Where have all the good times gone?

April 6, 2006
Not too many years ago, getting a job with the airlines was something to strive for, the pinnacle of career success. Nowadays, you can't find too many mechanics that believe that anymore.

Have the days having a successful aircraft maintenance career in the airlines come and gone? Will airline maintenance jobs ever recover from the pummeling they have received over the last several years, or are the good times gone forever?

Think about it -- not too long ago getting a job with the airlines meant career success for an aircraft mechanic. Airline jobs were high-paying and there was a reasonable amount of job security. Heck, there was even the opportunity for career advancement. I remember when I first started working as a mechanic I would read all the job postings wondering how I could get my foot in the door for an interview with an airline. Even as recently as five years ago, aircraft mechanics were doing fairly well. Northwest mechanics took home an industry-leading wage package, and United mechanics were able to negotiate a fairly good contract after years of stalemates.

Then came 9/11. And SARS. And escalating fuel prices. And the excuses go on and on.

Now, aircraft maintenance jobs have been decimated. Northwest mechanics went on strike last year, and are technically still on strike. United’s Indianapolis Maintenance Center was shut down. Hundreds, no, thousands of jobs have been lost as airlines outsource more and more of their work. Everywhere you turn, you read news about bankruptcies, wage concessions, and lost jobs.

I believe the most dangerous part of this trend to outsource more and more work is the brain drain that is occurring. Think about it. There has always been a line of progression in an A&P's career. He or she would usually start out working scheduled maintenance. Then came unscheduled maintenance and line maintenance. Mechanics learned not only from the maintenance manuals, but from important lessons on the job. Those little quirks about each aircraft that the maintenance manuals wouldn’t tell you about. That little trick that helped reduce troubleshooting time, etc. The grey hairs would pass on their knowledge to the green horns. But now, that learning opportunity has all but vanished.

Where does this bean-counting cost-cutting mentality lead to? Is there a point where cost-cutting leads to safety issues? If that is true, will airlines realize it in time, or will it take a major accident and customer backlash to open their eyes?

What do you think about the whole situation? Where do we go from here?

Thanks for reading, and as always I appreciate your feedback.

Joe Escobar