Variations on the same headline circulated like a bad fly through the Orange County Convention Center last week at NBAA-BACE. Business Aviation is short of pilots. Business Aviation is also short of airframe and powerplant maintenance technicians. And Business Aviation is particularly short of avionics technicians, software engineers and designers.
Efforts to solve the shortage range from the obvious (recruit and train more young people) to the fiscal (better pay and benefits). And each one faces its own problems.
Career Potential Not Recognized in Aviation
Surveys, career counselor conversations and other input all paint a picture of an industry that is woefully misunderstood by the younger generation. Many think only of pilot jobs, without recognizing the multiple career tracks available in the wider industry.
They also often hear about the 1,500-hour bar Congress imposed on the Federal Aviation Administration for a would-be pilot to land a job in the cockpit and balk when they hear the money required for them to clear that bar.
So why are the other jobs in the industry being overlooked? The stark reality could be that mechanics and engine technician positions don't sound lucrative enough to catch the interests of this upcoming generation – especially those for whom the only living examples are an A&P laboring for low dollars at the local airport.
This generation's demonstrated flare for writing software coding and designing hardware can be applied to many other fields including developing apps for smartphones, video games and more. Subsequently, many don't realize the potential of a career in avionics.
Chicken Eats Egg...
On the flip side of the coin the MRO shops and their management frequently complain (with some cause) that too often they hire a new, inexperienced technician at a competitive wage, train them, bring them along in experience and wages only to lose them to much-higher-paying employers within a year or two.
They’re left back where they started – competing for talent in a crowded pond, hoping to find a recruit who will stay long enough to make the investment in hiring and training them worthwhile.
“It's like the chicken eating the egg,” complained one growing avionics repair shop. “They come to work for us, we help them become more valuable, raise their pay and they go away anyway, to an outfit we can't yet afford to match.”
Right across the convention hall and out at the static display at Orlando Executive Airport (ORL) conversations on variations of the problems and the required solutions circulated again and again. New programs were announced; new efforts launched. And all are needed.
Aviation can ill afford to fail in its goal of staffing its future.
It's up to all of us to encourage young talent to consider all of the options and opportunities in aviation. Without them we can barely have a future.