Many people are worried about the sheer number of mechanics that MROs and airline maintenance units must recruit over the next two decades. Thom-Arne Norheim, technical director of Norwegian recruiter OSM Aviation, is also worried about the changing mechanic skills that will be required.
“Digital troubleshooting will require personnel who are highly skilled on computers and digital platforms on a much greater scale than what we experience today,” Norheim stresses. Handling the 10 GB of data that the Airbus A350 generates every flight hour will also require more and tighter dialog between maintenance controllers and line mechanics.
Preparations for technical turnarounds of aircraft will be more extensive, due to more reliability data, but predictive maintenance should lead to less time on the ground. That means a change in MRO processes, and mechanics will have to adapt.
Aircraft systems are now being built more extensively on electronic structures and digital micro systems. “The old stick-and-string and classic hydraulics and pneumatics are being gradually replaced with more advanced technologies,” Norheim says. Avionics training will become much more important in coming years.
New materials, including composites and advanced alloys, will also change aircraft maintenance. The Boeing 787-8 will be 50% composite by weight but a stunning 80% composite by structural volume. This will require extensive training and new skills in fiberglass and highly advanced composite repairs. “Composite structures also require new techniques for damage mapping and evaluation,” Norheim notes. These processes require a much more high-tech environment than inspecting traditional aluminum alloys.
The OSM director thinks maintenance mechanics must develop a system orientation and assume additional responsibilities such as being team leaders and technical event managers. They will be constantly connected and online, acting increasingly on directions from maintenance control centers, all while meeting safety and compliance obligations.
How is all this to be achieved? Norheim says computer-based, mobile and distance e-learning solutions will be more important and notes that so far OEMs are leading the training effort. “Boeing is testing augmented and mixed reality to improve engagement, quality and knowledge retention. Airbus is focusing on the future engineer,” he says, adding that Airbus sees next generation maintenance staff as more of a mixture of degreed and technically schooled personnel. “More of the university-industry collaboration will be necessary to meet these challenges,” Norheim explains.
But Norheim also argues the industry needs to change its initial training and requirements for licensed mechanics, and this must be done globally. “Recruits out of initial training today do not have the skills required for next generation aircraft,” says Norheim. He predicts more major providers of outside training will emerge and that in-house training will emphasize on-job-training and line familiarization with new aircraft.