What Is Projected Aircraft Mechanic Near-Term Supply And Demand?

Engine maintenance training
Credit: Lake Area Technical Institute

Ask the Editors: The Aviation Week Network invites our readers to submit questions to our editors and analysts. We’ll answer them, and if we can’t we’ll reach out to our wide network of experts for advice. 

We know that going into the COVID-19 crisis, we were facing a major shortage of licensed aircraft mechanics. How do you see supply and demand playing out over the next 12-36 months?

MRO Reporter Lindsay Bjerregaard responds: 

Despite a downturn in aviation, demand for skilled technical personnel will remain high as we move into recovery mode, particularly because there was such a huge shortage before the COVID-19 crisis. 

A major driver of this demand is an aging workforce. In Europe, Airbus has projected that aviation’s technical workforce will be badly affected by increasing retirements of baby boomers, and in the U.S., 30% of aviation mechanics are 60 years or older, according to the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC).

Industry officials tell Aviation Week privately that the coronavirus crisis has accelerated the wave of retirements. Eric Jones, department chair of Aviation Maintenance Sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, sees a similar trend at airlines. And Shonu Bamrah, director of the British School of Aviation, notes that voluntary retirements by older workers are creating open positions, despite some companies imposing hiring freezes.

In the near-term, the pandemic will temporarily reduce the pool of qualified graduates needed for the future workforce. “There is actually going to be a little bit of a shortage right now because of the lower number of graduates this year due to COVID-19, and a lot of the schools in the ATEC group feel that they’re going to produce about 20% fewer graduates this year,” says James Hall, dean of Aviation Technologies at Wichita State University Campus of Applied Sciences and Technology (WSU Tech).

An audience poll during the Aviation Week Network’s “Aircraft Maintenance Training During COVID-19” webinar found that 43% of respondents expected the impact of the pandemic on training and graduation to delay eligible 2020 hires. The poll results also shed light on a potential industry concern: 28% of respondents believed new hires in the industry would look elsewhere for employment. 

There is certainly unease in aviation about potential workers accepting employment in other industries, particularly if aviation is perceived to be a less stable sector after the pandemic. “That airframe and powerplant [A&P] ticket is a valued commodity in other industries because [other companies] know what kind of training you received in school,” notes Jack O’Callaghan, American Airlines’ technical crew chief at Chicago O’Hare International Airport points out. “Disneyland hires A&P mechanics because [they’ve] got a background in pneumatics, hydraulics and electrics.”

However, Bamrah and Hall say interest in aviation technical training remains high—and has even increased at the British School of Aviation during the pandemic lockdown. Jones says the aviation industry’s diversification into areas such as commercial space, electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicles and unmanned aerial systems is providing more interest for younger generations and more job opportunities, so he expects there to be robust hiring in the wake of COVID-19.

While restrictions on gatherings during the pandemic have also hindered some STEM initiatives, schools and organizations continue to place focus on creating interest in aviation technical careers with younger generations. The recently launched industry nonprofit Choose Aerospace is using pandemic-driven advances in online training as an opportunity to promote aerospace career opportunities. 

“One of the things we have been doing well is promoting technical education for the last couple of years as a very important career pathway,” Hall says. “I think you’re going to see that will continue even more so once the group restrictions are lifted.”

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.