Shortage of maintenance personnel could clip the wings of the aviation industry

The world’s commercial aircraft fleet is set to take off by a third by 2034, according to Oliver Wyman – Copyright AFP Daniel MIHAILESCU

Elodie MAZEIN

The United States is facing a shortage of maintenance workers in the airline industry, with baby boomers retiring and others changing jobs during the pandemic.

This comes as the global commercial aircraft fleet is set to launch a third of its balloons by 2034, including more than 36,400 vessels, according to a recent study by consultancy Oliver Wyman.

As a result, spending in the maintenance, repair and overhaul market is expected to grow by nearly 20 percent by 2034.

However, the sector suffers from a shortage of skilled labor – and an undersupply of talent.

North America has a shortfall of about 24,000 aviation maintenance technicians, a number expected to reach nearly 40,000 by 2028, notes Oliver Wyman.

That gap is not one that Long Island’s renowned aviation high school can fill with its cohorts of 2,000 students.

“I don’t think the aviation high schools have enough capacity to train enough people,” said Steven Jackson, director of the Long Island City Aviation High School.

“We are one of the largest secondary schools and it would be difficult to expand further,” he added.

– impact on growth –

The school is one of 28 certified by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and trains future aviation maintenance technicians who can enter the workforce after high school or continue their studies at universities.

“The job market is good and there’s more money, so at the moment more people are going straight to work than before,” Jackson told AFP.

In the United States, approximately 4,000 maintenance, repair, and overhaul companies employ approximately 185,000 aviation maintenance technicians and engineers. That’s about 44 percent of the total, according to the Aeronautical Repair Station Association.

“Working as a mechanic opens up so many opportunities,” Fariha Rahman, 17, told AFP in an interview at a JetBlue maintenance hangar during Career Discovery Week.

“I want to start in maintenance and work my way up,” added the high school student.

Another student, 15-year-old Gaby Moreno, added: “It’s such a great industry.”

“There are so many different jobs, so many benefits and discounts on flights and other things like insurance,” she added.

AlixPartners specialist Pascal Fabre emphasizes that the training of maintenance technicians will need to be accelerated.

To make aviation maintenance more attractive, Congress passed legislation in 2018 to allow the FAA to provide ad hoc grants.

As a result, $13.5 million was allocated to 32 schools in March, 20 of which would help train maintenance professionals in particular.

“Because so many aviation jobs are critical to operations, any continued shortages could ultimately limit industry growth,” noted Oliver Wyman in an earlier report.

– Quality issues –

Looking ahead to 2023-2042, aerospace giant Boeing is forecasting “strong” long-term demand for newly qualified aviation personnel.

About 690,000 new maintenance technicians are needed to help maintain the global commercial fleet over the next 20 years, according to Boeing.

The maintenance, repair and overhaul sector is “undercapacity and hangar maintenance slots are in high demand, particularly as delays in aircraft manufacturer deliveries mean older aircraft fly longer and require more maintenance,” Fabre added.

The two major aircraft manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus, are at full capacity and running into delays until almost the end of the decade.

Meanwhile, airlines are ramping up orders as they seek to capitalize on strong passenger demand and build fuel-efficient fleets.

“Production pressure and the departure of many skilled baby boomers during COVID may also be contributing to some of the quality control issues plaguing the industry,” adds a recent report by Oliver Wyman.

According to experts, the departures led to a disruption in the transfer of know-how between experienced and new technicians.

As of 2023, Boeing has suffered from manufacturing problems and numerous incidents on its 737 MAX line, prompting the FAA to launch a quality control audit.

In early January, an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 suffered a ruptured door plug mid-flight.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun recently announced he will step down by the end of the year as part of a management shakeup as the company faces heavy scrutiny.

Previously, two fatal 737 MAX crashes — one in 2018 and one in 2019 — led to a nearly two-year grounding of the plane.

In addition to the manufacturers, United Airlines is also in the crosshairs of the FAA, which is reviewing its safety procedures after several recent incidents.

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