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The Global Helicopter Mechanic Shortage Survey

“A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ...,” oh, sorry, that is not where this started, but it seems that way. At Heli-Expo 2013 in Las Vegas, Safran Turbomeca hosted a symposium on the global helicopter mechanic shortage. As editor of Helicopter Maintenancemagazine (HMM), I was asked to attend. It was a great symposium and by invitation, some of the biggest names in our industry were represented there. The problem discussed and responses were eye opening, and just a start to a truly serious and, as the title states, “Global” issue.

I informed Turbomeca representatives that I would write an article about the symposium (see the December 2013 issue of HMM) and that is how it all began.

In November 2013, I received a phone call from John-Louis Mostajo, corporate training director for Turbomeca. As a courtesy, I sent him a copy of the article before it went to print. He liked it and the next thing I knew, he suggested another symposium at Heli-Expo 2014 in Anaheim, CA, beginning Feb. 23. Please remember that it was already early November and between Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays here in the U.S. — we were at a serious timing disadvantage.

Over the next few weeks, Jean-Louis and I spent quite a bit of time on the phone and exchanging e-mails on the thought of another symposium at Heli-Expo 2014. In the end we decided that we did not have enough time to do it right and opted for another way to go. We would jointly develop a questionnaire that would be kicked off at Heli-Expo 2014, and we would use the answers to the questionnaire as the core for a symposium to be held at HAI’s Heli-Expo 2015 in Orlando, FL.

 The card pictured in Figure 1 made its initial debut at Heli-Expo 2014 and listed the Web site where participants could take the survey. Due to the efforts of Jean-Louis and Safran Turbomeca, the survey was conducted in association with Helicopter Association International (HAI), the European Helicopter Association (EHA) and HMM.

Before I continue, I want our readers to know that for the first time ever in HMM, this editorial is continuing in this issue as an article. It is too important to be limited to a one-page editorial.

Since this editorial/article turned out to be way too long for our magazine’s print edition, the editorial staff and I thought we would give you the gist of it all here, and put the article in its entirety on our Web site at www.helicoptermaintenancemagazine.com. Safran Turbomeca is doing the same on its Web sites.

Purpose of the Survey

At the time the survey began, there was no global data available that pertained strictly to helicopter maintenance professionals. Only a recent fixed-wing survey conducted by the Boeing Company concluded that there is a major shortage of A&P/AME professionals in this career category. Therefore, the purpose of the survey was to obtain global input from the helicopter maintenance professional’s point of view. We also wanted an input from younger individuals who were considering this field as a career choice.

Methodology

In order to accomplish our goal, we developed an online questionnaire that would be available on a Web site for a period of three months (March through June 2014).

Promotion of the questionnaire was kicked off during HAI’s Heli-Expo show in February 2014. A link to the survey was also posted on the official HAI and EHA Web sites, in the Safran Turbomeca training network and on its online customer support Web site. It was also listed in various helicopter magazine publications.

The questionnaire consisted of 23 questions that asked questions like:

- What is the attractiveness of a career as a helicopter maintenance professional?

- How visible to young people is a career path to become a helicopter maintenance professional?

- What career opportunities do you see in the future?

- What are the motivating factors for choosing a career as a helicopter maintenance professional?

- What does a job as a helicopter maintenance professional offer?

- Do you see a greater or lesser need for apprenticeship programs?

- Do you see a need to create an international organization dedicated to the helicopter maintenance professional? If yes, would you want to become a member?

Countries Represented

Considering the short time frame during which the survey was online, the response was good. There were a total of 456 respondents from 64 countries. The breakdown is shown in Figure 2. This truly was a global response.

Survey Question — Company Size and Number of Helicopters

Respondents’ companies are representative of the helicopter world in general. The majorities (39 percent) have less than 49 employees.

Within the “No Response” category (46.4 percent), we have many respondents who are part of an OEM or MRO organization. Within the remaining groups, 26.2 percent have less than nine helicopters in operation and 11 percent are part of the “big” operators (more than 50 helicopters) in operation.

Survey Question — What is the Attractiveness of a Career as a Helicopter Maintenance Professional?

Students and employees views are quite different concerning the risk of unemployment, and very similar concerning mechanical work. Students do not consider a job as a mechanic to have “no risk of unemployment.”

Working in aviation is still the most attractive factor for students (23 percent). The second most attractive factor for students is “mechanical work” (17 percent), followed by “being part of a team” and “responsibility.”

