Aircraft MRO centers are struggling to keep up with demand. We could say ‘right now,’ but that isn’t accurate. MROs have struggled for quite some time as the aircraft maintenance workforce ages, and the global COVID-19 pandemic may be another nail in the coffin. Workers walked away from aircraft maintenance in droves when the aircraft sat parked. Early predictions were that it would take several years to return to pre-2020 enplanements fully. The problem for the MROs is that air travel bounced back much faster than analysts had predicted, but the frail workforce has not returned with the increased workload.
We at AireXpert believe that, at least partially, the solutions may lie in optimizing existing resources. You only have 24 hours in a day, and you can only produce aircraft mechanics so quickly. In the meantime, we are producing solutions to increase productivity with our most finite item in the workplace: the human resource.
What’s Going On With The MRO Workforce?
Well, here’s the deal: according to the powers that be, the global pandemic was supposed to shut down air travel for much longer; however, now the numbers indicate that global air travel will be profitable by 2023.
Also, air cargo is rising at not-before-seen rates. By 2041, the global air cargo fleet will grow by 80%. In 2021, the global air cargo market posted a 21% annual growth.
However, the problem lies in securing labor for the growing demand. According to the Aviation Technician Advisory Council (ATEC), the FAA issued 30% fewer A&P certifications in 2020 than in 2019, wholly due to market indicators from the initial response to COVID-19.
The numbers haven’t come out yet for 2021, but the truth is that any year that falls short by a third will leave lasting long-term effects. So, returning to the ATEC 2021 pipeline report, they project that the total count for aircraft technicians will end up about 12,000 short of the 2041 demands projected by Boeing.
Repair stations are the greatest employer of new technicians at around 34% of total hires, and then regional airlines come in second at about 17%. These are critical metrics considering these two were directly impacted by air travel shutdowns. Hiring was frozen or sharply curtailed during these times because there was no clear direction of when air travel would return.
The next major problem is the age of the workforce. Around 36% of the mechanic population is aged 60 or older. This comes out to over 45,000 mechanics in the retirement age range. But the issue isn’t just that they are retiring; the problem is that when a technician retires, they are taking four or five decades of experience with them.
How Will Digital Tools Help The Existing Workforce?
We cannot create mechanics any faster; strict timetables must be followed for licensure. Also, we cannot force people into the industry. Of course, we can recruit aggressively, but until there is some certainty of stability in the world, it appears that people will be leery of entering the aviation industry.
And really, who can blame them?
The road to certification is long, especially for our pilot friends; they spend a lot of money to get their ATP and become employable, and those youngest pilots earn a paltry salary. They’re also the first to be furloughed or laid off in the event of a pandemic (or whatever else).
Mechanics fare better since their training is substantially cheaper, and they have a fixed starting pay, unlike cabin crew. But it is still a hard sell if this happens again, and the youngest technicians are the first wave sent home.
So what will digital tools do? Digital tools cannot keep a significant shutdown from happening again. But digital tools can and do sharpen the existing workforce.
AireXpert’s software system is designed with this specific issue in mind. We are here to combat labor shortages by leveraging and amplifying your in-house expertise and making outside subject matter expertise available. And we do this without affecting your total manpower.
What Are The Tools?
AireXpert is your one-stop shop for digital workforce tools.
We offer systems that address the major objectives and challenges you face today:
- System-wide visibility: all maintenance-related comms are consolidated in one place. We are eliminating unnecessary phone calls, text messages, and especially emails.
- Operational performance and efficiency: our centralized comms and real-time event timelines promote knowledge sharing and increase situational awareness. We offer this to increase responsive decision-making, improve on-time performance, and gain an understanding of delay root-cause analysis.
- Compliance risk management is critical to your operation. We provide an apparatus for deep historical data and fully traceable event logs, so you have system-wide QA.
Can We Make Up For A Workforce Shortfall By Leveraging Digital Tools?
No, you can only do so much if you don’t have enough boots on the ground and hands-on jets. But that is a big-picture issue that will take years to address. We are in the here and now, and we really have a technician crisis. No joke. Seriously, the 2020 count was down a third, but over a third of technicians are retirement age?
But that’s only a small taste of what the workforce looks like.
- There are nearly four times as many mechanics in the 70-74 year-old (~20,000) bracket as there are 20-24 year old (~6,000).
- Between the ages of 20-39, there are around ~64,000 technicians. There are ~46,000 in the 55-59 bracket alone.
In short, there is no substitute for people, but we can make the working process far more efficient by digitally spreading knowledge across the entire workforce.
What Is The Way Ahead For MRO Workforces?
The first thing to do is figure out this recruiting picture. It is obvious that the older generations were more prone to mechanical vocations because the numbers drop off sharply with technicians younger than 50.
The industry has to figure out how to crack this nut because air travel is contingent on figuring this out. Over the next decade, the bulk of these aging mechanics will be gone, and there isn’t much we can do about the fact that there are 45% fewer mechanics in the 45-49 age bracket than the 55-59 bracket. The way ahead has to be convincing young, entry-level workers that this is a profitable career that they will enjoy.
In the meantime, leverage your workforce with digital tools that let you share knowledge across the entire workforce. Also, trimming the fat in extraneous communications will save you time and reduce the likelihood of failure from poor communication strategies.
AireXpert is your one-stop shop for your maintenance communication strategy. It is a single platform that offers multiple solutions. It’s easy to use and eliminates so many wasteful conference calls, so your team can focus on what is important: getting airplanes back in the air.
Give us a call today, and we’ll review your operation and how AireXpert fits into your overall strategy!