A new report from the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC) has discovered that mechanics are retiring faster than they can be replaced.
While new people make up just 2% of the aviation maintenance technician (AMT) population, 30% of the workforce is at or near retirement age, according to the report.
In the U.S., FAA-certified Aviation Maintenance Technician schools produce about 60% of new mechanics, with the military and on-the-job training accounting for the rest. As of mid-November 2017, enrollment at all AMT schools was about 17,800 students, but capacity is nearly 34,300.
While filling the pipeline from school to job is important, results from an ATEC survey also reiterates the need for aviation to retain the graduates schools produce. School officials estimate that 20% of graduates pursue careers outside of aviation, and only 60% elect to take the FAA test for mechanic certification.
The report notes that schools and the industry recognize these challenges, and are better defining career paths for students through innovative partnerships. When asked about formal cooperative agreements with employers, 87% of schools said they had relationships with industry companies, with repair station partnerships leading the way.
The report notes that one method of attracting more mechanics is to recruit more females. The FAA airman database includes 286,000 certificated mechanics. Females make up 2.3% of the certificated mechanic workforce, up from 1.7% in 2001.
Other notable findings provided in the report:
- The average age of an FAA mechanic is 51, with 27% of the mechanic population age 64 and above.
- Schools are expanding programs in response to specific industry needs – 53% reported having technical programs outside the A&P. The fastest-growing non-A&P programs over the last two years were avionics and unmanned aircraft systems.
- The survey shows that 41% percent of all individuals with an FAA mechanic certificate are employed by repair stations (50%), air carriers (45%), general aviation (4%) and schools (1%).
- Nearly 40% of all A&P students are enrolled at the 10 largest institutions. The AMT school community is, therefore, composed mostly of smaller institutions, with half of schools reporting fewer than 50 enrolled students.
Henry K Cooper says
After a tour in Naval Air and southeast Asia during the Viet Nam war, I used my VA bennies and attended Embry-Riddle, DAB in the AMT course. Why not? Just as in high school, I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do. Anyway, I earned my A&P in May of 1972. Then guess what? Most of those jobs that were around in 1970 had dried up! The airlines didn’t interest me. Friends and some relatives had horror stories about them. For sure I didn’t want to wind up in some hydraulics backshop inventorying o-rings.
My interest was in general aviation. As luck would have it, I answered an ad for an A&P at a Baltimore Cessna dealer. Starting out, it was apparent there was much I didn’t know, and there was much to learn (we’ve all been there, right?). I understood why the starting pay was low, but I’d make more in 1966 digging ditches for Henkles & McCoy! So I put my nose to the grindstone and progressed. A much older A&E was there, and had an attitude. I had to tip-toe around him, as seemed to resent that I was there. Nevertheless, he managed to get fired for leaving a 182 in a state of disassembly one Friday afternoon, when it could have been completed and make money that weekend. I wound up completing it, and then nervously signed off my first 100 hour inspection. That’s when the boss handed me the key and said, “The shop is yours!”. In a few years, I earned my IA, and was named director of maintenance. I did love my job so.
I stayed with the boss for ten years, and he was understanding, tolerant and fair with me, and had great trust in me, but the money just wasn’t there. Guys from the shop at the Chevy dealer were learning t i fly. I could hardly afford to gas up a C150.
I then moved on to an aircraft modifier, obtained my DMIR, and it was a whole new ballgame. Out of town trips popped up with regularity and with no notice, and those three day trips sometimes evolved into two weeks. Rough to do with a new wife and baby. And I was worked to death! The money was better, but once I became salaried, overtime wasn’t paid, and I was expected to be six places at once, and to work most weekends. It just became too much.
I applied to an FAA MIDO office, and it took 2 years to get the job, but I got it, and stayed there nearly 30 years. Now the money was good, and I enjoyed the job, especially being in the field getting my hands dirty! The last five or so years there were quite different. Young people who grew up with computers were being hired for their computer skills, not any aviation savvy. Most couldn’t work a simple weight and bakance. Trips to the field were greatly curtailed, and I no longer felt effective. I thus became a dinosaur, and was told to just play the game. But aviation is no place for games. So I took a leap of faith an retired in October 2015.
