Several US lawmakers have introduced legislation that could provide $25 million in funding to help head off a potentially serious shortage of qualified aviation technicians.
The bill, written by a bipartisan group of senators, addresses an issue that gained attention in recent years despite being largely overshadowed by discussions about a shortage of pilots.
The bill would direct the Federal Aviation Administration to establish an "aviation maintenance workforce development" programme, which would provide grants to support "education and recruitment of aviation maintenance technical workers and the development of the aviation maintenance industry workforce", says the bill.
That programme would administer grants of up to $5 million annually between fiscal years 2019 through 2023.
Grants could support aviation technician education, provide scholarships to aviation maintenance students and fund efforts to promote aviation careers and help workers transition into aviation mechanic jobs, says the bill.
Supporters hope Congress will fold the proposed legislation into a broader FAA funding bill expected to come before the end of March.
Senators Richard Blumenthal, Jerry Moran, Maria Cantwell and James Inhofe – all members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation – introduced the bill.
The legislation came two days after a group of 17 industry groups representing a swath of the aviation industry wrote a letter to those lawmakers warning about a mechanic shortage.
"The U.S. aviation industry is facing a technical worker shortage that threatens to undermine the growth and competitiveness of one of the most important sectors of our economy," says the 5 March letter.
It also cites Boeing's 2017 Technician Outlook report, which projects demand will exist for 648,000 aviation technicians worldwide by 2036, including 118,000 in the USA.
Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA), Airlines for America, Aerospace Industries Association, Cargo Airline Association and Regional Airline Association signed the letter.
ARSA, which represents MRO providers, calls the legislation a "step in the right direction" that will help address "a major threat to the long-term health of the US aviation maintenance sector".
ARSA says that more than 80% of surveyed members say they already struggle to find sufficient qualified technicians.
Major US MRO providers like AAR have also thrown support behind the legislation.
"We are all too familiar with the challenges the aviation maintenance industry faces in hiring skilled workers," AAR chief executive David Storch says in a statement. "This measure will help us begin training the additional employees that we need and can put to work immediately."
AAR says it can use new workers at its sites in Duluth (Minnesota), Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Miami and Rockford (Illinois).
Concern about a mechanic shortage has gained more attention in recent years.
Consulting company Oliver Wyman released a report in 2017 projecting that demand for mechanics will outstrip supply by 2022 in the USA, and sooner in Asia.
"The shortfall may raise the cost of maintenance for airlines and increase turnaround times for scheduled maintenance. This could potentially force the airlines to retain more spare planes to avoid cancellations and late departures resulting from maintenance delays," says the report.
Regional US carriers are also struggling to find enough mechanics. During that industry's annual event last year, nearly all regional airline chief executives expressed concern about a mechanic shortage, and many said they already struggle to find enough staff.
"There's a mechanic shortage as well. We think it's systemic to the industry," PSA Airlines president Dion Flannery said at the event. "There are not as many qualified technicians coming out of schools today."
Source: Cirium Dashboard