Test Skills, Raise Awareness, and Build for the Future

Feb. 21, 2017
Snap-on partners with industry in its annual sponsorship of Aerospace Maintenance Competition

What do the Super Bowl, World Series, and the Stanley Cup all have in common? It pits the best-of-the-best in their respective sport against each other to determine the champion. Of course, if you want to see who the best-of-the-best in aviation maintenance is, then 2017 Aerospace Maintenance Competition Presented by Snap-on is where it’s at.

People have been taking to the skies for more than 100 years, and that’s due in large part to the skills of talented technicians, mechanics, and engineers who keep aircraft flying safely. Most of the time, these unsung heroes of flight are out of sight. But for three days in Orlando this April, these all-stars become the main attraction.

Knowledge – Skills – Integrity

“The men and women here are the faces behind safety in aviation. What we’re doing is taking a spotlight and shining it on a skilled craft that maintains aircraft around the world,” says Ken MacTiernan, chairman of the Aerospace Maintenance Competition Presented by Snap-on. “This event is all about raising the awareness in the public, and to an extent, the industry of the knowledge, skills, and integrity of today’s aircraft engineers and technicians.”

Held during Aviation Week’s MRO Americas conference, the AMC provides a venue for professional AMTs and AMEs, as well as students, to come together in friendly competition, test their skills against each other, and give a loud shout-out of their presence in the industry.

“The integrity with which these technicians have to do their job is incredible and the responsibilities on them are even more incredible. This gives them some recognition; general awareness for the public about what they do is a big, big thing,” says David Leo, a line maintenance supervisor with American Airlines. Last year was the first time American fielded a team in the competition, but Leo says it won’t be the last.

American will be joining more than 50 teams from around the world representing major airlines, MROs, military and technical schools, such as Qantas Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Boeing, U.S. Air Force, Embry-Riddle, and others competing in this year’s AMC, April 25-27, at the Orlando Convention Center in Orlando, FL. These teams compete head-to-head in 24 challenges that test their knowledge, skill, and expertise in avionics, safety wiring, fiber optics, cable rigging, hydraulics, jet engine troubleshooting, workplace SMS, and more. Teams compete to see who’s best among their category (Commercial Aviation, General Aviation, Space, School, Military, and MRO/OEM). Each event has a 15-minute time limit, so the action is exciting, fast paced, and great drama for spectators to watch.

All teams are competing for the privilege of taking home the grand prize in aviation maintenance – the William F. “Bill” O’Brien Award for Excellence in Aircraft Maintenance, presented by Snap-on. The team with the overall best score earns this prestigious award, which signifies the highest standard of excellence in aviation maintenance.

The O’Brien Award is a traveling trophy that debuted at the 2013 competition. Alaska Airlines Team Seattle bested 50 other teams last year to capture the 5-foot-tall trophy, and has had the honor of displaying it in their facility in Seattle for the past year. Previous winners include FedEx Indianapolis in 2015, Boeing Seattle in 2014 and FedEx LAX in 2013.

As the official tool sponsor for the AMC, Snap-on donates more than $75,000 in tools and equipment as prizes to the top finishers in the competition.

Additionally, one professional and one student are recognized for their professionalism, enthusiasm, and camaraderie – elements that define the AMC, and are named recipients of the Charles E. Taylor Professional AMT Award. Dallas McLeod of the U.S. Army’s Team Apache and Gina Gottfredson-Kelly from Salt Lake Community College were recipients of the Taylor AMT Award last year.

Honoring the Past — and the Future — of the Industry

The awards are named in honor of two pioneers of modern aircraft maintenance: William F. “Bill” O’Brien and Charles E. Taylor. Bill O’Brien was a pilot, flight instructor, and certified aircraft mechanic who worked for the FAA for more than two decades, making significant contributions to aviation education throughout his career. Taylor earned his place in aviation as the mechanic and engineer for the Wright Brothers, designing and building the 12-horsepower aluminum engine that powered the first manned flight.

But it’s not all about history. The future of the aerospace maintenance industry is in the spotlight at the AMC, and it looks good. In 2009, the first year of the competition, just nine teams competed; in 2016, 51 teams competed, almost half of which were student teams – a statistic MacTiernan finds very heartening for the industry’s outlook.

“It just shows that in the pipeline we have a new generation of skilled technicians ready to make their mark,” MacTiernan says. “And as those who are already established get ready to retire, knowing we have a trained, motivated force coming up is a comforting thought.”

Competition in Name Only

MacTiernan likes to stress that the AMC is a chance for all AMTs, not just students, to keep learning and improving.

“We don’t just learn and stop. What I don’t know, someone else will know. And they teach me, and I pass it along. It’s how we become stronger,” he says.

The importance of teamwork, for both the professionals and students, is a major theme annually for those attending.

“The AMC is a way to learn how to work better as a team … to really grow in the industry,” says Maida Ortiz, a team member from Redstone College in Colorado. She said what she took away from last year’s AMC is a sense of camaraderie among the aerospace maintenance “family.”

Gary Driscoll, one of Salt Lake Community College’s team leaders at the 2015 competition, agrees.

“In this industry, you can’t do things on your own, you have to function as a team,” he says. “We learned how to work under pressure, with distractions, and we got to compete with some of the best in the industry, amazing teams that we got to go head-to-head with.”

That’s exactly what John Goglia, the Aerospace Maintenance Competition’s Executive Director and a 40-year veteran of the industry, likes to hear.

“It’s really a competition in name only,” he says. “In aircraft maintenance, we’re all in this together. The military teams, the corporate teams, the schools, they’re all mingling together. There’s a lot of mentoring going on here between the professionals in the business and the students. And that’s what this event is all about. I love every minute of it; it’s just great.”

“One of the best things I’ve seen among my team and others is the willingness to help some of the students from the schools, help them along, give them some pointers, regardless of the fact that they’re competing against each other,” adds Leo.

Sponsoring the Future

Snap-on has a rich history in aviation, dating back more than 75 years. So, it’s a natural fit to be involved in the AMC as its presenting sponsor.

“The Aerospace Maintenance Competition is important to Snap-on because it’s important to recognize these technicians and the critical role they play in the industry,” says Scott Steward, business development manager, Snap-on. “We know there are job forecasts that predict there may be a shortage of trained mechanics. We want to help tell students who are in school deciding what they want to do that the field of aviation maintenance is a strong career to enter. That’s why it’s important we see this event continue to expand, not only in terms of the number of teams participating, but also by increasing the general public’s awareness of the aviation world and what a great opportunity it holds for employment.”

For some students, that career starts at the AMC. Brandon Dubberly, the 2015 Charles E. Taylor Professional AMT Award recipient and recent graduate of Eastern Florida State College, says the event was a great networking opportunity for him and other students to meet industry professionals.

“The AMC is perfect for students as it can’t be any better for someone getting ready to graduate and receiving the exposure to something like this,” he says. “The AMC got my name out there, and I had a few people hand me business cards interested in talking with me about future jobs. It’s a great venue for students.”

The Aerospace Maintenance Competition Presented by Snap-on is held during the MRO Americas conference, April 25-27, in Orlando, FL. For more information on the event, to enter a team, or become a sponsor, contact AMC Chairman Ken MacTiernan at jetdoctor69@gmail.com or visit www.aerospacemaintenancecompetition.com.

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. Staedler 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.