A Better Flight Plan

Industry Insights

Inspiring the Next Generation of Aviation Technicians

When you think of air travel, you probably think of the pilots who fly the planes and the flight attendants who make sure you have a safe and comfortable flight. But it takes many other people working behind the scenes to keep those planes flying smoothly – none more important than aviation maintenance technicians. They are the men and women who do the hands-on work on aircraft at airports or at repair stations across the country. The problem is there is a looming shortage of aviation technicians.

‘It’s a challenge that we have really embraced over the last five years in the airline industry because without technicians, the planes don’t fly, just as surely as they don’t fly without pilots,” said Bob Ireland, A4A managing director for engineering and maintenance, who moderated a panel discussion on the topic at SAE International’s annual AeroTech event, held in-person in Pasadena, California earlier this month. “Our challenge is to get people into this profession.”

With commercial aviation expected to grow in the years to come, a Boeing study estimates 132,000 new aviation maintenance technicians will be needed in the U.S. alone over the next 20 years.

Is there a solution? Aviation experts point to the importance of inspiring the next generation of aviation technicians.

“The romanticism of aviation needs to be cultivated again for the current generation… to create the next generation of aviation that we need to have,” said American Airlines Technical Crew Chief David Mansker. “The major airlines, of course, are in a competition to get this value and scarce talent… We have an obligation to reach out and grab these individuals.”

Indeed, airlines and aviation manufacturers are making a concerted effort to do just that, offering apprenticeships, internships and scholarships in an effort to inspire young people to join the industry.

“As we move forward, we have to be able to reach out, grab these young minds and show them the path,” said Federal Aviation Administration Safety Team Program Manager Louis McGraw. “It’s our opportunity, I would say, to reach out with outreach programs through community centers, through schools,” added McGraw.

Amy Grace, director for military engines digital strategy at Pratt & Whitney, asked, “How are we presenting this job to that generation?”

She observed that the advanced technologies and digital platforms utilized in aviation maintenance should draw interest from young people if presented to them in a way that appeals to them.

“We have the ability right now to appeal to what this generation really expects to see,” Grace said as she highlighted Pratt & Whitney’s EngineWise program, a data analytics-driven service that provides maintenance, material and intelligence solutions to aircraft operators. “This is a digital world.”

“I do think this is great career for young people,” said Anita Sengupta, the CEO and founder of Hydroplane, Ltd., a company developing hydrogen fuel cell power plants for general aviation and urban air mobility aircraft. She said the appeal of new, cutting-edge aircraft should also be a draw for young people.  

“Who are going to be the technicians to maintain those aircraft? That’s a brand-new area… It’s an opportunity here to get really excited about these different forms of flying that never existed before,” Sengupta added. “There doesn’t exist a group of people who can do this from an aviation maintenance perspective, so there’s a huge opportunity there.”

And that “huge opportunity” for young people beginning to choose their career paths is an absolute necessity for the aviation industry.

Mansker said it is crucial that carriers “invest in the next generation” in order “to produce… the next generation of aviation maintenance technicians.”

“They’re out there,” added FAA’s McGraw. “It’s just a matter of reaching out.”

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