The aviation sector is facing a staffing problem as a shortage of mechanics looms

The aviation sector is facing a staffing problem as a shortage of mechanics looms

MONTREAL/BENGALURU (Reuters) – Christophe Gagnon has considered leaving his avionics studies because COVID-19 has paralyzed aviation, but the 21-year-old has stayed in the classroom and now the industry desperately needs more like him to keep planes flying.

After two years of shutdowns that nearly ground the aviation industry, repair shops and suppliers are scrambling for students like Gagnon, who received multiple job offers while still at ÉNA in the Canadian aviation hub, Quebec.

The rush in hiring is evidence of a sharper-than-expected recovery in air travel, but it also points to a looming labor shortage that is driving up costs and potentially increasing repair times as the industry undergoes an embarrassing recovery from its worst crisis. There is a shortage in the minds of executives at the Farnborough Air Show near London, the biggest aviation show of the year, which begins July 18.

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While the cabin crew shortage has dominated headlines due to recent flight cancellations, finding mechanics has also left executives sweating. Nearly $84 billion is expected to be spent this year on aircraft maintenance, repair, and maintenance, according to Naveo Consultancy.

“We are struggling too hard. We can’t get enough[workers],” said Abdel Maabri, CEO of commercial airline GA Telesis LLC.

Despite increasing offers of more than 10%, Telesis is working hard to retain employment as rising housing prices at the company’s South Florida location have prompted some workers to consider offers in more affordable areas.

The high-margin service industry is attractive to aircraft makers such as Boeing, as air travel is booming. In 2021, the US aircraft maker predicted that the global industry would need 626,000 new maintenance technicians over the next two decades, compared to 612,000 pilots.

Executives said a shortage of flight maintenance engineers, who certify the airworthiness of an aircraft, could lead to flight cancellations, or delays in repairs.

Job cuts caused by the COVID-19 virus have accelerated the pre-pandemic trend of workers retiring or switching to other industries like automobiles, and schools are not producing enough graduates to replace them.

The average FAA-certified mechanic is 53 years old, or 11 years older than the average worker in the United States as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Enrollment in US aviation maintenance technician schools grew 0.55% in 2020 after the COVID-19 hit, compared to 13% in 2019, according to the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC).

“It has become significantly more difficult to hire mechanics compared to the pre-crisis period,” said Frank Bayer, who heads human resources at Lufthansa Technik AG (LUFT.UL).

Scott Cadwell, the company’s CEO, said Canada’s Cascade Aerospace, which repairs military aircraft, could attract nearly 100 workers a year during the pandemic, when commercial aviation and labor availability have declined. Now, “crickets are available for experienced workers.”

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In Quebec, the Aero Montreal business group is planning its first industry-led campaign this fall using traditional and digital media, along with influencers, to attract more students.

Enrollment at ÉNA is down 20% compared to 2019, an alarming sign for Montreal, the world’s third largest aviation hub.

“In two years, in three years, if nothing changes, if young people continue to be disinterested in our sector, we will not be able to offer our products,” Susan Benoit, President of Aero Montreal, warned.

The Wells Fargo survey of aircraft maintenance, repair and repair service providers showed the employment crisis worsening in July, with 60% of those surveyed saying they saw a “meaningful impact” of the shortage compared to 35% in a previous survey.

Unlike pilots, who can earn salaries of up to six characters, mechanics and other professions pay less and often come with late shifts. According to an ATEC survey, the average entry-level hourly rate for a mechanic was $22.36 in 2021.

Alex Dichter, who leads McKinsey’s travel, logistics and infrastructure consultancy, said the mechanics needed an overhaul of the image.

“If you were to poll high school students who don’t want to be doctors or lawyers or entrepreneurs and ask them what they want to be … relatively few kids talk about being mechanics,” he said. “We have a little catching up on this front.”

Both Lufthansa and Singapore Technologies Engineering Limited (STEG.SI) said they were working to improve offsetting some deals.

Constant Aviation, which serves private jets, recently raised technician salaries by 10% and offered $15,000 signing bonuses to qualified veterans to meet rising demand.

Kent Stover, the Cleveland-based company’s chief safety officer, said booking maintenance, which previously required a few weeks’ notice, should now be done six months in advance.

Stover said the industry was doing itself a disservice by not paying more.

“Now everything is catching up with us.”

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Canadian Aviation and Space Council projections for 2022 predict a shortage of 58,000 skilled workers by 2028. However, schools studying maintenance, avionics and structures provide less than a quarter of the needed graduates, due to limited capabilities and poor completion rates.

“The industry needs to develop its own training programs because colleges don’t have the capacity to train what the industry needs,” said Robert Donald, the council’s executive director.

Chief Corporate Services Officer Grant Stevens said Canada’s KF Aerospace, which does extensive maintenance and modifications for commercial aviation, is now doubling the number of new recruits it trains from scratch.

This need is not lost on a new generation of workers.

Just as Christophe Gagnon, an ÉNA student from Quebec, received more than one job offer, Frederic Gagnon, who is not related but went to the same school in aircraft maintenance technology, said he had no trouble finding work.

Frederic Gagnon stated that he got a job interview less than a day after applying.

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Additional reporting by Alison Lambert in Montreal and Abhijith Ganabavaram in Bengaluru; Editing by Ben Klayman and Matthew Lewis

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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