MROAM: Finding skilled workers a persistent challenge, MROs say

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Finding skilled workers to staff maintenance, repair and overhaul organisations throughout the world is a continuing problem, say panelists discussing MRO trends this year at the MRO Americas conference in Atlanta.

"There is a shortage of skilled mechanics in the industry," says Stephen Lim, president, ST Aerospace San Antonio, adding that it is increasingly difficult to keep a stable workforce to meet demand - especially in the summer months.

Boeing estimates that the aerospace industry will need an additional 460,000 pilots and 601,000 maintenance technicians between 2012 and 2031 as airline traffic grows and new aircraft come on board.

The need for skilled technicians is a global concern, says David Shotsberger, United Airlines' managing director of technical operations.

"Generating interest in this industry as a career field is very challenging," he says.

Singapore-based ST Aerospace is working to bring more resources for recruiting and training young personnel to the USA, Lim says. The MRO has an internal technical training programme, which about 50 students have completed.

However, those classes are not tailored for the needs of US students, but rather to EASA standards, he says. Plus, certain visa requirements make it difficult for the company to transfer those technicians over to the USA to work. ST Aerospace is therefore looking at options to bring that technical training to the USA.

ST Aerospace is also in talks with cities in the USA to bring pilot training to the region. The firm trains about 200 pilots per year at its facilities in Singapore and Australia.

Maintenance companies speaking during a separate panel on MRO market consolidation say that keeping these skilled personnel is so important that it is driving their decisions on where to base facilities.

For example, AJ Walter considered a readily available workforce a big factor in deciding to open AJW Technique in the former Aveos Fleet Performance facility in Montreal, says Ian Malin, treasurer, director and chief investment officer for AJ Walter Group.

Aviation Technical Services recently expanded with a new 102,000 ft2 (9,476 m2) widebody MRO facility in Moses Lake, Washington that will employ up to 250 employees. A big draw to that location was the skilled labour pool in the region, said Matt Yerbic, chief executive of the MRO company.

"The hurdle to get a building is low; the hurdle to get people who know how to do work in that building is much higher," he says.

Regulators are also concerned about finding and retaining skilled personnel, says John Hickey, deputy associate administrator, aviation safety at the US Federal Aviation Administration.

"The FAA is equally concerned about what we see as a very significant challenge this community is going to have over the next five to ten years," he says.