After two years of disruption, the aviation industry has been struggling with staffing issues. Airlines and airports have been unable to tackle the swift recovery in passenger numbers with reduced staff, allowing for delays and cancellations to disrupt the sector for months. 

As the peak summer season approaches, airlines across Europe and North America have been forced to cut flights and reduce their schedule in nervous anticipation of the wave of excited travellers. 

But will a shortage in mechanics make this dire situation even worse? 

Further shortages in the future? 

Not only the airline industry but repair shops and suppliers are scrambling for graduates to take up positions. Even then, some current students who have yet to complete their studies are being propositioned by companies. 

The scramble to hire is evidence clear as day of the growing shortage and another side effect of how quickly travellers returned to our airports. 

However, what’s more, alarming is that the incoming shortage has the potential to raise costs within the industry. And as the industry is already struggling to carry the weight of the sharp increase in jet fuel, this couldn’t have come at a more awkward time. 

This shortage in mechanics is arguably more of a headache to executives than the current shortage in airport and airline staff. According to Naveo Consultancy, roughly $84 billion is expected to be spent this year on the maintenance, repair, and overhaul of aircraft. 

U.S aerospace manufacturer Boeing predicted that this year, the aviation industry across the globe will require 626,000 new maintenance technicians over the next two decades (in comparison to the 612,000 pilots that’ll be required). Those numbers were surmised in 2021 – who knows how much that number will increase if the shortage truly becomes unavoidable.

Boeing logo
The Boeing Company is home to 141,582 employees (as of January 1 this year). | © Getty Images

 And a shortage of aviation maintenance engineers – who certify an aircraft’s airworthiness – could create an unwanted domino effect that creates an increase in delayed and cancelled flights, and delayed appointments for repairs, according to executives. 

Abdol Moabery, Chief Executive of Florida-based commercial aerospace company GA Telesis LLC, shared that the company is “struggling in a big way. We can’t get enough [workers].” 

GA Telesis has raised offering wages upwards of 10%, but that has not proven enough to attract and retain mechanics – many are relocating from the company’s South Florida location because of soaring prices in the hunt for more affordable areas. 

Frank Bayer leads HR at Lufthansa Technik AG, a subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group. He said that “recruiting mechanics has become noticeably more difficult compared to the pre-crisis period.” 

Lufthansa Technik AG
Lufthansa Technik AG is based in Hamburg, Germany and is home to over 25,500 employees. | © Lufthansa Technik.

In referring to the “pre-crisis period” that Bayer mentioned – the pandemic did damage recruitment within the industry. The pandemic sped up the timescale by which workers retire or switch to other similar industries like automotive. And universities cannot produce the new generation as quickly as the industry may like to replace those who have left. 

Canada’s Cascade Aerospace, a specialty aerospace and defence contractor which repairs military and government aircraft, was able to attract approximately 100 workers a year during the pandemic. Now, according to company executive Scott Cadwell, “it’s crickets out there for experienced workers.” 

What now?

Currently, the outlook isn’t too rosy. 

A 2022 Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace forecast expects a shortage of 58,000 skilled workers in the field by 2028. Universities are naturally slow to produce freshly trained graduates – learning takes time of course. But equally, limited capacity and more completion rates are also an issue. 

Robert Donald, the council’s executive director, shared his take:

“[The] industry needs to develop its own training programs because the colleges don’t have the capacity to train what industry needs.” 

A new, keen generation of mechanics and engineers is needed to stop this current threat of a shortage and future drought to ensure the aviation industry is not bogged down even further. The industry is set to make a positive recovery from the lull created by the pandemic. But it seems subsequent side effects from the two-year disruption will be the industry’s biggest threat to its recovery – not attitudes to air travel from the public. 

What do you make of this new issue within the aviation industry? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below. 

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