The MRO industry may struggle with a shortage of qualified technicians as soon as 2022 - the fallout from a period of record aircraft orders and reluctance by airlines to retire older types, according to aviation industry consultants.
The shortage will come, however, as the global MRO industry continues a period of continued projected growth.
Consultancy Oliver Wyman, a division of Cavok, pegs the 2017 value of the global MRO industry at about $75.6 billion, and projects the industry will grow 3.8% annually for ten years, reaching $109 billion by 2027, according to a report from the company.
Likewise, Oliver Wyman projects the worldwide commercial aircraft fleet will increase from about 25,000 in 2017 to 35,000 by 2027.
Oliver Wyman released the report on 25 April to coincide with the first day of the MRO Americas event in Orlando.
At least of part of that fleet growth stems from low oil prices, which have led carriers to keep older aircraft, Cavok general manager David Marcontell says during the event.
"The low oil prices are beginning to impact fleet plans," he says. "Operators are beginning to keep older aircraft around longer."
"Taking into consideration acquisition costs, it won't be until 2021, 2023… that current-generation narrowbody aircraft are more economical to operate than older 1990- and 2000-vintage versions," Marcontell adds.
Oliver Wyman's report says half of airlines globally have recently delayed aircraft retirements, and one-third have placed retired aircraft back into service.
In 2016 alone, carriers worldwide placed some 630 formerly-stored aircraft back into service, says Marcontell.
Meanwhile, airlines still hold outstanding orders for some 14,000 aircraft, notes Richard Brown, principal at consultancy ICF.
"This is a record backlog. We've never had it so good," he says.
But there might be insufficient workers to meet demand.
The median age of aircraft technicians in the US is 51 years, meaning a looming a spike in retirements could leave the industry with shortage of maintainers.
"We are going to be seriously upside down by 2022," Marcontell says.