Tuesday, February 1, 2005
Correction: The telephone number listed for Perkins Aviation Services on page 60 of the January 2005 issue was incorrect. The correct number is 800-880-1966.
Correction: Your article in the January 2005 issue (Postflight, Frank Ramos, page 74) was slightly off on the date of the news announcement (third paragraph). It must have been 1941 instead of 1942 since that's when Pearl Harbor was attacked.
Lack of Support
After reading your editorial (Maintenance Schools: Look for the Customer, October, page 3), I felt that some clarification was needed. As an aviation maintenance instructor for 24 years, I have been involved with curriculum development on many occasions. At the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, we are constantly trying to advance the content of our information to try to keep pace with the industry. To that end, we have sent staff members to training classes offered by USAirways on aircraft in their fleet, which they have generously offered at no charge. This information has been given to our students in the form of an aircraft-specific course at the end of the Part 147-required cirriculum, at no charge. But one of the biggest problems we encounter has been lack of support from the industry itself. As a non profit organization, we can not afford the equipment or training aids needed to instruct on all the various types of aircraft being operated by the many companies that hire our graduates. I, personally, have made many calls to numerous entities looking for assistance in the form of equipment or training aids, but to little or no avail. Thus we have to rely on the military surplus materials to try to supply our students with the aids they need to learn. If the industry itself would support their local aircraft maintenance school, I am sure we would all benefit by having better trained technicians.
Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics
Surely You Jest!
After reading your editorial, I can see you have limited knowledge on how A&P schools operate. There were several points you put forth that are either misleading, impractical, or just inaccurate:
� Schools are disconnected from reality.
� Curricula that are geared toward one thing; teaching students what they need to know to pass the tests.
� We need to modify the system slightly to allow and encourage the teaching of aircraft-specific knowledge.
Most schools have advisory committees that are made up of industry people who meet several times a year to provide input on current practices so the school is not disconnected from reality.
It is true that most schools cover the FAA standardized tests, because that's the test the applicant for the A&P certificate must take. The regulations for schools are broad however, and each school has flexibility when compiling and implementing curricula, which allows instructors to incorporate as much current and specific information as possible into their daily lessons.
As far as encouraging teaching of aircraft-specific knowledge, how do you teach entry-level mechanics specific complex systems sufficiently without the aircraft or that aircraft's training aids? Have you ever tried to get training materials from large commercial aircraft manufacturers? It is almost impossible. With most, if you don't own and fly that type of aircraft you will not even be able to purchase the maintenance manuals. When we tried to purchase manuals for our Boeing aircraft, the manufacturer refused because we did not fly the aircraft. Airbus is the exception; they have been our supporter for years. They trained and mentored our 25 instructors and actively sit on our advisory board. But even Airbus made it clear we are not to teach Airbus-specific classes. That's their job.
Your last paragraph answered your own question of why A&P schools do not teach "FAM" courses. "There are large and highly successful companies that have prospered by delivering exactly the kind of training that their customers want."
Real and Useful Help
I enjoy your magazine and regularly use the articles in my job. But as an instructor in a Part 147-approved maintenance technician school, I have to take some exception to the tenor of some of the statements in your October 2004 Editor's Notebook.
1. "The schools that train aircraft mechanics in the U.S. have curricula that are geared toward one thing: teaching students what they need to know to pass the tests for certification as an FAA Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic." Sure we do. That's our job! But, as you stated later: "I believe most A&P schools do more than the regulatory minimum," is also certainly true. Our school has about 2,150 hours of training (instead of the minimum 1,900) because we have included things, such as composites, that the industry needs.
2. "Companies that hire A&P school graduates know that they will need to spend time and money bringing new-hire A&Ps up to speed." That is certainly a true statement because that's the way the system is designed to work. A&P schools have always been designed to produce entry-level mechanics that are prepared with a base-line set of skills and knowledge, which will enable them to join the workforce and learn the aircraft they are working on while on the job. If the school does its job right, the student will learn these particulars without causing any safety concerns in the process. The industry (and you) seem to be forgetting this basic idea.
3. "..student mechanics learn the fundamentals at A&P school but little that is specific to any particular aircraft, engine, or component type." Again, that is the school's job, to teach the fundamentals. I agree that these fundamentals do change over time but until the FAA changes the Part 147 requirements, the schools don't have a choice but to teach these subjects.
4. You talk about offering a choice of classes on specific aircraft and engines. I say: "Yeah, let's do it!" Unfortunately, in the real world of aviation maintenance schools of which about half are state-supported community colleges or universities, the ability (flexibility) to do this is limited by internal school procedures and, maybe more importantly, budgets. Our school's tuition is $55 (in-district) to $120 (out-of-state) per credit hour. We can't charge $900/hour like Embry-Riddle. How can we afford to offer meaningful classes on specific aircraft (especially transport category) with this kind of income? Our school occasionally sends us to short conferences/symposia to help keep us up to date. That helps us keep our students somewhat current, and we have spent many hours in contact with manufacturers of aircraft, systems, and parts, trying to get donations or even discounts so we can be more specific. But they don't seem very interested in helping us. They seem more interested in crying about what we are not doing.
5. Comparing A&P schools to unregulated, unlicensed auto mechanic schools is a great disservice to those of us who are actually in the trenches. If we had manufacturers/distributors/dealers willing to cooperate with equipment, etc. and didn't have to worry about also satisfying the FAA and Part 147, we could do much better. We do regularly meet with an advisory committee made up of regional operators and maintenance operations and try to implement their guidance but we run into the same limitations I've already delineated.
We need more cooperation from the manufacturers, distributors, dealers, companies, and users in the field. We can't afford to do it ourselves. We need your help. And this help must be real and useful. If we all work together, the industry will get what it needs.
Harry L. Whitehead
A&P, AI, DME, Commercial-
Professor, Aviation Maintenance Technology