The next 20 years and beyond look like good years to be an aircraft mechanic. First and foremost, is the global increase in air travel that is driving an increase in aircraft purchasing. Of course, more aircraft mean more mechanics to maintain them. This is true, according to the 2013 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook, even though new aircraft are more reliable and maintenance check intervals will lengthen. Boeing’s study predicts a global need for 556,000 new maintenance technicians over the next 20 years, with 97,900 new technical personnel required in North America.
Avionics and retrofitting
The introduction of new aircraft means changes in maintenance programs and changes in technical training for mechanics. Not only are there new avionics in the cockpits of these new aircraft but there is a growing need to retrofit the avionics in many of our older aircraft. Even five- or six-year-old aircraft — which are young by some standards— will need to be retrofitted because of the rapid changes in technology. In addition, electronics are rapidly changing the interior of our aircraft —both new and old. Some of those changes are obvious to passengers — such as individual screens on the backs of every seat, on-board Wi-Fi, and the advent of electronically controlled, lie-flat seats.
At the same time as these changes in aircraft avionics and electronics, changes in aircraft materials are changing the maintenance requirements of these new and retrofitted aircraft. In addition to changes in composites used to make structural components of the aircraft, composites are being used more and more within the airplane itself. Floors and floor beams, for example, are now made of high-strength composite material. Working with these composites requires new maintenance skills and therefore new maintenance training.
Training and advancement
All these technological changes provide opportunities for mechanics who want to add to their skill base and increase their opportunities for employment and advancement. Students in Part 147 schools that do not offer courses in these advanced technologies should look for additional outside sources for training. Current mechanics, interested in working in these new areas, should do the same.
One low-cost option is to look at IA renewal training, even if you are not an IA. Often these renewal sessions offer no-cost or low-cost introductory training on emerging technologies provided by aircraft manufacturers. At a minimum, mechanics can check out these courses and see if they are interested in working in these areas.
But what if you like the job you are currently doing and don’t want to learn the skills necessary to work on these new aircraft systems? The future looks bright for you, as well. While new aircraft are coming on line and many are being retrofitted, thanks to anticipated mechanic retirements over the next 10 to 20 years, there will still be a growing need for mechanics who understand the current generation of aircraft.
So the choice is really yours whether you choose to continue to work on legacy aircraft or decide to learn the skills necessary to work on the new generation. And it’s nice for mechanics to be in that position.
John Goglia has 40+ years experience in the aviation industry. He was the first NTSB member to hold an FAA aircraft mechanic’s certificate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.