Despite worries about fuel prices, MROs and airlines are still expanding maintenance capacity. For example, growing Piedmont Airlines will open a new maintenance shop in Albany, New York. To staff the facility, the regional carrier plans to hire approximately 50 people, a combination of FAA-certified mechanics, supervisors, quality control staff and part clerks, according to spokesperson Jacqueline Jennings.
The new shop will be in an existing but fairly new facility. And the floor is heated, which will be helpful during those frigid upstate New York winters.
Piedmont, a wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines, looked at other locations, but Jennings says Albany had the best combination of location, facilities and workforce to suit Piedmont’s needs. “We recently began flying to Canada out of Philadelphia, and we needed a maintenance facility with good proximity to our destinations there.” Piedmont’s existing maintenance base closest to Canada is in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “The logistics were getting more and more challenging as we continue to grow the airline.”
The mechanic market around Albany appears thin but attractive. In 2017, according to the U.S. Labor Department, there were 120 aircraft mechanics making an average wage of $24.46 per hour in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metropolitan area. That was lower than the average for the Harrisburg-Carlisle area, at $28.07 per hour, and well below the average for U.S. as a whole at $30.07 per hour. About 3,100 aircraft mechanics worked in all of of the state of New York in 2017.
Albany wages will likely increase. “There are challenges in staffing any maintenance base right now due to a growing shortage of mechanics,” Jennings explains. She says Piedmont has a good plan for recruiting talent in Albany and from its surrounding area. “We plan to announce several new programs shortly.” Piedmont is already paying a $44,000 bonus for new hires of direct-entry captains.
Moreover, there are signs that the overall U.S. labor market is finally tightening enough to boost pay a bit more. The Labor Department’s employment cost index, which includes both wages and benefits, was up 2.8% in the 12 months to June 2018, versus 2.4% in the prior 12-month period.
In any case, the airline is confident the new facility will be needed. Jennings says Piedmont is not seeing any sign of a slowdown in traffic yet, just increased fuel costs. The airline will increase its fleet of Embraer 145s by another 25% over the next six months. “We continue to grow our maintenance, pilot and customer service teams. I don’t have any indication that the growth will slow or stop.”
In addition to the new maintenance facility in Albany, Piedmont also operates ones at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), Charlotte-Douglas International Airport (CLT), Roanoke Municipal Airport (ROA), Richmond International Airport (RIC), Harrisburg International Airport (MDT) and Salisbury Regional Airport (SBY).