While there are still challenges to be met, progress is being made in filling current and future needs for aircraft mechanics in the U.S., according to the latest Pipeline Report of the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC).
Here's the good news first: the majority of maintenance technician schools reporting anticipate the number of 2018 graduates will increase 10% over 2017, and a further 11% in 2019. And they expect total enrollment to increase 40% in 2019.
Furthermore, school capacity is no hurdle. Only one half of the seats in technical schools are now taken, so an additional 17,000 students can be readily accommodated.
One problem has been that a substantial portion of aviation technician school graduates has been seeking non-aviation jobs. The latest report says the number seeking non-aviation jobs has now dropped by nearly half, to 13%. And 70% of students are now taking the FAA mechanic exam upon graduation, a 10-point increase over the previous two years.
Of course, not all mechanics have to come from these schools. Of 6,401 mechanics certificated in 2017, 63% obtained certification based on completion of a technician school program, 10% based on military experience and 27% based on civilian experience. The FAA now counts 293,000 certificated mechanics, of which females make up 2.4%, a portion that has been constant for 15 years.
More progress must be made however. The Council reckons 30% of mechanics are now 60 years of age or older, which is a 3% increase from the prior year. And new mechanics still account for only 2% of the workforce each year. Unless this rate of replacement is increased, the mechanic population will decline 5% over the next 15 years, the Council projects.
Productivity improvements can trim some needs, as can outsourcing abroad. But so long as traffic is growing at 2-4% annually, it will be difficult to reconcile the demand with a declining supply of mechanics.