Labor Shortages May Impact Your Maintenance Schedule

By Jason Zilberbrand

March 3, 2022 Educational

The aviation industry has struggled with massive shortages in the last decade, including pilots, mechanics, and parts. Due in part to global supply chain issues resulting from the COvid lockdown and several highly skilled laborers that either retired or were laid off.

If you're wondering why you can't seem to get your aircraft scheduled for maintenance, you're not alone. There's a massive backlog across the board, which means it's very difficult to find a facility, much less a mechanic. Furthermore, you may even have trouble finding the needed parts to return your aircraft to service.

Service facilities are struggling to commit to any schedule or timing. Without the people or parts, it's tough to determine when maintenance work can be completed. But there is more than meets the eye; many more transactions have occurred, and the market environment has been frantic.

Take a more in-depth look at why the labor shortage is impacting your aircraft maintenance schedule.

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The Pilot Shortage Began Before The Pandemic

A lack of qualified pilots affected the aviation industry before many COVID-19 shutdowns. Airlines, charter companies, corporate flight departments, high net worth individuals are all experiencing the same issues. Another reason why owner/operated aircraft has a huge following, you are not at the mercy of a pilot, much less two or three.

As people everywhere are getting back on board and buying pre-owned aircraft, each shortage plays a role in why individuals can't get the service they've expected from previous years.

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Parts Are Not Available

Even parts that are commonly needed must be ordered. Then you're facing the struggle to find out exactly when it will come in. This makes it hard for service centers to offer an accurate and reasonable timeline for any work orders. What was once a two-week job now takes six weeks or longer to complete.

Yes, you may see maintenance workers who appear not to be doing much. But the truth is, even if you have people to do the work, you might not necessarily have the parts to get the job done.

Troubleshooting older vintage business jets is getting more complicated

The mechanics with substantial experience on older airframes are at retirement age. Additionally, during the height of the pandemic, many offered buyouts or other incentives to encourage senior mechanics to retire. While companies might have thought they were saving themselves money, they were actually diminishing an already shrinking workforce.

In 2019, aircraft technicians in the U.S. were at an average age of 51 years old, nine years older than other industries. As of 2021, that number has dropped significantly to 42 years old. This leaves shops employed with too many inexperienced workers who further slow down the chain of services as they cannot fix, repair or troubleshoot as quickly.

Potential Workers Don't Know It's An Option.

Many qualified technicians or those capable of transitioning into the industry may have never thought about aviation. Director of Marketing and Information Technology Steve Sabold at the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics has noticed this and says, "... it's an occupation that a lot of people don't know is out there."

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median salary in 2020 for aircraft mechanics and technicians was $66,000. And if those same technicians work overtime, they could make $75,000 in their first year.

At this point, you might be asking, "But what about the necessary education for the job?"

You can find technician programs that take as little as 16 months. Also, it doesn't cost nearly as much as many four-year universities. As an example, the Pittsburgh Institute program costs $40,000. However, campuses with these programs continue to see empty classrooms and unfilled spots.

Effects Of Maintenance Facility Lack of Capacity

A few things can be expected moving forward. One is that those new to aviation will continue, at least for now, having difficulty finding a shop that can work on their aircraft right away. This is especially true as many service centers have jobs booked out 12 months in advance. Numerous paint facilities are booked into 2023; yes, you read that correctly, you'll wait a whole year for a paint job now.

However, there is a bright side. As demand remains, the interest to pursue a career in aviation mechanics will pick up. It just might take time to see some momentum. According to Travel Weekly, "the mechanic population is expected to increase by 13% over the next 20 years."

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