Printed headline: Fast-Tracked
A recent FAA endorsement of industry-driven certification provides cost-cutting opportunities for employers looking to hire and qualify avionics technicians.
In response to a petition from the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) earlier this year, the FAA formally recognized the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International’s National Center for Aerospace and Transportation Technologies (NCATT) aircraft electronics technician (AET) certification as equivalent to formal training when showing eligibility for the issuance of a repairman certificate. The move better defines a pathway to repairman qualification, catching the eye of educational institutions looking for student placement opportunities and employers seeking relief from skills-gap training.
The FAA issues repairman certificates to individuals who are “specially qualified” to perform a job for an air carrier or repair station. In addition to an employer recommendation, a repairman must have either 18 months of practical experience for the specific job or training found “acceptable to the administrator.” In its letter, the FAA essentially deems AET certification acceptable training—equivalent to practical experience—for purposes of repairman certification.
The FAA buy-in does not create a new pathway—an employer could always make a recommendation for an individual’s repairman certification based on any number of training or certification programs—but it does provide some assurance to employers making the certification a condition of employment. An AET certificate should accelerate the repairman application process for new hires, assuming, of course, that the candidate is capable of performing the assigned task he or she was hired to do.
Companies relying on overtime and costly pre-employment testing to qualify personnel could instead turn to the avionics standard as a much-needed backstop. Increased industry demand would incentivize more educational institutions to incorporate the AET certification into current programs—or better yet, to create new stand-alone, short-term programs to fill a growing need for specialized avionics personnel.
Educational institution officials say they are not yet seeing a strong demand for the AET certification, but that may change as word gets out, says Steve Kane, executive director of CertTEC, the organization that facilitates job-oriented knowledge and practical skill certifications. “Industry certifications such as the ASTM NCATT AET reduce the risk in the hiring process by providing a baseline of skills and knowledge,” says Kane. “With 60% of the value of new aircraft in electronics and avionics, a credential driven by industry-endorsed standards provides a desirable occupation to individuals and reduces training costs for employers.”
Most of the 31 approved training providers offer the AET curriculum as part of a larger degree program, which typically takes anywhere from 15-22 months to complete. Some of these long-standing programs are making changes that will allow students to complete the courses for AET certification “a la carte.”
Alabama Community College System (ACCS) Director of Aviation Programs Michael McDaniel says his network of schools is using the AET certification to enhance flexibility for both students and employers. “Students can enroll in our avionics associates degree program and have the training necessary for AET certification in about a year,” he says.
Other institutions are developing similar tracks. The Aviation Institute of Maintenance offers AET certification as a stand-alone, 27-week program, meaning students could be eligible for a repairman certificate in as little as six months.
For ACCS, the “on-ramp” AET program creates an individual that is immediately employable. “While students completing the avionics coursework have the option of using credits earned toward a degree, the AET certification easily stands alone,” McDaniel says.
Certificate programs such as AET are enticing because they can be developed outside the rigid framework of Part 147—the regulation that governs educational institutions with airframe and powerplant programs—and are an easy sell to state workforce boards looking for ways to meet local employer needs. And they pair well with high school dual-enrollment programs. McDaniel says ACCS secondary students can complete half the AET coursework by the time they graduate, lowering overall costs to the student and producing an avionics technician candidate a mere one semester out of high school.
“It’s all about flexibility, both for the student and the employer,” says McDaniel. “Certificate programs like the ASTM NCATT AET provide a remedy for the students who find themselves in the catch-22 of no experience, no job. Not to mention the program is filling local employment needs. That’s a win-win.”
The AET NCATT certification is maintained by the ASTM F46 Aerospace Personnel committee, founded in 2014. The committee is made up of industry volunteers; interested parties can participate in future AET standards development through ASTM membership.