ATLANTA—Airline maintenance operations, conscious of the need to keep the pipeline of technical workers flowing, are putting effort into attracting and retaining mechanics, but opportunities exist to expand efforts by combining them, a top Delta executive says.
"Each of us are doing things individually, but I don't think we're doing enough as a group," said Jack Arehart, Delta Tech Ops president of MRO services, issuing a call-to-action during a round-table discussion at Aviation Week's MRO Americas.
In general, large airlines pay higher wages to mechanics, which means they have fewer problems filling positions than regional carriers or third-party shops. But the airline aftermarket is one ecosystem, meaning shortages in one area often create ripple effects.
In Delta's case, it has to replace about 300 of its 6,000 mechanics annually, Arehart said. While it usually manages to fill its positions, it often has to send its own mechanics to third-party shops to help ensure Delta'a outsourced airframe work is completed on time.
"The top carriers are fairly insulated from labor issues," he said. "If we were selfish, we'd say we're ok, but that's not the case."
One area getting specific attention from airlines: technical workforce retention. As new-generation aircraft and engines begin to fill maintenance facilities, workers must be trained to service them. The high-tech processes needed will help attract a new generation of tech-savvy worker, but if the workplace environment isn't similarly appealing, the maintenance provider risks losing people.
Air France Industries KLM Maintenance and Engineering VP-Component Services Maarten Koopmans recalls a proposed design for a new engine shop. "It was a big box with hardly any windows," he said. While functional, it was not the most appealing workspace. "It's not all about function. It's important people have a place to work that is nice to look at as well," he said.
The final design included some non-functional amenities, including a garden.
Delta has revamped its work areas, embracing common strategies such as adding open space and recreational areas. Arehart said spotlighting more high-tech processes, such as those used new-engine repair and composite work, needs to be done to help convey the high level of sophistication involved in being an airline mechanic.
"We've got to get out of the mindset of the normal tour where we walk through a hangar and pointing out an airplane" to convey the aviation industry's appeal, Arehart said. "Today's candidates are looking for more."