I guess I can say that aviation jobs can be good ones if you find a slot you like and can fit in it. But it is a very serious business, and lives depend on what you do and hiw well you do it. The responsibility is great. Loss of your license can mean loss of your job…or worse.
The hordes of guys going to Av school under VA have dwindled…..no draft, less vets. And “Joe” just out of high school has trouble scrounging up the thousands of dollars it takes to attend such schools. And why suffer through all that when the pay just isn’t there?
I’ve been an A&P since 1976, and an IA since 1981. I spend the first 3 years working on small singles and light twins. I’ve been in corporate aviation every since 1979. My first corporate job was 2 twin Cessnas, then an MU2. In 1984, started with a company with a Sabre, and then a JetStar II. In 1997, made a jump to a big insurance company (Citations), and then in 2000 to my present company with a GIII, Sikorsky and Excel (Fortune 1000). I worked on aircraft every day for the first 26 years, and loved it. Had early aspirations to be a pilot, but instead chose in the late 1980s to get a business degree. I’m now the Sr. Director of Aviation (since 2001), and a Certified Aviation Manager (CAM). Like others that have commented, I’m in this business because I love it. I started learning to fly at age 15. My first job was very low pay, but I had higher aspirations. The pay is out there, if you’re willing to do what it takes to get it. However, we must find a way to attract young people to our industry, technicians and pilots alike. Diversity is good, but having a path to job security with good pay and a chance for advancement is crucial. I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to help two people achieve their A&P license through their experience working for me. One recently retired after a successful corporate career, and the other changed to the medical field after about 15 years due to no good opportunities. Our challenges are twofold- recruitment and retention. I constantly proselytize young people to consider our industry, and I also lobby hard for higher pay and recognition of the skill and professionalism it takes to be successful. I encourage you all to do the same. My two cents. . . If you’re still reading , thank you.
Rod McLaren says
Mechanics or Licensed Aircraft Maintenance aengineers need to be paid more, it is that simple. The legal obligations and drug and alcohol testing warrant it.
Mary S. says
My daughter just graduated from KCTCS with her A&P certificate. It is definitely a labor of love. She wants to get her commercial pilots license. I hope conditions in the industry get better!
Joe Doe says
Gulfstream Aerospace has been great to me, until the past few years. I started working for them in 1991 making $10.50 and hour. I’ve worked my way through the ranks, mechanic, crew chief, QC inspector, QC lead, and after 5 or 6 years I was asked to get into the business side of the company. Much of this had to do with communication, customer service, sales, invoicing, negotiating with vendors, warranty management etc…I’ve stuck with this for 20 years and have made my way into several senior management positions all with nothing more than a high school degree and an A & P license. My colleges who stuck with the hands on work have done pretty well also. Gulfstream’s only negative is that they have lost their employee loyalty. They continue to whittle down the benefits, insurance gets less coverage and more expensive every year, raises continue to fall, any new hires are not eligible for a pension. The ones who have been with the company long enough to have a pension are told it will stop growing in 2022. It’s very sad that after 25 years at a company they can make significant changes to your life’s plan without any consequence. I expect in 2022, there will be a massive exodus of super experienced people jumping ship. Since their announcement of the pension cap, they have had major restructuring and many people eligible for pensions have been forced out of higher paying positions into lower paying positions without cause. Perception points to this being strategic because the pension is based off of your highest paid average. The lower they can bring this average down the less the pension will be when it caps. Loyalty seems to go one way.
Kelly Madigan says
Let’s see, hazardous chemicals, crappy schedules, management always asking for more more more, corporate asking for give backs, dangerous working conditions and the threat of going to jail if you screw up!
Gotta love Aviation!
I’m 55 and agree not to many younger techs coming into the field. To many perks at other places.
