U. S. aircraft mechanics will become more scarce and more valuable in the coming decade. That trend, plus the flood of high-tech aircraft coming into fleets, means new technologies must come to shop floors, according to Oliver Wyman Vice President Steve Douglas.
The supply-demand balance for U.S. aircraft mechanics continues to tighten, Douglas told attendees at recent Aviation Technician Education Council conference. The current workforce of 85,000 mechanics averages 51 years of age, nine year older than the general U.S. workforce.
One result is that 85% of MROs surveyed by Oliver Wyman are already using overtime and productivity initiatives to meet increasing maintenance demand, as older aircraft fly longer or are pulled out of storage. And 80% of MROs are training their workers internally to broaden their skills.
Both techniques can work for a while. But Douglas noted that extensive use of overtime eventually hurts productivity.
At present, 95% of surveyed MROs see recruiting new mechanics getting tougher over the next three years. That’s a very realistic view. Oliver Wyman itself predicts the big crunch in recruitment will come around 2021, and the supply gap will deepen substantially after that
Better technology offers some hope for blunting the impact of scarcer or more expensive mechanics. But here there are problems too. For example, more predictive maintenance could reduce maintenance demand. But 62% of MROs say the IT systems needed for better predictive maintenance are still constrained by old IT technology.
On the positive front, more than two thirds of surveyed MROs are planning to deploy productivity-boosting RFID and mobile devices in the next three years. However, Douglas noted that other industries deployed these technologies years ago.
Douglas concluded his presentation by arguing that new-generation aircraft would put pressure on MROs to adopt new technologies, even without the mechanic shortage. With the need to squeeze the most output out of a tightening and probably pricier workforce, that pressure to adopt new technologies will only further intensify.