One much discussed technology that has brought significant change into the aviation industry is definitely composites. For instance, they constitute, by weight, 53% of the Airbus A350XWB's structure. As a result, apart from reduced weights, Airbus suggests the airliner will create just 40% of the corrosion-related inspection and maintenance burden of a traditional aluminum aircraft. However, when it comes to maintenance of such machines, MROs need to transform their product and service offerings substantially to qualify for this work, thus facing continuous challenges, especially in the area of maintenance training.
Boeing’s new 787 and Airbus’ A350 introduced quite a few new technologies to the industry, not the least because of predominant use of composite materials in their structures. As a result, considering the pace of new developments, the capabilities that MROs need to win business in the next 5 to 10 years will clearly differ from those needed today. For instance, with hundreds of the new wide-bodies in use, and over 1600 more in production, there is a growing demand for relevantly qualified maintenance staff with skills aligned to the emerging needs of the industry.
On the one hand, there are those who say there are limited opportunities for MROs to profitably compete for service contracts for the fleet of such aircraft as Boeing's 787 and Airbus' A350. After all, the size of the market for these aircraft is the limited; they are used by a relatively small number of carriers; and there are high costs associated with gaining the necessary capabilities to service these radically different airframes. On the other hand, though, there is a possibility that such machines will become the new normal in the nearest future.
For instance, at the JEC Europe composites-industry show, held in Paris this spring, there were many more displays related to cars, buses, trams and trains than aircraft. As the automotive industry embraces composites, it is heading in new directions, driven by demand for low costs and high production rates. As a result the Pentagon advanced research agency plans a program – Aerospace Composites with Automotive Efficiencies – to significantly reduce the cost and time to make small composite parts for use in aircraft.
Ultimately, whether or not this will prove to be a viable perspective, the latest MRO Survey, conducted by Oliver Wyman, still indicates that over 34% of MRO providers plan to invest into development of composite repair capabilities in the next 5 years. However, when it comes to finding appropriately trained personnel, these plans seem to be especially challenging.
“Training tomorrow's aircraft maintenance specialists is certainly an imperative. Moreover, given the looming shortage of licensed aircraft mechanics, technicians and engineers, more of it will have to be done. At the same time, apart from the retirement of current generation of technicians, one of the more recent reasons for concerns is the diminishing supply of skilled personnel from the military, the once-traditional source of recruitment. And then there are losses to other industries and the profession's relatively low profile among the potential recruits to consider,” shares Kestutis Volungevicius, the Head of Engineering and Training at FL Technics. “Other factors include a requirement for advanced skills to match the growing complexity of modern aircraft and their systems, more stringent licensing and regulations, and a need for individuals to maintain currency in an evolving technical environment.”
For some time now, Cross Border Resourcing has been an essential part of meeting this demand, especially in Europe. However, there are still many country-specific laws and regulations relating to length and type of contract, tax and social payments and many others. Failure in complying with those can result in very heavy fines. Moreover, one needs to understand, that such a solution is only viable in a short-term perspective, as it merely transfers the talent rather than growing new recruits. And here the picture is as grim as ever.
“It’s a know fact that currently about 25% of aviation maintenance training schools’ graduates pursue careers in fields other than aviation. That means thousands of potential aerospace professionals are taking their talents elsewhere each year. However, while it may sound quite depressing, it also means that there actually are appropriately trained specialists out there. All we have to do is join efforts in putting aviation on the horizon of their career ambitions,” explains Kestutis Volungevicius, the Head of Engineering and Training at FL Technics. “To do so, the MRO industry should become more transparent and understandable for the public, as well as and more active in communicating with the non-aviation community. Developing joint allowing future specialists to get a promising professional future as an aircraft MRO professional, as well as a Bachelor‘s degree is also a viable strategy. The important thing to understand that we shouldn’t hoping, that the forecasted demand is exaggerated. After all, when it appears it’s not, it will already be too late.”