Aviation industry faces hiring headaches as mechanic shortage looms


MONTREAL/BENGALURE, July 15 (Reuters) – Christophe Gagnon considered dropping out of avionics studies as COVID-19 crippled aviation, but the 21-year-old stayed in class and now the industry is desperate for help. ‘others like him to fly planes.

Two years after shutdowns nearly wiped out the airline industry, repair shops and suppliers are scrambling for students like Gagnon, who received several job offers while still at the National School d’aérotechnique (ÉNA) in the aerospace center of Canada, Quebec.

The rush to hire is evidence of a stronger-than-expected recovery in air travel, but also signals a looming labor shortage that is driving up costs and could lengthen repair times as the industry shrinks. clumsily recovering from his worst crisis. Shortages are worrying leaders at the Farnborough Airshow near London, this year’s biggest aerospace exhibition, which begins on July 18.

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While a shortage of aircraft cabin crew has grabbed headlines due to recent flight cancellations, finding mechanics is also making executives sweat. About $84 billion is expected to be spent this year on aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul, according to Naveo Consultancy.

“We are struggling a lot. We can’t get enough (workers),” said Abdol Moabery, managing director of commercial aerospace company GA Telesis LLC.

Despite double-digit increases, Telesis is working harder to retain labor as soaring housing prices in South Florida have led some workers to consider offers in more affordable areas.

The high-margin service industry is attractive to aircraft makers like Boeing Co as air travel rebounds. In 2021, the American aircraft manufacturer predicts that the global industry will need 626,000 new maintenance technicians over the next two decades, compared to 612,000 pilots.

A shortage of aviation maintenance engineers, who certify a plane’s airworthiness, could lead to canceled flights or delayed appointments for repairs, executives said.

COVID-19-related job cuts accelerated a pre-pandemic trend of people retiring or moving to other industries like automotive, and schools aren’t producing enough graduates to replace them.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified mechanic is 53 years old, 11 years older than the average American worker. Enrollment in aviation maintenance technician schools in the United States increased by 0.55% in 2020 after the impact of COVID-19, compared to 13% in 2019, according to the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC).

“Recruitment mechanisms have become noticeably more difficult compared to the pre-crisis period,” said Frank Bayer, who heads human resources at Lufthansa Technik AG (LUFT.UL).

Canada’s Cascade Aerospace, which repairs military aircraft, could attract around 100 workers a year during the pandemic, when commercial aviation collapsed and labor was available, the company’s director said. company, Scott Cadwell. Now, “those are crickets out there for experienced workers.”

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In Quebec, trade group Aéro Montréal is planning its first industry-led campaign this fall using traditional and digital media, as well as influencers, to attract more students.

Registrations at ÉNA are down 20% compared to 2019, an alarming sign for Montreal, the world’s third largest aerospace hub.

“In two years, in three years, if nothing changes, if young people continue to lose interest in our sector, we will no longer be able to deliver our products,” warned the president of Aéro Montréal, Suzanne Benoit.

A Wells Fargo survey of aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul service providers showed the labor crisis worsened in July, with 60% of respondents saying they had seen a “ significant impact” of shortages, compared to 35% in a previous survey.

Unlike pilots, who can earn salaries up to six figures, mechanics and other trades pay less and often come with late shifts. According to an ATEC survey, the average entry-level hourly rate for a mechanic was $22.36 in 2021.

Alex Dichter, who leads the travel, logistics and infrastructure practice at consultancy McKinsey, said the mechanics needed an image overhaul.

“If you were to interview high school kids who don’t want to be doctors or lawyers or business people and ask them what they want to be … relatively few kids talk about being mechanics,” he said. “We have a bit of catching up to do on that front.”

Both Lufthansa and Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd (STEG.SI) said they were softening pay for certain trades.

Constant Aviation, which serves private jets, recently raised technician pay by 10% and introduced $15,000 signing bonuses for qualified veterans to meet growing demand.

Booking maintenance slots, which once required a few weeks’ notice, now has to be done six months in advance, said Kent Stauffer, chief security officer for the Cleveland-based company.

Stauffer said the industry hurt itself by not paying more.

“Now everything is catching up with us.”

STUDENT SEARCH

A 2022 forecast from the Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace predicts a shortage of 58,000 skilled workers by 2028. Yet schools that teach maintenance, avionics and structures provide less than a quarter of graduates needed, due to limited capacity and low completion rates.

“Industry needs to develop its own training programs because colleges don’t have the capacity to train what industry needs,” said Robert Donald, executive director of the council.

Canadian company KF Aerospace, which does heavy maintenance and modifications for commercial aviation, is now doubling the number of new hires it trains from scratch, said Grant Stevens, director of business services.

Such a need is not lost on the new generation of workers.

Just as Christophe Gagnon, a student at ÉNA de Québec, received more than one job offer, Frederik Gagnon, who is not related but attended the same school in aircraft maintenance technology, said that he had had no difficulty finding work.

Frederik Gagnon remembers landing a job interview less than a day after applying.

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Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Abhijith Ganapavaram in Bengaluru, editing by Ben Klayman and Matthew Lewis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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