The Airframe and Power Plant Mechanic Shortage Continues

ap mechanic

The aviation industry is staring at an extended shortage of airframe and power plant (A&P) mechanics. The shortage was first predicted by experts as early as 2016, with Aviation Week being one of the publish it. More than three years later, the situation remains the same (perhaps even worse) – A&P mechanics are retiring faster than they can be replaced.

What to expect?

According to the recent Boeing Technician Outlook, the aviation industry will need at least 750,000 new A&P technicians within the next 20 years.

The projected demand for these technicians is highest in the Asia Pacific region, where at least 257,000 new A&P personnel will be required over the next two decades. During the same period, the North American market will require 189,000 new technicians while Europe and the Middle East will need 132,000 and 66,000 technicians respectively. Latin America and Africa will require 55,000 and 28,000 in that order while Russia and Central Asia will need 27,000 A&P technicians.

The future demand for licensed mechanics is too big a number to ignore. The Aeronautical Repair Stations Association (ARSA) believes that the shortage could be of “crisis proportions.” Out of concern, ARSA conducted a survey on this matter towards the end of 2018, asking airlines and repair stations how the shortage was affecting them. The findings were predictable. More than 80% of the respondents reported “difficulty finding qualified technicians.” At least 50% of the affected stations had unfilled positions.

Why the Shortage? Where are the Mechanics?

The shortfall is mainly attributed to the aging aviation mechanic population. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that a record number of A&P technicians will attain retirement age over the next 8 years as most baby boomers enter their sixties. In fact, 24% of the technicians are already beyond the age of 64. It won't be long before these workers reach retirement.

The problem is compounded by the small number of millennials taking up A&P jobs. Although a sufficient number are taking courses that qualify them to work as A&P technicians, more than 30% of the students eventually choose to pursue jobs in other sectors.

The main reason for this trend, according to a recent Oliver Wyman survey, is A&P technician wages. Up to 51% of the responding executives said they think millennials aren’t excited by the current wages, benefits, and perks of A&P workers.

A Solution is Needed, Quickly!

The A&P technicians shortfall threatens to raise the cost of aircraft maintenance, which would likely force airlines to retain more spare planes to avoid late departures and cancellations arising from maintenance delays. This, in turn, may have an impact on the cost of air travel.

That’s not all. The shortage poses an even bigger threat to the projected modernization and expansion of the global airline fleet.

The Oliver Wyman forecast indicates that global airlines are preparing to add 10,133 planes by 2027, growing fleet numbers by slightly over 40%. This would take the number of planes to about 35,500. Additionally, as many as 10,311 old planes are expected to be retired, while 20,444 next-generation aircraft are purchased. If that happens, by 2027, more than 58% of global airplanes would be those manufactured after the year 2000.

If the industry can’t find a way to sufficiently replace the outgoing A&P personnel as well as add to the workforce as necessary, these expansion and modernization efforts may never be realized – at least not on time.  Individuals looking for a career change or individuals just entering the job market should expect the Aviation Industry to put continued pressure on raising the average wage for an A&P Mechanic to attract more skilled mechanics into the Aviation labor workforce.   The Aviation Industry will also be marketing and promoting training programs in the years to come to make it easier for individuals to enter the job market as a licensed A&P mechanic. 

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