Raising the Standards - ATEC, Private Sector Doing Their Part to Train Aviation Maintenance Students

April 20, 2017

If you were an aircraft technician working during World War II, you would have needed to know how to service pressure carburetors, which were an important component of the fuel systems found on many aircraft flying over the European and Pacific theaters.

If you’re a student learning to become an aircraft technician today, and enrolled in a Part 147 certified school, the curriculum will mandate you learn the principles of pressure carburetors. The problem is, you’ll likely never see a pressure carburetor in your career. So why do you need to learn it?

That question has been raised more and more in the past few years. The Part 147 curriculum to become a certified aircraft mechanic covers areas that, like pressure carburetors, aren’t applicable to today’s aircraft.

“Part 147 dictates curriculum requirements that haven’t been updated in 50 years, so our schools are teaching some antiquated subjects that aren’t meeting the current needs of industry,” says Crystal Maguire, executive director, Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC) (www.atec-amt.org).

ATEC has made updating these curriculum standards a top priority, but they’re not alone in working for this cause. The private sector aviation companies, through industry events like the Aerospace Maintenance Competition Presented by Snap-on, are sharing their knowledge and resources to retain more students in the aviation industry, and better equip them with the skills needed to contribute in the early stages of their careers.


Founded in 1961, ATEC’s mission is to promote and support aviation maintenance technician education to meet the aerospace industry’s workforce needs. The council is operated by a board of directors with resumes that reach deep within all facets of education and aviation maintenance.

The idea of updating the FAA-mandated curriculum taught in all Part 147 schools throughout the United States isn’t exactly new, as various efforts have been made for the past two decades. What’s different this time around is that all parties (schools, airlines, MROs, etc.) are on the same page and using their collective strength to elicit change.

“The schools want to create candidates that actually meet the employers’ needs; regulatory requirements make that challenging,” Maguire says. “Employers are putting new hires through months of training to ensure they have the skills and knowledge required to perform assigned tasks.”

While updating regulation that governs technical school curriculum is a move that needs to happen, could it lead to added costs that schools must absorb when obtaining the new equipment related to those updates?

“I think everyone is in favor of updates (to the curriculum), but when you start making changes and updates like that, you start talking about expense,” says James Howard, airframe structures instructor at George T. Baker Aviation Technical College, a Part 147 school in Miami that is operated by the Miami-Dade Public School System. The program currently comprises about 1,000 high school and adult students studying for careers in aviation. “It comes down to the FAA, the school board, and others getting together to decide what needs to be done and what can be done.”

Howard says securing aircraft for students to train on can be a costly expenditure, and any upgrades to the course work may necessitate schools getting their hands on an aircraft.

“It’s very expensive to get aircraft, and the airlines don’t give them to us like they used to,” he says, adding that his school is fortunate to have a Boeing 737 and a McDonnel Douglas MD-82 for training.

Howard isn’t alone in his concerns about budgets and the availability of equipment. In a 2016 survey to evaluate key industry trends of Part 147 schools, the most concerning issues facing these schools were unavailable or inaccessible government funding, followed by limited access to training equipment (survey results were based on responses from 47 of the 178 Part 147 schools operating in the United States).

Terry Dunkin, an instructor at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, IA, agrees that the curriculum needs to be reviewed and updated, but is worried the revisions might go too far and eliminate tasking that, in his opinion, may need to stay.

For example, he says that welding is being considered for removal from the Part 147 teachings, and being replaced with a limited section on welding inspection – a move that may be short-sighted.

“If you really don’t know how a weld is made, do you really know what you’re looking at when inspecting a weld, because a weld can look good and still not really be sound,” he says. “I’m cautious on some things that may get eliminated because the technician is still responsible for engine mounts, and other structures that are welded. There are still tasks that require the technicians to determine if that part is airworthy or not.”

Dunkin acknowledges that it’s going to be hard to please everyone in the new Part 147 curriculum. The opinions of those with general aviation backgrounds, like Dunkin, are likely going to differ from those with commercial aviation experience, on the issue of the relative importance of various curriculum elements.

