- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2022

The nation’s pandemic-fueled shortage of aviation mechanics led 25 industry employers to a Maryland flight school Wednesday to offer students recruiting perks ranging from free tools to signing bonuses.

Delta Air Lines, Lockheed Martin, United Airlines and Spirit Airlines were among the shorthanded employers attending a career fair at the Hagerstown campus of the nonprofit Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics to court students as early as their first semester of training.

The perks included signing bonuses starting at $2,500, relocation packages, job growth and management planning and in-kind donations of maintenance tools, according to the institute.

“As students advance in their education, employers are more frequently following students’ progress to graduation, and it’s becoming more common for a student to receive an employment offer prior to graduation contingent on successfully completing the federal exam,” said Suzanne Markle, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Institute.

Recent retirements in the aviation maintenance workforce and the lengthy certification process required for training airframe and power plant technicians have driven employers to start recruiting some candidates as early as pre-enrollment, the school reported.

The airline industry is battling staffing shortages and delays at the nation’s airports, where the resumption of travel from COVID-19 restrictions is requiring more mechanics than have been training for the profession during the last two years.

Due to the COVID-19 shutdown of air travel, a 2021 study by the nonprofit Aviation Technician Education Council reported that 30% fewer Federal Aviation Mechanic certificates were issued in 2020 than in 2019.

The study predicted that the need for aviation airframe and power plant (A&P) mechanics could rise by 13% in the next two decades, with a shortage of more than 10,000 mechanics by 2041.

As a result, aviation employers find their sudden labor demand bumping up against the lengthy training required to become a certified A&P mechanic.

Candidates in the U.S. must be at least 18 years old, fluent in English and pass a series of FAA-mandated written, oral and practical exams. The training usually takes two to five years and may involve attending an FAA-approved school like the Pittsburgh Institute or undertaking supervised on-the-job training. Many candidates also choose to earn a two-year associate degree.

John DeCarlo, a longtime aviation school instructor and former police chief who teaches at the University of New Haven, said 273,000 people were working in aviation maintenance in the United States as of mid-January 2022. In 2019, there were about 296,000 workers.

That’s a 7.7% decrease according to his composite analysis of A&Ps and other aviation maintenance workers, gleaned from several industry and government sources including the FAA certification registry.

“Most likely, with the reduced airline schedules during the pandemic, there just weren’t as many jobs available,” said Mr. DeCarlo.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that aircraft maintenance technicians earned an average salary of $66,680 per year or $32.06 an hour in 2020.

“But there’s a lot of overtime available,” Mr. DeCarlo noted.

The Boeing Technician Outlook has reported that North America needs another 132,000 qualified aircraft maintenance technicians between 2021 and 2040.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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