New NBAA-led Program Seeks To Elevate Maintenance Profession

Industry reacts to FAA’s proposals for streamlining certification process

One important—but sometimes overlooked—aspect of creating a safe and high-quality maintenance operation is ensuring all technicians have a strong sense of moving along an attractive and professional career path. Just connect the dots: an employee’s performance is tied directly to his or her level of engagement in their job—and engagement is linked closely to professional development and growth.

The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and others are tackling the issue of professional growth through an initiative called Project Bootstrap. At its core, the project is a proposed aviation maintenance technician certification program developed by the NBAA Maintenance Committee’s Training/Advanced Education Subcommittee, in collaboration with strategic partners in the aviation industry. Its goal is to raise the educational and professional bar for aviation technicians via a new and higher certification category: the aircraft maintenance technical engineer (AMTE). Along with the certificate, the program aims to provide career direction, career expansion, evolutionary growth to the profession, improved performance in safety and quality, and increased earning potential for maintenance professionals.

“We are trying to produce the next generation of aircraft technician who is in tune with the next generation of aircraft,” says Jim Sparks, NBAA Maintenance Committee chairman, who calls Project Bootstrap an intricate piece of “NextTech for NextGen.”

The initiative began industry-wide but has migrated toward business aviation where the need to adopt training standards better matched to the latest technologies is more urgent.

The proposed AMTE certification accounts for today’s highly advanced and interrelated aircraft systems. “Years ago,” says Sparks, “it was easy to distinguish the airframe mechanic from the powerplant mechanic from the avionics technician. Today it is all seamless and interconnected.”

As a result, the AMTE essentially combines the skill sets of the A&P/IA and the AET. It also requires a 10-year continuous experience history composed of any combination of years of service in any rated capacity following the award of all certificates, licenses and ratings. In short, the AMTE will be “a super-technician with a lot of purpose,” Sparks says. “We are trying to elevate the profession.”

The project has been gaining momentum in recent months. The FAA just published a draft revision to AC65-30 (Overview of the Aviation Maintenance Profession) and has provided until Dec. 10 for comments. In addition, since its launch in 2006, the industry coalition pushing for this certification standard now includes the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA), the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC), the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) and Helicopter Association International (HAI).

“We have received requests from several aviation technical colleges to also provide alignment,” Sparks added. “We have formally engaged ASTM and the first standards kick-off meeting is being organized.”

Elevating the Image

Along with working with regulatory authorities and Part 147 schools to better align technician training with the skills needed to maintain today’s highly sophisticated fleets and developing educational resources to enable technicians to reach the raised bar of the AMTE, the Project Bootstrap team aims to elevate the public image of the maintenance technician so it appeals to tech-savvy graduates.

“Technicians entering the field today aren’t the same as years ago. They have to be challenged in different ways than people of my generation,” says Sparks. And they need to know that aircraft maintenance is now a highly sophisticated and technical profession with a solid career path.

To that end, Sparks participates in career day presentations at high schools and junior colleges. He showed attendees pictures of modern airplanes, including the flightdeck of a Boeing 787. “When I put up those pictures, they all oohed and ahhed,” Sparks remembers. “At the end of the presentations, the line in front of me for questions was twice as long as for anyone else. One of the counselors said to me: ‘I thought aircraft maintenance was a dying career. I had no idea this is what it is today!’ We aren’t truly showing students what it is about—and we need to.” 

A version of this article appears in the October 6 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology.
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