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.