Is the US Commercial Industry Running Out of Mechanics?

By Staff Writer | April 25, 2017
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American20Airlines2073720MAX20ViaSatMaintenance, repair and overhaul executives are concerned that the number of adequately trained mechanics will dwindle, according to the Oliver Wyman 2017 MRO survey, “When Growth Outpaces Capacity.” His findings said the U.S. skills gap would be 9% by 2027.

“Over the next decade a record number of maintenance technicians will retire, outpacing the total number of new mechanics entering the market,” said Brian Prentice, an Oliver Wyman partner. “At the same time, the global fleet is growing significantly. Additionally, the shortfall is expected to create expertise gaps as the industry finds itself having to service a fleet that will be almost equally divided between older and newer technology aircraft. This is one situation in the U.S. where the jobs are available, but the people are not.”

Of the 80 survey participants, 78% reported that it is getting harder to hire mechanics. To keep up with demand, they are relying on overtime and other efforts. Mechanics are aging — the firm said the median age of aviation mechanics in the U.S. is 51 years old. This field might not be interesting millennials. Reasons that 51% of survey respondents noted include wage and benefits. Prentice said recruiting a new crop of aviation mechanics could take up to a decade. Until then, airlines have been turning to technology to fill the gap, as well as efforts to make wages and benefits more attractive.

The MRO survey is in its second decade. This year, 63% of respondents were senior executives, and 85% were director-level or above. About 55% were located in North America. Oliver Wyman is a management consulting firm, with offices in nearly 30 countries.

The firm said additional survey findings include:

  • The world’s major airlines are slated to add 20,444 planes, of which 17,390 are new-technology aircraft, and to retire 10,311 older planes. By 2027, 58% of the global fleet will be newer-generation aircraft.
  • Mechanics will need the skill sets to work not only on the newest planes, but also on those that have been flying for 20 years.
  • Roughly 30% of mechanics who train for the airline industry find careers in other industries, due to better pay, improved working hours and other attractive job incentives.
  • With a shortage of skilled technical labor, airlines will likely protect their daily operations by drawing existing skilled workers into their line maintenance programs to the detriment of third-party maintenance providers.
  • In the near term, airlines will continue to focus on operational reliability, at the possible expense of turnaround times for scheduled maintenance and components.
  • An increase in out-of-service time will potentially require a shift in asset management strategies. The industry may give back some of the efficiency gains made and hold more spares.

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