MRO Americas
Ken MacTiernan and events from the Aerospace Maintenance Competition Aerospace Maintenance Competition/Lee Ann Shay

Fast 5: Recognizing The Faces Behind Aircraft Safety At The Aerospace Maintenance Competition

Ken MacTiernan, VP of the Aerospace Maintenance Council and chairman of the Aerospace Maintenance Competition, talks to Lindsay Bjerregaard about why the competition was created and how it works. With the largest competition yet happening in conjunction with this year's MRO Americas, MacTiernan highlights what is new for this year.

What is your background with aviation maintenance and what is your role with the Aerospace Maintenance Competition (AMC)?

I started my career right out of high school in the Air Force as a B52 mechanic. While I was in the Air Force I went to a college nearby to study for my Airframe and Powerplant certificates. When I got out I went back east to Long Island, where I’m from, and American Airlines hired me in 1986. I got hired as a line mechanic and I was in LaGuardia for 11 months before I transferred to San Diego. This June will be 32 years working commercial jets.

That led me to create the Aircraft Maintenance Technicians Association, which is a nonprofit organization that promote aircraft mechanics, and that got me recognized by John Goglia. John was going to create a not-for-profit organization called the Aerospace Maintenance Council. He asked if I would put together a competition for him, and I said I would. I had been doing it previously for the AMT Society, and I resigned as a director for that organization and jumped at the chance to work with John. 

Could you tell me a bit about how the AMC works and what its goals are?

The teams consist of five people per team, and not all five people will do all 29 scheduled events. The events range from basic safety wiring to composite repair to electrical and avionics troubleshooting. I try to get events that showcase as many of the responsibilities we have as professional aircraft and spacecraft technicians as possible. Each of the events are timed and you have 15 minutes to finish a specific event. The scoring is calculated by the amount of time you use out of the 15 minutes, plus any penalties that the judge would give you. The final scores for all 29 events are added together and the teams with the lowest combined scores are presented first, second and third place trophies and prizes.

The goal is to raise the public’s awareness of the knowledge, skill and integrity of the men and women that maintain aircraft and spacecraft in an airworthy, safe condition around the world. It doesn’t matter the size of the aircraft, the size of the fleet or what that aircraft or spacecraft’s job is to do—we all have the same responsibility. Somebody who’s doing an ETOPS check on an Airbus A380 has the same responsibility as the mechanic who’s looking at a Learjet for an executive to fly across the country. 

How much has the competition grown since it started? What is the breakdown of categories for competitors?

This will be my tenth year doing it. The first year I had nine teams competing in 12 events. There were no different categories—it was just five people per team, so colleges went up against commercial mechanics. Each year the number of teams increased, and it got to the point where I could actually create different categories, because it really wasn’t fair for the college kids to compete against the professionals. Then we started getting the military, so we had a military category. And now with Elon Musk and the commercial space industry, we have a space category. Last year was our largest year with 50 teams competing in 25 events. We’ve surpassed that this year. We have 72 teams that are going to be competing in 29 events.

We have commercial aviation, general aviation, military, schools, MRO/OEM and space. Generally the commercial and college categories have fielded the most amount of teams. The military has been hit-or-miss over the years because budgeting is their biggest factor. This year I’m happy to say we have four of the five branches represented.

Is there any new technology being incorporated into the competition this year?

The competition is a good stage and venue for new technology in aircraft maintenance. A perfect example of that would be an event that American Airlines is co-sponsoring with a company called Atheer, which writes software for augmented reality (AR) training. American is providing the center console from two MD80 aircraft, and the competitor is going to wear a pair of AR goggles. They’re going to be in communication with another teammate who is serving as tech service representative for a company who can see what they’re looking at, take a picture of it, and send them technical manuals. So that’s something else that the competition is bringing to the table— the opportunity to show industry, ‘Hey, this is what’s coming down the pike!’ It’s the aircraft technician who has to stay lock-step with that technology.

What do you think makes this competition important for the industry?

I think the AMC is important for the industry because it reminds everyone of the skill that’s needed to make the industry what it is. You want to have quality people doing the job that we’re doing, and the competition puts these men and women on display. 1903 is when the Wrights flew, and it was Charles Taylor that made the first engine for them. He was the first aircraft mechanic. So we’re looking at 115 years of aviation history, and aircraft technicians and engineers, just by our very nature, are behind the scenes. We’re the faces behind safety. There’s no LeBron James or Michael Jordan. There are no marketing contracts for fixing an airplane that’s going to go fly to Europe. That’s not what we’re about. The competition is saying, ‘It’s time that we remember why aviation has become so safe.’ And it’s because of the men and women here that are representing their respective companies and organizations. It’s a way of standing up and speaking out for a craft and profession that has been taken for granted. 

Don’t miss MRO Americas April 10-12 in Orlando, FL. More details about the competition can be found at aerospacecompetition.com.

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