I think that pilot supply always grabs the headlines, and over the past few years the pilot issue has received all the attention and is a real problem that will hit sometime in the near future. However, at every turn RAA has also been quoted nationwide stating that the problem of an adequate supply of trained maintenance personnel is here today.
While the training problems on the maintenance side may not be as high as on the pilot side, the time and experience requirements for mechanics are substantial. A factor in our favor is the fact that jobs in maintenance are literally beginning to be filled now, and for a young person it is not like making an investment that will pay off somewhere down the road. The payoff is today.
I also think that one of the attractions to this industry is that those maintenance skill sets provide the holder with some degree of flexibility, more so in the maintenance area than for the pilots. The maintenance employees don’t face nearly some of the institutional and built-in barriers to employment that the pilots do. An airline mechanic’s skills can transfer to dozens, if not to hundreds, of career paths. Maintenance is an attractive career path, and I often lament to my son that he should get an A&P.
Back to the staffing problem, one solution is for airlines to be partnering with educational institutions, like high schools with vocational education and community colleges with aviation programs. The government will spend $12 billion on Next Gen and we can and must invest a small percentage of that money in our human capital. Going forward, these people will be responsible to safely maintain and operate this technology and support our industry.
AMT: Are you seeing any maintenance areas or companies where there is promising job growth?
Cohen: I am going to redirect that question to Jim Culora, general manager, Empire Aerospace, one of our member airlines.
Culora: We see a number of our Canadian operators expanding operations by adding additional ATR aircraft to their fleets. This will put a few more regional turbo props in the heavy maintenance cycle. Empire also sees opportunity for Bombardier Dash 8 Q-400 work with several operators adding those to its fleet both in the United States and Canada.
AMT: From your perspective, what are some of the emerging trends in RAA maintenance operations?
Cohen: Today is all about tablets and laptops, and managing data and technology to help manage maintenance operations, help root out problems, and manage risk. All this technology is making maintenance a lot sexier than when people were just turning wrenches several years ago. By using maintenance data and experience, we are making operations more efficient and much safer.
Culora: We see potential growth with Nondestructive Testing (NDT). There have been many new requirements with the aging aircraft and damage tolerant requirements (DTI) programs. We’ve seen an increase in the volume of NDT inspections and MROs must have the equipment and trained personnel to deal with these inspections.
AMT: What is your opinion of the overall level of maintenance currently being performed by regionals?
Cohen: No question, it is top-notch and continues to get better because our industry is more mature now and we know how to react faster and safer. We know how to do things better and safer — maintenance continues to improve.
AMT: Can you comment on the current market outlook for both large MROs and for the specialized component MRO activity in general? Is there work and is more work anticipated?
Cohen: This is a complicated issue and I can comment, but I probably can’t completely answer this question. I think integration and globalization is the trend. Maintenance is becoming a global industry, as with our airframe manufacturers which are in Canada, Brazil, Japan, Western Europe, and now Russia. The leadership in building and maintaining aircraft is a global industry. Maintenance on both mainline and regional airlines is being done around the globe because the level of work has been outstanding. We now have common technology and tools to manage the maintenance process efficiently and safely.
The issue with MRO business is that there is no “one size” that fits all maintenance solutions for all of our member airlines. It is a mix and match, customized maintenance world where everybody that is in this business, or wants to serve the regional airline business, can.
Multi-part initiative to look at human factors in accidents
A few facts and figures.
Officers include: Chair Brad Holt of ExpressJet; Vice Chair Bryan Bedford of Republic Airways Holdings; Treasurer Linda Markham of Cape Air; and Secretary Steve Farrow of Piedmont Airlines.