There may be nothing more important in an aircraft maintenance technician’s repertoire than their tools and toolbox. For the budding technician in school who’s working towards their A&P license, the road towards acquiring that all important set of tools can seem daunting. With many different companies to choose from and price points to compare, knowing what’s the best tool not only for a job, but for the individual, isn’t always straightforward. It’s a problem that Michael Sasso, director of education at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance (AIM), says many of his students grapple with.
“First and foremost, tools are expensive. That's the big thing. We see all the prices and we get sticker shock pretty quickly. But I think the second thing is, they either have this mentality of, ‘I have to buy the most expensive tools, that's what's going to make me the best mechanic,’ or it's, ‘You know what? I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to afford having a decent set of tools.’ And I think that's the mindset when they see the prices in some of the tool catalogs. They look at that and they get sticker shock,” explains Sasso.
Helping to alleviate some of the struggles that those students face is Sonic Tools, who over a year ago partnered with AIM to integrate their tools with AIM’s courses and be the sole marketer of tools allowed on AIM campuses.
A newcomer into the aviation tooling market at three years, but with 50 years of experience in the tool industry, Sonic Tools is making their mark with their research-backed, shadow-formed toolboxes.
“The intermediate box, which is our biggest seller, was literally built off of the minimum required tool list from almost all the regional airlines and a few of the majors,” says Scott Saxton, vice president aviation and education solutions at Sonic Tools. “We asked for the minimum required tool lists from American, Delta, United, their regionals, and large MRO’s like Duncan Aviation. We took these lists and compiled a master list which consisted of the common denominators. The process itself took just over three months.”
Those three months of hard work paid off for Sonic Tools, resulting in a toolbox that has everything in it a mechanic needs when entering the industry. The toolbox also sports items that Sonic considers “luxury tools” not required by all of the companies polled, such as an angle and ratcheting wrenches.
“It's really based off of what the industry is requiring from a minimum starting standpoint. And then we added some tools to that tool set that we call luxury items like ratcheting wrenches. They weren't on any of the required tool lists, but we know that ratcheting wrenches are one of the highest sought after tools outside of minimum,” Sasso elaborates.
The diligence to their research is one factor that helped Sonic Tools land it’s partnership with AIM.
“They won our business through some research where they put together tool lists from all of the different airlines and employers where our graduates would be going to, and then they went back and put together tool lists from all the different A&P schools, from part 147 schools, and they combined all those lists and threw them on the table and said, ‘Look, we've been doing some research and it looks like you have a common theme here. Could we put together a box that makes sense for your students?’” Sasso recounts.
While Sonic Tools’ Intermediate Toolbox boasts everything a mechanic in the field might need, it’s unique in other aspects, as well – chiefly shadowing the toolbox, which Sasso says helps teach students a valuable lesson.
“Sonic has this great idea where they've pre-shadowed all the toolboxes, and tool control is paramount in aviation and so having the shadowing in the toolbox, it makes the mechanic or trains the younger mechanic to keep track of their tools, and to make sure they don't end up in an airplane somewhere,” says Sasso.
Shadowing may not be a new technique for toolboxes. Used in the automotive tooling world for efficiency, Saxton says that he recognized that tool control was the paramount advantage to a shadowed aviation toolbox.
“When I came on board with the company back in 2016, I saw the value of the shadowing in the aviation world, which was tool control. It was nothing about efficiency, but tool control. So, we built a box back in 2016, went after the aviation world, caught the attention of a few people, and then evolved our box according,” Saxton says.
No doubt the features of Sonic Tools’ box are helpful for the budding aviation mechanic, however, there remains the issue of sticker shock and a mechanic leaving school with either no or an inadequate set of tools. This, though, too Sonic Tools has covered by offering financing to AIM students.
“We've got some programs set up that help with financing and stuff for the people who are with lower-end credit scores. So, we have a program with them that helps ensure that almost all their students have the ability to have tools when they leave there, regardless of their credit or financial situation when they graduate,” explains Saxton. “It's kind of like we're basing the credit on their future, not their true credit history. It's more based on the fact they get their A&P license, they're going to get hired, they're going to get a job and make decent money. They should be able to pay their debt to the tools.”
“Sonic came to us with a plan that made toolboxes affordable for the students. And with financing that was non-approval, they were carrying the financing for the students; because most students could not qualify to finance an expensive toolbox. And then, the school kits that they were buying were insufficient for when they went out in the real world and became employed,” adds Sasso.” The students are pretty happy with the quality of the tooling and the affordability of it. These are boxes that have led them out into jobs.”
And financing a student’s tools isn’t the only novel approach Sonic takes to help young mechanics on the rise. It is bringing a millennial-mindset to warranting and servicing tools.
“If you're buying from a tool truck and you break something, the idea is that the tool truck comes by and you can go on the truck and exchange your tool for a new tool. Where, with us, you literally take a picture with your phone, send us the picture and your shipping information, and we ship you a new tool based on you saying the tool’s dead. There's no receipt that's required,” Saxton explains.
Saxton says tools need not appear physically broken in the picture to be exchanged, giving the example of a stripped out ratchet that would on the outside appear fine.
“We're trusting you when you say it's broken. So, within 24 hours of you sending us that picture, we have a new tool that's coming out to you,” continues Saxton.
“The service aspect is huge, and with the young folks today, being able to do it from your phone and just take a picture and send it in – they don't have to be on hold with customer service, and they don't have to be fighting with the guy in the truck saying, ‘No it really broke this way.’ They really don't have to do that now. They just basically send the picture in, and if Sonic wants the tool back, they'll send a shipping label with it. If not, they'll say, ‘Get rid of the old one, and here's your new one. Have a good day,’” Sasso expounds. “Gone are the little white trucks that come up to the building.”