for being in an aviation maintenance curriculum. No one just “ended-up” there. Some had relatives in aviation but that was not the most popular answer. Many had a view that there is an upcoming shortage of qualified personnel with “Return to Service” authority. Most expressed confidence that the college degree and the maintenance certification would ensure immediate satisfying employment in aviation or any number of technical fields.
Some of the students were interested in flight and were building hours and ratings accordingly. The pilots felt that the maintenance training ensured that they were more qualified than other entry-level flight crew members. It was a delight to know that many of the students expressed a long-time interest in aerospace and aviation. It seems like that interest permeates the profession from the young students to the seniors in our industry.
Did they make the right decision, selecting an AMT program?
The answer was “yes!” A research purist would suggest that there was some bias in the group. The students that represented their universities were a select group and ready to graduate. The timing would be inappropriate to say that it was not a good decision.
In side discussions the students said that those who did not like aviation withdrew early in the program. Those former students recognized early that they were not inclined for the rigors and regiment of a maintenance training program. They were among a very high percentage of undergraduates who often “change majors.”
The primary likes and dislikes?
The students understood that their school curriculum is driven by FAA regulations and the opinion/interpretation of a local FAA Aviation Safety Inspector. With that caveat they had numerous likes and dislikes. They liked the fact that they have developed the ability to learn about and understand “technical things.” They felt that the combination of technical information and hands-on laboratory work prepared them for AMT certification. They felt that, given the right documentation, they could fix anything. That trait is shared by most competent whether students or experienced AMTs.
For the most part, the students felt that it took too much time to learn some of the fundamentals, like math, electricity, regulations, and such knowledge-based things. They felt that they should be able to use technology-based training media to accelerate through the basics. That would give them time to learn about modern aircraft systems and topics like composites. The students did not blame their schools or their instructors. They felt that the FAA was an obstacle to learning more within the required number of training hours. Most felt they could capitalize on instructional technology to build expanded knowledge and skill with the prescribed duration of the training.
The students felt the curricula could be improved by letting them accelerate through the topics that they can master quickly. They said that learning should be based on mastery of knowledge and skill rather than on number of hours in a class or a lab. Of course, competency-based training is a practice that exists in most current curricula, except prescribed aviation maintenance, training.
Comments about apprenticeships and type ratings
The students understood that certifying staff in Canada, Europe, and other non-FAA regulated countries spend more time in training and in on-the-job learning. They liked the idea of learning more, even if it took more time. They felt that additional knowledge and skill would help ensure employment and also a higher starting wage.
There were a variety of career aspirations. The range included jobs like aviation missionary work in developing countries to working on modern rotary wing aircraft for a manufacturer. Airline mechanic was not a popular choice.
The bottom line
The female and male students who spoke at the two conferences were glad to be entering a career that involves aviation maintenance. The students observed, at both conferences, that the audience was comprised of gray/no hair males that have retirement in the foreseeable future. That means that there are a lot of opportunities for properly qualified job incumbents.
The students paid close attention to the advice that aviation is a global industry and that they must consider their employment opportunities accordingly. Students listened closely as the large manufacturers talked about the looming worldwide shortage of aviation personnel. They recognized that there were many opportunities to modernize maintenance training practices but were confident the current system has them prepared for a first job.
The bright young aviation maintenance students that spoke at WATS and NBAA made the audience and this author feel that the future of aviation maintenance will be in good hands. It would serve the industry well to listen to the student opinion more often.
Dr. William Johnson has spent more than 30 years as senior executive and scientist for engineering companies specializing in technical training and human factors before joining FAA in 2004. He is also an aviation maintenance technician and has been a pilot for more than 45 years.