Professional representative bodies indicate that the average age of the Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineers (LAME) workforce is increasing, with the average age of LAMEs reported to be over 50 years old. It is expected that the retirement rate will soon start to increase rapidly. The average age of aircraft maintenance engineer/ technician/engineer in Europe is 40 years, and in the US, it is 51 years of age as of 2017.
As the Baby Boomer generation approaches retirement age, more qualified LAMEs will leave the workforce. Within five years, about 50% of Boeing’s top mechanics and engineers will hit retirement age, along with one-third of the FAA’s maintenance personnel. Projected replacement rates aren’t enough to satisfy the aviation industry, with the gap between supply and demand reaching 9% by 2027. Most of this demand is tied to overall growth in the aviation industry, particularly in emerging markets such as the Asia-Pacific region.
The increased complexity of aircraft will pose an issue not just for current mechanics, but for their successors in the profession. Due to advances in automation and the interdependence of systems in an aircraft, maintenance checks, while less frequent, will become increasingly complex and lengthy. New hires must be qualified, technically-proficient diagnosticians, which older mechanics were not. The cost of maintenance will also increase, due to shortage of personnel and more intricate procedures.
The increased cost of maintenance may in turn result in lower quality servicing and maintenance of aircraft, with a concomitant reduction in the reliability of both new and aging aircraft. As the number of non-certified staff increases, the need to check their work increases.
- Shortage would suggest engineers are at risk of being overworked in order to maintain existing or increased tempo of maintenance operations
- Errors due to fatigue and related human factors issues
- Degradation of oversight by authorities due to delegation of inspection by the regulator to the operator. Limited resources within authorities are driving this shift. Difficulty training the new generation of maintenance personnel to match aviation’s growing complexity
- Growing costs of maintenance may lead to fewer checks, creating safety risks.
Corroborating sources and comments
http://www.icao.int/NGAP/Presentations/NGAP%20Beoing%20H.%20Schaeffer.pdf (bad link)
An assessment of trends and risk factors in passenger air transport, Australian Government Civil Aviation Authority, © 2008 Civil Aviation Safety Authority
The overall outlook for Aircraft Mechanics should be favorable over the next ten years. The small numbers of young workers in the labor force, coupled with a large number of retirements, point to good employment conditions for students just beginning training. http://www.calmis.ca.gov/file/occguide/mechair.htm
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-aerospace-workforce-idUSBREA2C2DR20140313 (Dennis Mullenberg, president and CEO of Boeing, testified before the Senate that “about 50% of our top mechanics and engineers” would hit retirement age in the next five years. One-third of FAA maintenance personnel will also be eligible to retire, and projected replacement rates aren’t enough to satisfy the aviation industry.)
https://www.forbes.com/sites/oliverwyman/2017/04/24/looming-aircraft-mechanic-shortage-may-threaten-the-growth-of-the-global-fleet-and-raise-costs/#bf30b6349849 (The gap between supply and demand for aircraft mechanics is projected to reach a peak of 9% by 2027, according to Oliver Wyman Fleet Forecasts. However, few of the demanded jobs will be filled. The shortage will come sooner for countries in Asia, where demand for aviation is rising at rapid rates. This could lead to increased maintenance costs. The complexity of new systems could also lead to problems hiring.)
http://www.airbus.com/presscentre/pressreleases/press-release-detail/detail/airbus-forecasts-3-trillion-commercial-aviation-aftermarket-services-over-the-next-20-years/ (According to Airbus in 2016, the cumulative value of Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul activity will increase to $1.8 trillion by 2035. Numbers are tied to general fleet growth.)
http://www.boeing.com/resources/boeingdotcom/commercial/services/assets/brochure/pilottechnicianoutlook.pdf (Boeing’s 2016 forecast calls for 679,000 new maintenance personnel. Maintenance check time will lengthen due to increased reliability, but demand will still remain strong. 39% of the demand is projected to come from the Asia-Pacific Region.)