The Farming Ground for Aircraft Mechanics?
The other morning, I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR when the subject of aircraft maintenance came up. Wade Goodwin did a piece titled Airplane Mechanics: A Farm Team for Everyone Else? The story talked about AAR Aircraft Services in Oklahoma City. Right off the bat the story said that it was ironic that given the current economic times and the difficulty many people are having finding jobs, aircraft mechanics are in great need at AAR. Anita Brown, the head of human resources for AAR’s Oklahoma City facility told Goodwin that airplane mechanics there start at $12-15/hour. Veterans with an A&P top out at $28/hour.
And AAR says it is having a hard time filling open positions. Brown said that the company has around 600 open positions. AAR’s Oklahoma City operation loses workers to Tinker Air Force Base and to American Airlines in nearby Tulsa where mechanics can make $5-10 more per hour.
The story discussed how AAR hires workers with a degree in sheet metal repair from a local trade school. These workers typically hire on for just $12/hour, but could be making more than $23/hour within a few years, as was evident by an interview with one of the company’s sheet metal workers. But once those workers reach that higher pay and experience level, AAR says that is when they are at the greatest risk to leave. And Tinker and American aren’t the only companies snatching up talent. Other industries such as the natural gas industry which is thriving in Oklahoma,also recruit A&Ps and other skilled workers away for higher-paying jobs.
So why doesn’t AAR just pay its workers more money to slow down the tide of employee turnover? It says it can’t afford to. Wayne Jamroz, the facility’s general manager said, “You take your car into an automotive place and you’re paying $75 to $100 an hour. We sell our labor at $48 to $49 an hour.”
And who is to blame? Well, for those wishing to play the blame game, there seems to be plenty to go around.
Some would blame the airlines who figured out years ago that it was a lot less expensive to slash their maintenance department, which was typically made up of all A&P mechanics, and send that work to third-party repair stations. Can the airlines be blamed for trying to save a buck?
Some would blame the unions. They were able to successfully negotiate lucrative contracts for their workers for decades. Even as airlines hemorrhaged money by the millions each quarter, unions were often able to negotiate strong contracts for their members until the last decade or so. Can the unions be blamed for trying to secure the best pay and benefits for their workers?
Some would blame the repair stations. They were able to provide aircraft maintenance at a lower cost structure than the airlines could. Can the repair stations be blamed for business-minded thinking?
Some would blame the FAA for not mandating that all aircraft maintenance be performed by A&P mechanics at a minimum. Can we blame the FAA for realizing there are not enough A&Ps to go around to meet that need?
Some would blame consumers who are no longer loyal to an airline brand, but instead shop the internet for the best deal, often making decisions for as little as a few dollars saved. Can we blame consumers for being frugal with their money?
Goodwin closed the segment by saying, “Of course, this drives AAR mad with frustration, as if it’s some farm team for everyone else’s highly trained mechanics.”
It is a mess we are in. But how do we get out of it? Can we even get out of it?
If you would like to hear the NPR story or read a transcript of it, go to http://www.npr.org/2011/12/13/143586152/airplane-mechanics-a-farm-team-for-everyone-else.
Thanks for reading! We appreciate your feedback. Joe Escobar
Follow me on twitter: @escojoe