I could go on and on, but it’s the the career I chose and love, finally after 27 yrs at current company I have a decent schedule, overtime is for the taking!
Jim Hackman says
Not all about the money. In the past there was some degree of respect for an A&P position. Car mechanic got greasy and low pay. Now it’s reversed. An Auto Technician works with high tech equipment, in a shop with polished floors, in nice uniforms, on engines built with the latest technology. At school his/her kid says my dad/mom is a Lexus specialist! We are stuck in the 70’s in more ways than just the pay!
Jim Macklin says
A&Ps are licensed and can go to jail. Car mechanics might be certified but they don’t face jail when the oil filter isn’t properly installed or the engine.
I was a professional pilot and an A&P. My eldest son is an A&P but he is building farm equipment.
Initial training costs and times for an A&P plus the ever present risk of certificate actions, combined with ridiculous pay discourages new folks and drives many away,
If it weren’t for the love of aviation, we wouldn’t have any out there
Henry K. Cooper says
You have that right. I quit a construction job in 1966 where I was making $4.50 an hour and joined Naval Air to avoid the draft. When I got out, I used money I saved plus VA bennies to go to Embry-Riddle and get my A and P. Then I got my first air job at $3.00 per hour .
When I graduated from East Coast Aero Tech in 1987 with a newly minted A&P certificate in my wallet, of a class of 24 students only two actually went into aviation of which I was one. Those of us who did, consciously took salaries that were one third to one half of those of the rest of our classmates all of whom went to manufacturing, automotive, and other technical service industries. This was and remains a common pattern.
As an example, fresh out of school in 1987, I went to work at Beechcraft for $8.50 per hour while one of my classmates went back to a Saab auto dealership for $24.00 per hour. We both graduated in the top two of our class. Sadly, in thirty years nothing has changed in the aircraft maintenance profession. As with the so-called pilot shortage today in the regional airline industry, there is no shortage of skilled aircraft mechanics, there is a shortage of pay and benefits to attract them to the industry. Other industries know this and actively compete for the varied technical and analytical skills that aircraft mechanics possess.
Henry K. Cooper says
As an A and P mechanic and IA at a Cessna dealership in 1979, a fellow with an auto garage uniform came into the hangar to look at the engine if a C172 that I had just uncowled…..he had never seen on “laid bare”. During our conversation I learned that he was a mechanic at a local GM dealer, was working on his instrument rating, and was looking for a good used C172 to buy. I thought, “Something is wrong! This guy fixes Chevys, and can afford an advanced pilot certificate and maybe an airplane. I’m an A and P, hold an IA, and am the director of maintenance, and I can’t even afford basic flight lessons! !”)
Jim Macklin says
The auto companies build more cars in one month than all the General Aviation airplanes built since 1918.
Simple ECON 101… airplanes are a luxury that the carv companies were ordered to sell when the Feds bailed them out. 50,000 people lost their jobs and employment in Wichita fell by more than 50%.
Nothing new, my buddy left the airline to go to work at an elevator maintenance company. He started twice as much
In Europe they (CRS technicians) get about 3.5-6k Eur/month (LM, 14 days on/off), depends on a country and airline. How much they can get in the US?
Aa 100k cant complain
I, too, would be interested in seeing more pay data. I’m also curious if anyone is tracking the ratio of “aspiring A&Ps” to “retired folks getting an A&P for fun” – both at the school and certification levels.
Not long ago, I spoke with a mechanic who, prior to coming to work at our airline (as a contract employee w/out benefits) had to train his replacements from Central America, so that C and D-checks from his previous airline could be ‘outsourced’ there.
He was counting the days until he could get his ASE certification and work at a local car dealership.
He loved airplanes but everyone has their limits, I guess.
I think the only US major that still does heavy checks in-house is AA, though I think even they have been catching the outsourcing disease as of late.
The brain drain will continue as long as the ‘job creators’ treat their human capital like trash, IMHO.
The report doesn’t speak to the biggest issue.
A Chevy mechanic at a dealership can make way more money then an A&P at an FBO