Fresh out of the Covid crisis, the aviation maintenance industry is finding itself, like so many other industries, facing new market stressors. Specifically, those challenges include the parts and supply chain break down as well as the labor shortage that has been predicted for years but finally appears to be happening as well as inflation and threats of new variants of Covid that could prove potent and impact air travel. Other huge concerns are geopolitical instability like the Russian invasion of Ukraine, inflation and rising interest rates. It’s never easy, is it?
Recently at an industry conference, Mark Wibben, VP, engineering and programs at Southwest Airlines said of these unusual times that key to dealing with these ever-changing challenges is the ability to adapt. Nothing new there but always good to remember that just because you have always done something one way, doesn’t mean you must continue to do it that way. On the contrary, finding new ways to navigate through these crazy times is key to surviving them.
On a positive note, The Oliver Wyman forecast says the global aircraft fleet size grew by 13% last year. There are also reportedly 2000 aircraft that are were parked and stored during the pandemic slowdown that the group believes will be brought back online rather than sold for parts. “MRO demand should recover to pre-COVID levels by 2024, but annual growth in the second half of our 10-year forecast period will be 2.8%,” said Brian Prentice, one of the authors of the report. “By 2030, MRO demand is expected to reach $118 billion, 13% below the pre COVID forecast of $135 billion.”
One of the biggest bright spots in our industry is cargo conversions of passenger aircraft to freighters (P2F). There have been a record number of aircraft — around 100 — that were converted to freighters last year. We look at the very latest in the MRO P2F conversion business in our story “P2F Conversions Surge Through Pandemic,” written by Ian Harbison. That story begins on page 26 and covers the need for more aircraft to be converted as the supply chain struggles to find its new normal in this age of online purchases of everything. Harbison talked to several MROs as well as one OEM that specialize in this complex work.
Tied together with cargo conversions is the aerospace supply chain that is under pressure. You can read our story about the aerospace supply dilemma in our Summer 2021 issue starting on page 14. That cover story, “Better Faster Stronger — How to Fix the Aerospace Supply Chain” gives actionable items that businesses can take to improve their part in the supply chain, and it is as relevant today as it was the past summer. As for the Oliver Wyman report, it says, recovery may be complicated by supply chain disruption and delays, as well as labor shortages. “Many aerospace suppliers were forced to cut output and lay off employees in the first year of the pandemic as the airframe and engine OEMs scaled back production with the drop-off in air travel. Given the rebound in the economy in 2021, employers have been and still are challenged to hire and train new workers fast enough to meet rising demand.”
The report goes on to say delays in global shipping and in the industrial ramp-up will make it hard to access parts and raw materials. Having employees out sick die to COVID-19 outbreaks is not helping the supply chain.
Speaking of the workforce shortage, we have been covering it for years, even before it began to manifest. Not to be over dramatic, but we put the shortage front and center of this magazine in the June/July 2018 issue with a cover story called Military Maintainers: Has the Mechanic Shortage Reached the Services?” Also, in May 2019 with the story, “The State of the Shortage,” and most recently in our cover story in the last issue starting on page 26 called, “Who Will Fix it? The Helicopter Mechanic Shortage,” as we looked at the even more pronounced need for helicopter mechanics.
Surely you know the old quote often (erroneously) attributed to Einstein: “Doing the same things over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.” It seems like that is what is happening regarding finding, training and keeping people in aviation maintenance because I only heard the same thing being repeated by anyone asked what they are doing to get more people. The answer: reaching out to local schools and apprenticeships. Yes, those are the ways the industry has been trying to funnel more people onto the shop floor. But that has been happening for years. If it isn’t reaping rewards now, maybe it is time to try something different.
Also in this issue is a must-read story by Jim McKenna on the digitization of the MRO industry. It is finally happening. New or expanded digital capabilities, like software supporting maintenance planning, artificial intelligence-enabled inspection techniques and remote and collaborative inspection are finally being implemented to bring MRO into the digital age. As an added benefit, it may help alleviate some of the shortage dilemma. McKenna asked top leaders in the industry what they are doing as well as cutting edge companies about their product offerings for digitization. That story starts on page 34.
If all of the above is overwhelming and you don’t know where to start, please read the story on photoluminescent paint for propellers and rotor blades as shown on the cover. This is something you can act on right now and it will likely prevent an injury or even save a life. Sherwin-Williams’ AfterGlo paint is easy to apply, makes these invisible spinning parts glow with reflective paint that charges in the sun. As most of us in this industry know, there are too many stories of moving props or blades on the ramp where someone lets their guard down for just a second and is injured or killed — grabbing a hat blown off in a gust or when a child breaks free from a parent’s hand and runs…Check it out on page 42 — you may never know whose life you have saved by using it.