A&P Outlook: Partly Cloudy

In the last two decades aviation has seen more than its share of troubles. The commercial side experienced bankruptcies and contraction in the wake of 9/11. And then, just a few years later, the recession hit, dealing misery all round.

During these years many Part 147 airframe and power plant (A&P) schools disappeared and many A&P mechanics retired or found work in other industries. Now that aviation is beginning to recover, is the work force keeping up with the demand or is there a current or a prospective shortage of A&Ps? Pretty much all of Embry-Riddle’s maintenance graduates find jobs in aviation, says Chuck Horning, head of the school’s Aviation Maintenance Science program. Is that a sign of a shortage? And, if there’s a shortage, is it a supply and demand issue or something more serious? We asked MROs, airlines, schools and industry groups and received a range of answers.

Some observers say there will be a grave shortage in the years ahead as a result of structural problems. They point to changing attitudes toward lifestyles and manual labor and to competition from industries that pay more and demand less. Fewer A&Ps are coming out of the pipeline and many of these don’t go into aviation. This, in addition to the wave of retirements expected in the not too distant future, suggests that the work force will be shrinking at both ends. To avoid this fate, they say things need to change now.

Others perceive a shortage but think of it as a cyclical phenomenon that is already correcting itself as wages rise. There is disagreement about this, however. The lackluster U.S. economy and sluggish growth in the maintenance, repair and overhaul business seem to be depressing wage growth in the MRO sector. MROs are trying to grow their own talent with a combination of recruitment, apprenticeships, partnerships with schools and tuition aid.

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