The repatriation of those services is viable because labour rates in developed Asian economies such as China are now close enough to Western levels that ferrying aircraft across the Pacific is starting to become uneconomical.
Indeed, a recent survey by Oliver Wyman found that a majority of US airlines would be willing to pay five per cent more to use domestic MRO providers.
While such a small cost differential may not yet be wildly available, there’s no doubt that North America presently boasts an excess of hangar space after years of seeing maintenance move overseas.
The pressing issue now is finding workers to fill those hangars. A third of US MROs and airlines are currently seeking to hire more mechanics and engineers, but a third of those complain that there are few qualified applicants for the roles available, according to the Oliver Wyman survey.
Another problem is an ageing workforce. More than 80 per cent of technical workers in Europe and Asia are between 36 and 45 – old enough to have developed useful skills but not a retirement risk – compared with only 53 per cent in the US, where almost 40 per cent of workers are above 45.
In other ways, though, US maintenance companies can expect a brighter future than their European rivals, who tend to be hiring to sustain headcount rather than expand it. Also, for every US MRO that reported hiring difficulties, another described multiple qualified applicants for each opening.
The author of the survey, consultancy Oliver Wyman, believes that such activity has the potential to create 5,000 MRO jobs in the United States in the near future.