Have COVID-19 Budget Cuts Negatively Impacted MRO Technician Training?

technician working at a laptop
Credit: Airbus

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COVID-19 has caused MRO providers to reduce their training budgets. How has this affected the training of technicians in maintenance and safe repair in commercial aviation? What about updates, currency and recurrent training?

Lindsay Bjerregaard, Aviation Week’s MRO editor for the Americas, answers:

Maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) budgets have certainly been tight during the COVID-19 pandemic, but throughout my workforce and training coverage during the past year, a very clear trend has emerged: Many MRO providers are actually pouring more focus and investment into innovating their training processes. Those efforts are intended both to ensure regulatory compliance on keeping technicians current and to prepare the workforce for next-generation platforms.

Many MROs and OEMs ramped up or rolled out virtual training programs in early 2020. In light of the pandemic, companies such as Airbus, Magnetic MRO and Heston MRO pursued and obtained regulatory approval to offer online training for technicians. Rolls-Royce, which had already been using remote technology to conduct inspections, used remote collaboration and virtual reality tools to train engine maintainers worldwide. Lufthansa Technik (LHT) continued vocational training for apprentices through 2020 using video-conferencing tools and technologies that were already in place or set to be rolled out soon. It met technician-training needs through its OnlineDistanceLearning concept, which combines video-conferencing tools with digital media to deliver knowledge and skills.

Like LHT, Etihad Airways Technical Training and AAR accelerated digital-transformation plans by using virtual technologies to deliver training courses and ensure technician skill sets remained up to date. Although Etihad paused development training on aircraft types, it continued its regulatory and safety training to ensure technician currency through its online-learning management system.

Even the FAA has been using video-communication technology to deliver training throughout the pandemic. At MRO TransAtlantic in October 2020, the regulatory agency noted that it had given repair stations “permission to play” with virtual technologies during the pandemic to ensure compliance.

When it came to practical hands-on training, MROs such as ATS, Etihad Engineering, AAR and LHT continued to offer training in person but reduced class sizes and implemented social distancing and hygiene protocols.

None of the MROs I spoke with confirmed cutting their training budgets, and some—such as AAR and ATS—emphasized that their training budgets were not reduced but that they had actually invested more in training throughout the pandemic. ATS was awarded multiple grants funded through Snohomish County, Washington, that were designed to help companies stay viable during the pandemic and that required them to use the money to provide training for employees.

AAR noted that its lower volume of work during the pandemic enabled it to do additional general familiarization training to increase the capability of its workforce and keep technicians current. AAR also suggested that while overall spending on training in the industry may have gone down, it would have been due to a decrease in the total number of technicians in the industry as workers found employment in other industries.

LHT pointed out that the need for highly educated and experienced technicians will remain high because of the industry’s constant technological developments, so this shift will likely lead to additional training requirements.

The bottom line for every MRO with which I spoke was that regulated, certified repair stations are required to ensure that training of all licensed personnel is always up to date, so there should not be any worry about pandemic-induced laxity when it comes to keeping technician skill sets current. The level of care and caution has not changed when it comes to technician training, but the method by which training is delivered has definitely adapted.

Lindsay Bjerregaard

Lindsay Bjerregaard is managing editor for Aviation Week’s MRO portfolio. Her coverage focuses on MRO technology, workforce, and product and service news for AviationWeek.com, Aviation Week Marketplace and Inside MRO.