With both Boeing and Airbus flagging major expansion of operator fleets across the Asian region—Airbus says 39% of its ongoing sales to 2033 will be in Asia and Boeing says expanding fleets will demand 224,000 new technicians by the same date—the outlook for MROs across the region should be rosy. However, finding those 224,000 technicians is likely to give both MRO operators and training and educational establishments alike severe headaches.
Asia, unlike the U.S. and Europe, does not have a steady and predictable flow of ex-military personnel waiting to fill civilian roles. Most of the technicians employed at Asian MROs are commercial recruits, or come direct from specialist educational courses.
Which means they will have come through a specialist schedule that can take years to complete. And they will have opted for an engineering career over what many see as more glamorous options, medicine, finance or law. It’s a big request—and one that is not being answered.
“The supply of the right skills [regionally] is not yet fully ready to fulfill the aviation industry’s [future] needs,” warns Indonesia-based GMF AeroAsia spokesperson Mochamad Aviv.
Aviv says his company, the MRO subsidiary of Garuda Indonesia, has had to develop a recruitment strategy that meets immediate industry demands, yet at the same time prepares for projected expansion.
Although he says that the current pipeline in Indonesia is coping, he admits “we still [have to] compromise for dynamic demands,” if specific new business comes in that staff are not trained for. As a result, GMF has chosen an innovative approach that taps into and leverages its existing rating as an Aircraft Maintenance Training Organization (AMTO) Part 147 approved operation.
“As we already have AMTO 147 approval, we have used that to create [direct] partnerships with certain universities and polytechnics,” he explains. He says this has allowed the non-specialist educators to tap into GMF’s accreditation standards, yet produce courses that fully conform to AMTO 147 Civil Aviation Safety Regulations (CASR) requirements.
GMF thinks this approach will help offset what it sees as a limited future supply from industry-specific training establishments, as well as ensuring oversight to full aviation standards from Indonesia’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation.
GMF’s proactive approach to a looming Asian technician bottleneck is being echoed in Singapore.
“From what we see, there is a five-year lag from the point of demand,” says Lim Serh Ghee, COO at Singapore’s largest MRO, ST Aerospace. Lim says STA, like GMF, has been working on “strong symbiotic relationships with local educational institutions” that will help satisfy the company’s future staffing needs. “We are doing our part, working closely with the local education institutions to build up the talent pool,” he says.
STA sits on the advisory committees of local Institutes of Technical Education (ITE), Polytechnics, and Singapore’s private university UniSIM to “[effectively] collaborate in the education and development of manpower to address the changing dynamics of the industry,” says Lim.
Educators are also aware of the impending numbers crunch in the aviation industry. Ng Teng Yong, acting head of the division of aerospace engineering at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), says that although the university has no problem attracting the brightest students to its courses, there are always a certain proportion that are lured away by the prospect of a lucrative career in finance or other business.
“We take some 80-120 of the best students every year, and many go on to work at companies like Rolls-Royce or Pratt & Whitney,” he says. “But we do see a certain number of the cream of the crop going to finance and so on,” he admits, “so what we try to emphasize is the career prospects that come [in aviation].”
Ng says the big plus for new recruits into aerospace generally is that the good students can have their pick of jobs in Asia, the U.S., and the U.K., although he notes that today the “majority” stay in Asia, where they see the rapid expansion of the sector as offering more dynamic prospects.
“There are—and we think there will continue to be—plenty of really good job offerings here,” he says. And like GMF and STA, Ng points out that the close links between educational establishments like NTU and the industry itself are vital.
NTU runs a series of regional roadshows designed to explain the attractions of a career in aviation engineering, although Ng says that most trainees and students probably already know what they are looking for.
GMF’s Aviv agrees, noting that as aviation becomes a more prominent sector in the region, it will only attract more trainees. “The trend is increasing and we believe that [aviation] will become a [career] trend for school leavers,” he says.
To meet staff demands in coming years, Lim says it is vital to engage young talent during their course of study. And part of this, he says, is maintaining ongoing training and skills upgrades. “It is crucial to ensure continued availability of [a highly skilled] talent pool. We believe in investing in our employees and supporting the industry with the next generation of highly skilled and competent aviation professionals,” says Lim.
A version of this article appears in the November 3/10 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology.