Brain Drain: Can Developing Nations Sustain Enough Aircraft Technicians?

March 6, 2013
As the loss of qualified technicians to more prosperous regions takes hold, air operators from as far afield as Sub-Saharan Africa, SE Asia and Central America are struggling to find the necessary technicians to meet their daily operational demands.

A skills exodus has long been a constrictive factor affecting emerging markets. Indeed, there are few industries where the impact has been more profound than that of aviation in developing nations. While the issue has been covered a number of times in the case of pilots – equally pressing is that which has brought upheaval to the maintenance sector. For quite some time now the loss of skilled maintenance technicians in developing nations has generated not merely a shortage in local markets, but posed alarming issues for air safety. As the loss of qualified technicians to more prosperous regions takes hold, air operators from as far afield as Sub-Saharan Africa, SE Asia and Central America are struggling to find the necessary technicians to meet their daily operational demands. In order to abate this issue, a closer look at skill retention strategies is vital.

Low pay, poor conditions and protracted efforts to improve the status quo are routinely cited as reasons for the increasing shift of skilled technicians to other regions – in particular the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. For instance, Gulf airlines have shaped a wide pool of expat technicians, offering competitive salaries, tax-exemption and free accommodation, which by and large cannot be matched by airlines based in developing economies. 

Following this, the impact of a brain drain over the last 5-6 years has been profound, most notably in African nations with a large aviation sector, such as Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia. In the case of the latter, the MD of the country’s largest airline (Ethiopian Airlines) suggests a loss in skilled personnel to other countries approaching almost 5 percent every year. The problem is compounded by the fact that training and retaining highly skilled persons is prohibitively expensive in many cases, with a large share of developing countries needing huge investments to expand infrastructural facilities in the sector.

‘When you consider the fact that over the next 20 years the world’s airlines will need to add a further 601,000 technicians to maintain their fleets, including 3,000 in Indonesia and 16,200 in the whole of Africa alone, one questions the capability for growth in markets where a brain drain is apparent. Already we have become aware of workshops staffed with barely enough trained and qualified personnel to meet both daily tasks and subsequent oversight. Undoubtedly, a shortage of qualified maintenance staff in the future will cause disruption to air services, adversely impact on safety and force operators to scale down their operations,’ comments Dainius Sakalauskas, the Deputy Head of FL Technics Training.

In addition, D. Sakalauskas suggests that state-level regulations also contribute to the problem. Policies that restrict the ease of movement for persons on a regional level don’t allow for the adequate allocation of manpower. With the demise of airlines in emerging markets every so often, skilled ex-employees are taking advantage of opportunities further afield, rather than staying in the region where they are needed most. Less bureaucratic hurdles to the regional movement of persons, say for example in Africa, would encourage more skill retention within the continent.

Till now there has been some progress in reducing the extent of a skills exodus. Governments in effected nations have sought the benefits of skill retention plans, including special allowances, defined salary increments and additional non-cash rewards. In the case of Africa, Memoranda of Understanding have also been signed with training bodies in South Korea, Singapore, Turkey and the UAE to encourage a steady flow of local technicians back into the market.

‘Overall, both companies and higher regulatory bodies need to provide internal and external solutions to ensure the retention of technician skills. However, for airlines seeking greater certainty in personnel placement, certain maintenance training outfits can offer long-term package deals to afford a steady-stream of qualified staff. This would avoid the likelihood of shelving lucrative expansion plans because of a current shortage of maintenance technicians,’ comments the Deputy Head of FL Technics Training, Dainius Sakalauskas.

About FL Technics Training:

FL Technics Training is a provider of technical training for the aviation industry. The company offers comprehensive training services including basic training and examination, aircraft type training and specialized training for aircraft maintenance technicians as well as administrative and management personnel. FL Technics Training is part of an integrated aircraft maintenance and repair organization (MRO) FL Technics.

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