A Growing Community of Leaders
By Brad Townsend, past NBAA Maintenance Committee chair
The NBAA Maintenance Committee produced another record attendance this year at the NBAA San Diego Maintenance Management Conference (MMC). The surveys indicate it was a highly-prized event to be at from both the vendor and attendee perspective. Next year the NBAA maintenance committee is planning an even greater event in Nashville, possibly teaming with one of our industry partners to increase the takeaways for those who attend. My hat is off to the folks on the east coast, despite the long ride to San Diego (reference my last article) you came. The theme of the conference, chaired by our own Tim Steinhauser, was “Building a Community of Leaders.”
Here is a list of rather startling numbers concerning the health of our industry as a catalyst to stimulate your thought on the topic and possible engagement with the community of leaders.
Estimated 450,000 aviation technicians worldwide
• FAA estimates 140,000 licensed A&Ps
• About 60 percent of licensed A&Ps are actively
engaged in aviation
• Less than 40 percent of licensed technicians are between ages 50 and 65
• More than 40 percent of licensed technicians are between ages 40 and 50
• Five percent are between ages 18 and 30
• 20 percent of active technicians are in business aviation
• 12 percent have a four-year college degree
A fellow working A&P, leader in our industry, director on the board of AMTSociety, my instructor during initial class for the Hawker 800 a couple of decades ago, fellow spark chaser in the avionics world and director of maintenance for a large corporate flight department in the south central part of the United States dug very deeply into FAA and Department of Labor databases for these numbers. Jim Sparks lent them to me for impact on this article.
Another much-respected member and leader of our community is quite familiar with the direction of these numbers and is speaking at every venue he can to let us know what our future looks like if we do not get together to do something about it. John Goglia is a former Board member of the NTSB and I have had the good fortune to sit with him on a few webinars produced by ATP’s Bob Jones (another industry leader) in the “Ask Bob” forum. John pulls no punches and sees a very different landscape for the traditional A&P in the 21st century compared to the 20th-century experience. It’s a future dictated by large economic factors driving a negative galvanization of our maintenance culture into two distinct levels. One level is a very large body of non-certificated, low-paid repairmen performing the work and one very small collective of certificated managers tasked with overseeing the other group.
It seems the whole country is caught up in some of the negative employment trends we are experiencing in the aviation industry. In a recent Wall Street Journal article discussing three major factors driving manufacturing jobs overseas, familiar bells rang in my head when the article discusses “poaching.” This tactical strategy works to entice employees from one competitor to the other as a job filling tool because the pool of candidates for these blue-collar good jobs is shrinking. That tactic is being used by aircraft OEMs at this time. That practice started full force more than 10 years ago in business aviation.
I could go on with negative sources of predication for doom in our industry, but I lose patience with that because it seems I’ve heard about this shortage my whole career of 35 years. I have become apathetic. The antidote for apathy and depression is a positive outlook on the future and building networks of leadership with mission statements, partnerships that maximize the benefit of each other’s core expertise, and setting goals and building programs for solutions, then communicating and marketing those elements. In short, creating a profession where none existed before, thus attracting the kids from grade school into focused high school and college programs, filling our new ranks. This is the elite class of aviation maintenance professional the honorable Goglia refers to. I call it the “John Goglia 21st century division of aviation maintenance labor economic thesis.”
That is what I will focus on for the remainder of this article, but first I want to include another colleague’s work in writing as I have promised in past articles. This is grassroots stuff, the “Right Stuff” as I had titled the former article. By tapping into our common experience through the lens of written witness, we learn great and positive lessons, plus it aids the attitude switch point in this article.
Matt Hernandez, chief quality inspector and special projects manager, gives us a unique, positive and special view into his aviation maintenance life experience. He is one of my current partners and I am fortunate to work with him.