The Middle East does not have enough certified, qualified maintenance personnel to support it today, so when you compound the shortage by the forecasted fleet growth, the situation becomes more acute. And given that executives in the region categorize the shortage as either acute or critical, supporting the growth is a problem that needs to be solved soon. In addition, “We must think of Syria and Libya, which should grow after the instability” is over, says Oussama Jadayel, director of the Balamand Institute of Aeronautics in Lebanon.

Jadayel, who strikes me as a pragmatic problem-solver, advocates for partnerships between academia and industry to solve the shortage.

While there are not enough training organizations in the region, internship or apprenticeship programs also are rare. So while the local industry only wants to hire maintenance personnel with at least five years of experience, finding ways for students to gain practical experience is difficult.

To break down some barriers, the institute listened to industry concerns and used a European Commission Tempus grant to set up European Aviation Safety Agency-compliant bachelor of science program in aircraft maintenance technology. It bought equipment, an autoclave and modern training material to entice industrial partnerships with the Lebanese air force, the Mideast Aircraft Services Co. and Trans Mediterranean Airways.

While there was some initial skepticism from local aviation about the new program, “academic and industrial partnerships take time to develop: they need to learn to speak one language,” says Jadayel. “It wasn't easy at the beginning.” But it is off to a good start, and Jadayel is now attempting to bring together Middle East regulators, academics and industry representatives in a task force to address the situation.

The Arab Air Carriers Organization, which already has a training steering board, might be the logical organization to coordinate this. The AACO, regulators from the region and MRO industry managers broached the idea of a task force at Aviation Week's recent MRO Middle East Conference in Dubai.

Governments such as Bahrain are trying to find funds for the endeavor, but because vocational training is not looked at highly, linking the training to a degree—like what institute has done—is better, suggests Mahmood Al Balooshi, CEO of Gulf Aviation Academy.

While personnel poaching will probably continue for a few years in this region, several Middle Eastern authorities are looking at harmonizing regulations to make licenses more attractive and allow workers to move freely between countries. But if people are freely moving between countries, you might ask “what good does that do?”

The answer: It helps sustainable growth and safety. “And if a person is happy where he is, he won't be poached,” says Alan Shuttleworth, SR Technics' head of technical training for Abu Dhabi.

Isn't that true in any region?

—Lee Ann Tegtmeier

Chief Editor, MRO