“It’s time for the curriculum to be looked at, but my concern is not to go about it half-heartedly and start chopping things that could be an issue. But where that line is, it’s pretty hard to say,” he says.

Industry Expertise

Arming students with skills, experiences, and certifications not only prepares them for success, but ensures that aviation maintenance jobs are filled by the best and brightest. In recent years, the private sector has stepped up to do its part to help train and certify the next generation of technicians.

Snap-on, for example, has developed an education program to certify students on the proper use of tools and equipment for the aviation industry. Snap-on partners with well over 300 technical schools and community colleges, including many Part 147 schools, to facilitate the certification training. These certifications usually involve 16 to 24 hours of instruction, and are weaved into the school’s aviation maintenance curriculum. The certifications provide conformity and an across-the-board standard for the partnering colleges and schools to teach in-depth instruction on tool use, theory, and application.

Electrical Measurement (multimeter), Torque (mechanical and electronic), and the two newest courses, Structural and Sheet Metal Repair, and Precision Electrical Termination, which are debuting in select Part 147 schools later this year, are four applicable aviation-focused certifications offered through Snap-on’s education program. The Precision Electrical Termination certification is a joint partnership between Snap-on and Daniels Manufacturing Corporation.

Partnerships between the private sector and education institutions benefit everyone involved. From the schools’ standpoint, it allows them to offer more highly specialized training on tools, equipment, and related disciplines, making them more attractive to prospective students. This collaboration helps create academic programs tailored to the current needs of the aviation industry – the more skills and certifications students can pick up in school, the more prepared they’ll be for success when entering the workforce. This is the real benefit to students. When they apply for a job within the aviation industry, having these added skills on their resumes (on top of their degrees), makes them much more desirable candidates to fill the positions.

Schools such as Wichita Area Technical College in Wichita, KS; Pima Community College in Tucson, AZ; Teterboro School of Aeronautics in Teterboro, NJ; and Wayne Community College in Goldsboro, NC, are just some of the schools partnering with Snap-on and offering certifications. Snap-on also supports the Northrop Rice Foundation by annually funding five tool scholarships of $4,000 each.

Networking Events

Rubbing shoulders with seasoned industry professionals is a great way for students to network and get themselves in front of potential employers. The Aerospace Maintenance Competition Presented by Snap-on is one such venue.

Held during the MRO Americas Convention, April 25-27, in Orlando, the AMC (www.aerospacecompetition.com) is a one-of-a-kind event that honors the skills and functions performed by certified aircraft technicians around the world.

The competition is also open to students enrolled in either FAA, EASA, CASA, or equivalently authorized schools, and military personnel who are involved in aircraft and spacecraft maintenance. Teams test their skills by competing in more than 20 tasks. This year, 16 colleges are fielding 21 teams in the AMC; 54 total teams have entered.

Maguire says events like the AMC are a great opportunity for aviation students to network and secure employment within the industry. According to a recent ATEC survey, only 60 percent of aviation students test for their A&P license right out of school. Additionally, 25 percent of students graduating from an A&P school are choosing a career outside of aviation maintenance.

The answer lies in defining a clear career path for students to apply their skills and advance into aviation. The key to making this happen is continuing to foster strong relationships between schools and local employers, and advocating involvement in the AMC and other events that bring schools and students together with industry, Maguire says.

“The best advice is for people to get involved with their local schools; if you want to have the high-quality supply of students, you have to be part of the process,” she says. “It’s hard for schools to do it on their own. They need the direction, they need the equipment, and they need the monetary support. It’s a global issue that can be solved locally.”

Steve Staedler is a senior account executive at LePoidevin Marketing, a Brookfield, WI-based business-to-business marketing firm that specializes in the tooling and aerospace industries. Steve has been covering aeronautical maintenance for nearly 10 years; is a former newspaper reporter and retired master sergeant from the U.S. Air Force Reserve, where he worked maintenance and public affairs. He can be reached at steve@lepoidevinmarketing.com; (262) 754-9550; or www.lepoidevinmarketing.com.