WATS MTX: The Technician Shortage

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While the Maintenance Training tracks of previous WATS conferences have focused more on the technology involved in repairing and maintaining aircraft, this year’s focus was on non-technical aspects of these processes, reports Chuck Weirauch.

The most critical of the WATS themes was how to help meet and resolve the growing shortage of maintenance technicians while improving their education, performance and effectiveness.

This year’s track also reflected a high level of diversity, with the 15 presenters representing a wide cross-section of the industry, from airlines and MROs to maintenance schools and organizations.

For the first time at WATS, a segment of the agenda served as an invitation from the show’s exhibitors to attend briefings, which included CAE, FlightSafety International, Delta TechOps Training and Modest Tree.

Maintenance Training presenter highlights:

Hans Mayer, President of the European Aviation Maintenance Training Committee, focused on Competency-based Maintenance Training and Assessment, pointing out that a human factors focus is essential in maintenance training curricula. He also provided an overview on how to design a competency-based training program, whereby the complexity of tasks would be gradually increased, along with a decrease in support and coaching. He also cited the need to move from prescriptive to predictive maintenance.

Christian Delmas, Head of Airbus Worldwide Maintenance Training, also spoke of the challenge of developing and maintaining a workforce of competent mechanics, starting with training for basic competence. He cited a need for 175,000 mechanics by 2025 - for Airbus alone - and advocated a cradle-to-retirement approach to the development of an effective training maintenance program for technicians.

George Perrin, Senior Manager Tech Ops Training, Spirit Airlines, discussed aircraft maintenance hiring challenges and the talent pool. Perrin said that he starts recruiting efforts in the eighth grade, and expressed concerns that the maintenance technician talent pool is drying up. Perrin also expressed concerns that trainers must convince their management of the return on investment for maintenance technician training.

Stephen Platt, Director of Tech Ops Training for Hawaiian Airlines, addressed how trainers can support change in maintenance operations. The key to success in this effort is to understand the fundamentals of change management while introducing change to management, he said. He described how he implemented a change in shift hours for maintenance operations at his airline as an example.

Angeline Ram, Safety and Organizational Development Consultant, spoke of how the improvement of soft skills in the workplace (such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving and decision-making) can improve performance in the workplace culture. Doing so is important, since workplace interaction between trainers, maintenance personnel and management can affect safety, she summarized.

Crystal Maguire, Executive Director of the Aviation Technical Education Council, (ATEC), described how her organization and a coalition of aviation entities worked to change the new FAA Part 147 rule that dictates the curriculum requirements for maintenance technician training, pointing out that this revision will go into effect 31 July 2023. The rule change also creates efficiencies and lowers the cost of A&P certification, she pointed out.

Michelle Arredondo, Maintenance Instructor, Ascent Aviation Services, focused on teaching methods in aviation. She asked the audience whether instructors know how to improve teaching skills, and stressed that they should use all learning methods possible to make this improvement. By the use of multiple teaching methods, instructors could improve the culture of aviation maintenance training, she added.

Dr. Joel English, Executive VP of Aviation Institute of Maintenance, along with Dr. Mike Lanouette, VP Administration, pointed out that not all A&P program graduates sit for their A&P certificates, since they have little incentive to do so. But the good news is that those who do take the certification exam do pass it, they pointed out. To help improve the percentages of students that take the exam, schools should recognize and reward students for passing the A&P exam, they concluded.

Dr. William Cox, CEO M&E, along with Christian Delmas, Airbus,, presented their views on how to get the most out of maintenance training in these uncertain times. Delmas stressed that maintenance organizations must make an investment in training. He described a methodology known as SMART ROI to convince management to further invest in training. He showed the audience how Airbus, by investing in providing more instruction in such areas as technical knowledge and skills, was able to able to significantly improve productivity (by up to 80%) and efficiency in the maintenance of two of its major airliners.

Justin Madden, Executive Director of Government Affairs for the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, told the audience that 97+% of aircraft mechanics are male. This fact shows that the industry needs collaboration between industry, academia, labor and government to raise awareness and change how we treat women in aviation and help meet the maintenance technician shortage. We need to do more to make sure everyone needs to work together to find a solution to this shortage, Madden stated.

Tammera Holmes, Founder and CEO of AeroStar Avion Institute, said that the aviation community must break down barriers to the next generation by realizing that they have different goals and attitudes to attract them to careers in aviation. We need to open the doors to those who have the desire and aptitude to join this career, and provide all parts of the pathway they need, she emphasized. She also described two new technical programs that her organization is providing to high school students. It is the industry’s job to set a very specific roadmap for those careers, she added.

Dr. Nancy Hocking, Director of Gateway Programs at JetBlue, described new Tech Ops Programs offered at JetBlue University. The programs provide a pathway to maintenance technician positions at JetBlue, she explained. The two-and-a half-year programs include a partnership with Aviator College in Kissimmee, Florida, the completion of an A&P certificate, and participation in JetBlue’s Apprenticeship Program, Hocking said.

One of Best WATS Ever – Dr. Bill

“I felt it was one of the best WATS that I can ever remember,” said Dr. Bill Johnson, organizer of the Maintenance Training track for the World Aviation Training Summit (WATS) 2022.

“Dr. Bill” is the former FAA Chief Scientific and Technical Advisor for Human Factors in Aircraft Maintenance Systems, and is now CEO and Chief Scientist of drbillj.com.

Taking a non-technical emphasis to the 2022 proceedings was the right approach, he emphasized. “The non-technical side of maintenance training is just as important as the wrench-turning, technical side. The concern is not so much on the technical side as it is getting people attracted to maintenance training. That’s the most important part of the whole industry, and there is no immediate relief in sight other than to motivate young people to start looking at it as a career.”

Even though some subject experts were making technical presentations during the WATS maintenance track sessions, every presenter was also addressing the fact that they needed mechanics, Johnson noted.

Johnson summarized some of his impressions of what selected presenters were relating to the audience:

  • Every presenter discussed how to get the younger generation interested in a career in aviation, whether it is becoming a mechanic or a pilot.
  • Dr. Nancy Hocking from JetBlue said that the whole industry is hurting because of the technician shortage and asked what are we going to do about it.
  • Tammera Jones advocated some form of education model from kindergarten through life about aviation and perhaps maintenance training.
  • Christian Delmas was advocating that management look at training as an investment that provides cost-savings.
  • Johnson also thought the 2022 conference presenters provided perhaps the most diversity in terms of international participants, gender, race and age than in previous years. 

“The lineup of people asking questions after the presentations was deeper than I have ever seen at the Maintenance Track,” added Dr. Bill. “The professional engagement was also higher than ever between speakers and audience.”


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