You Thought The Pilot Shortage Was Bad? Try Technicians

Credit: Duncan Aviation

ORLANDO—While the pilot shortage is a prominent issue facing today’s ongoing staffing challenges, it oftentimes takes the spotlight away from another specialty whose workforce shortage is equally dire to the long-term health of the aviation industry–Aviation Maintenance Technicians (AMTs).

At this year’s NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) in Orlando, Florida, a session was held to address the issue of growing the aviation maintenance workforce. Traditionally, competition between Part 91 and 135 shops for both airframe and powerplant (A&P) and repairmen has been stiff, as this industry segment often supports both business operations and the general aviation sector. This year, NBAA promoted collaboration in the session so that attendees who employ AMTs could relate their hiring woes and brainstorm potential solutions.

According to Boeing’s Pilot and Technician Outlook 2022-41, there will be a projected global demand for 610,000 civil aviation AMTs over the next 20 years, compared to a need for 602,000 new pilots, excluding business aviation. The consensus in the session was clear that filling the much-needed pilot slots is meaningless unless a new AMT is also added to the workforce. 

Another theme among the group was recognizing how the socially accepted norm of immediately pursuing a four-year degree upon graduating high school, as opposed to pursuing a trade that may provide more direction and quicker financial gains, is still a stigma that is alive and well. 

Stewart D’Leon, who is NBAA’s director for environmental and technical operations and has a background in aviation maintenance, offered an interesting perspective on how to attract talent without taking on the challenge of completely changing this common societal view: “I don’t recommend mandating to someone that they need to choose between college and a trade. It really is about figuring out what’s best for the individual,” he says. “There is value in providing the right fit versus choosing one over the other.”

Tom Van Kleef, co-owner of FAA-certified repair station Casper Air Service, brought up another interesting perspective as an employer of AMTs: Employability of AMTs extends far beyond the aviation industry. He mentioned that at his home base of Casper, Wyoming, he competes with Caterpillar Inc., a large construction equipment manufacturer and Fortune 500 company, for hiring AMTs. Simply put, the skills AMTs possess are highly valuable across a multitude of industries and job titles outside of aviation. The skill sets of pilots, on the other hand, are more fine-tuned for a highly specific job function.

The good news is that training a workforce to attain the highly coveted skills that AMTs possess requires less of a financial burden compared to the pathway to becoming a pilot. With a hard work ethic and a relatively reasonable investment, a young person or an individual looking to change careers can claim the rewards of their labor earlier on, though nothing seems to be a quick fix regarding the ongoing labor shortages. At least there is assurance that the industry has the ability to be creative with solutions on tackling the problem.