Hardly anything surprises me about aviation anymore. But I have to say, I have been pleasantly encouraged by how quickly the airline sector has bounced back from the brink of the worst days of Covid-19. Each time I traveled in the last year, I was amazed to see how strong the load factors are and how eager everyone is to get somewhere.
The decrease in air travel that resulted in a reduction in demand for maintenance services and aircraft repairs, and led to layoffs and furloughs for many in aviation is over and we are now experiencing a shortage of people, especially aircraft mechanics. Some of those that were laid off won’t be returning for various reasons.
For example, some took a package deal and fully retired. Others looked for, and found, better opportunities in other sectors. Some have said they needed more stability and would never come back to aviation due to the disruption to their finances and families. We’ll see.
But this, coupled with the already-in-progress wave of retirements of both maintenance professionals, pilots and others, has left a deficit of people. According to the Aviation Technician Education Council, more than a quarter of maintenance professionals are 64 years old or older.
Airlines are stepping up hiring again across the board. In our cover story this issue, we take a look at the aviation maintenance skilled workforce shortage and what is being done to improve the situation. It isn’t going to be easy. The pipeline takes a long time to fill, but it must be done. See our story, “Help Really, Really Wanted” starting on page 16.
One of the biggest challenges facing the aviation maintenance industry is the need for digitization. It should be a no-brainer. The use of digital technologies can improve efficiency, reduce costs and enhance safety in aircraft maintenance. The adoption of technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and predictive maintenance can help identify potential problems in aircraft before they occur, minimizing the risk of safety incidents and increasing operational efficiency.
But where to start? For one idea, take a look at our story on electronic logbooks. As our writer, James Careless, puts it, the “volume of advantages associated with migrating from paper-to digitally-based maintenance tracking may well astound you.” Integrating these tech logs with airline maintenance and flight operations will provide the most up-to-date, accurate picture of what is happening with the aircraft and gives maintenance the best chance to service it properly. A win-win. That story begins on page 24.
In another feature, I had the opportunity to speak with Jean-Marc Lenz, CEO of SR Technics, recently. Lenz became CEO in September of 2019, just before the pandemic struck. I had a wide-ranging talk with him in Atlanta, Georgia, recently to learn how the company navigated the past several years and about their big plans for the future. See my interview with this quietly confident MRO leader starting on page 38.
I also want to call your attention to our regular On Guard feature. This issue, former NTSB and FAA investigator, Jeff Guzzetti, examines what many believe is the most striking example of an airline accident caused by systemic deficiencies in maintenance and safety culture. The piece looks at Continental Express Flight 2574, an Embraer 120 Brasilia turboprop that broke up near Eagle Lake, Texas, killing the two flight crewmembers, one flight attendant, and 11 passengers. This accident helped introduce the topic of safety culture as an essential tenet in aviation safety because although there were clear missteps by certain individuals, the entirety of the events leading up to the accident were complex and multifaceted.
Failure to follow procedures, shift changes, a lack of quality control inspections, lack of equipment and poor communications were all factors in this tragic and preventable event. It is a fascinating case study and the stuff of maintenance nightmares. There is so much to learn in Guzzetti’s recap of this classic case. Please read it starting on page 40, share it with your team and make it discussion starter at your next safety meeting.
For those of you who joined us in March at our Aerospace Tech Week event in Munich, thank you so much for coming and making it our best event ever. We hope you will consider coming to our next event, Aerospace Tech Week Americas, which will be held in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 14-15. Please mark your calendars and make plans now to attend.
Finally, I want to take a moment to remind everyone still here in the aviation maintenance business how critically important your work is. Even though I know you know it, it is important to hear or see it periodically and to appreciate the importance of what you do to keep the aviation industry thriving.
First and foremost, you provide an essential layer of safety. Without proper, regular maintenance checks potential issues can quickly escalate and lead to serious safety incidents. Next, in our highly regulated industry, compliance is crucial. Though rare, failure to comply with FAA regulations can result in severe penalties, including fines and the revocation of operating licenses. The work you do makes reliability possible.
Operators rely on their aircraft to meet their schedules and maintain their reputations. Regular maintenance helps to ensure that aircraft are in good working order and reduces the risk of unexpected breakdowns and delays. And one more thing: proper maintenance can actually save operators money in the long run by reducing the risk of expensive repairs due later. Identifying issues early on when they are easier to repair and less complicated saves money (not to mention lives).
Thank you for all you do.