ARSA Navigates Workforce, Regulatory Challenges

Neil William speaking

Neil Williams, head of airworthiness policy and rulemaking at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, speaks at ARSA's Annual Conference.

Credit: Brett Levanto

The most recent gathering of the U.S.’s Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) saw attendance returning toward pre-COVID levels and a great turnout for a full day of lobbying legislators on Capitol Hill. But shop mechanics are not coming back so rapidly.

On day three of the Symposium, ARSA Executive Director Sarah MacLeod cited an Oliver Wyman report estimating a 2023 shortage of 12,000 North American mechanics, expected to grow to 40,000 by 2027. Furthermore, 90% of surveyed ARSA members plan to seek more technicians this year, MacLeod noted.

Keynote speaker Billy Nolen, acting FAA administrator, said the U.S. now has 20,000 fewer aviation maintenance technicians than it did before the pandemic, even though U.S. air travel has largely recovered.

To close the mechanic gap, Nolen said, “We must reach kids early, and keep them interested in high schools.” He praised a recent recruiting effort by the FAA’s air traffic controllers to reach out digitally to the new digital generation. “We received 58,000 applications, after expecting 10,000.”

Nolen said FAA and the industry must continue to modernize training.

One ARSA attendee urged Nolen to consider using repair stations themselves to train mechanics for certification. “We spend $45,000 for schooling, but hands-on training is most important,” said the attendee.

Another attendee complained that high school counselors steered students away from technical fields and toward four-year colleges, even when the latter path was not suitable.

The next session of ARSA’s third day was taken up by briefings by international regulators on their recent and upcoming activities.

Neil Williams, head of airworthiness policy and rulemaking at the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), reported the agency had approved 22 new MRO organizations in 2022 and agreed with the FAA to allow until the end of 2024 for U.S. organizations to obtain CAA approval. The CAA will now allow certain parts to be released without airworthiness certificates, but it will require safety management systems for design, production and maintenance organizations by May 2024.

A potential challenge to this cooperation is the UK’s proposed Retained EU Law Bill, which would sunset all European Union laws in the UK by the end of 2023 or possibly 2026. Williams hopes certain EU safety laws will be retained, even as the UK takes over issuing regulations and managing these laws’ application in the UK.

Lawrence Costa, continuing airworthiness certification manager at Brazil’s Agencia Nacional de Aviacao Civil (ANAC), told ARSA the agency is reviewing its Maintenance Annex Guidance (MAG) with the FAA now. It expects MAG revisions with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency to be finished by March 2023 and a Technical Agreement-Maintenance with Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA) to be done by the end of 2023. ANAC is also collaborating with nearly a dozen other Latin countries on standardizing regulatory procedures, working toward an end-2023 deadline.

Seeking to support the digital transformation of MRO, ANAC approved electronic logbooks for a general aviation operator in November 2022.

Jeffrey Phipps, chief of operational airworthiness for TCCA, said basic maintenance training has now returned to an on-site format, but some type training can still be done remotely. In late 2023, TCCA will start focusing on new training regulations. During 2023 Phipps expects to issue many advisory circulars, including one on suspected unapproved parts.

Phipps hopes that revision 2 of the TCCA-FAA maintenance implementation procedures will be signed this spring and streamline authorization of new foreign repair stations.

Revision 3 of the TCCA-EASA Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement is expected in late July, after which Phipps plans to require safety management systems by the end of 2023. He is also working on an update of Canada’s maintenance agreement with Singapore’s regulators, aiming for a signing in January 2024.

Ludovic Aron, EASA’s representative to the U.S., said EASA wants to shift from task-based training to competency-based training and focus more on environmental concerns by better routing and certification of new fuels. In late March new rules will be issued on information security, effective October 2025. EASA would also like to harmonize aviation’s digitalization efforts.

Dan Elgas, acting deputy director of the FAA’s Policy and Innovation Division, Aircraft Certification Service, said the FAA is encouraging safety management systems (SMS) for MROs while it works on a formal SMS rulemaking.