The reinforcement of communication should be based mainly around these four factors.

Survey Question — In Calendar Year 2013 What Promotion of Becoming a Helicopter Maintenance Professional Did You See, if Any?

Here are some of the more thought-provoking comments:

• “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

• “You have to speculate to accumulate.”

• “You don’t get something for nothing.”

This means that this career path only has limited exposure and is not visible for the general public. You have to know someone in the business to stand any chance of finding out about it.

The aeronautical sector and the helicopter sector in particular want to make the use of this type of transport

more accessible. In general, we mainly hear about helicopters in relation to accidents or wars … and we hear nothing about the work of helicopter maintenance professionals.

The USA is currently the country where there seems to be the most promotion of aeronautical job. Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East have poor promotional attitudes.

Survey Question — What Do You Think is the Future for Helicopter Maintenance Professionals?

This result is one of the most significant of the survey.

The employee population is divided into two mindsets: one is positive regarding the future of the job (60 percent) whereas the other has big doubts and thinks that the job is going to disappear (40 percent). We should consider that the doubts of active mechanics could be linked to factors such as confidence, consideration and career visibility. There is no doubt the industry should increase the standing of this career!

What’s more, action needs to be taken quickly. Twelve percent of the student population has doubts regarding the future of the job. Making this job attractive means firstly increasing the satisfaction of the helicopter maintenance professionals currently performing the job!

As for the unemployed who are looking for a job, their views of the career are completely positive!

Survey Question — What Do You Consider to be Motivations for Choosing a Career as a Helicopter Maintenance Professional?

For both employees and the unemployed, the most important factor for choosing a career as a helicopter maintenance professional is because “they both talk positively about the job.” Career development is the second-most-important factor for them, but it’s the most important factor for students.

Survey Question — What Does a Job as a Helicopter Maintenance Professional Offer?

For an employee, being a helicopter maintenance professional represents first “good potential for salary increases,” followed by “faster career development.”

These two factors are equally important for students, while 37 percent of the respondents didn’t really know.

For unemployed respondents, the major factor is “good potential for salary increases.”

From the responses generated, we can conclude that a job as a helicopter maintenance professional is associated with good wages and good opportunities for faster career development.

Survey Question — Is there a greater or a lesser need for apprenticeship programs for recent A&P/AME school graduates?

The results for students and the unemployed are consistent with the results concerning how they feel about the future for helicopter maintenance professionals.

The results for employees are not consistent with how they feel about the future of helicopter maintenance professionals. Eighty percent think there will be a greater need for apprenticeship programs for A&P/AMEs, in comparison with 40 percent who think that the job is going to disappear. What is the real message? It could be: “We are confident that there is a greater need for apprenticeship programs, but we are not certain that the job will not disappear. We love this job but the trend of doing more with fewer qualified personnel alarms us. We chose it because we like mechanics and we don’t believe that the introduction of new technologies will make it more attractive.” (Only 16 percent of employees chose this response). In fact, the transformation of the nature of the job is scaring mechanics (becoming electronic data management experts), losing the heart of their initial motivation: to be a helicopter mechanic!

On the other hand, contract workers seem to be more open minded about the future for mechanics with the introduction of new technologies (41 percent), and think there will be a lesser need for apprenticeship programs (71 percent). We have no serious hypothesis to explain this paradox, except perhaps that contract workers want to protect their jobs and, if there are fewer apprentices, they will have more jobs available in the market.

  %                                       Larger             Lesser             I have no opinion

  Employees                          80                 15                          5

  Students                              63                 13                         25

  Unemployed                       57                 43                          0

  Independent                         0                  71                         29

  Others                                 92                  4                           4

Fig. 18

Opinion:

“With the responsibilities of aviation mechanics being some of the highest in the world, why would anyone want to do the job other than for the love of it?”

Survey Question — What are Your Thoughts on Creating an International Association Specifically for the Helicopter Maintenance Professional

Of all the questions in the survey, this gave us the most cause for concern. We did not want the respondents to feel obligated about this, nor did we ask this with the intent of creating another politically-motivated body. Rather, the thought process for this question led us to see if there was agreement by the respondents that there was a need to improve the quality of helicopter-specific training across the board. This would hopefully allow us to work with a country’s regulatory agency to implement this concept, and ultimately better facilitate an A&P/AME to more universally meet requirements and not worry about where they would be employed geographically. It is already the case for international commercial carrier flight crew, so why not in maintenance also?

In favor of this proposal were 82 percent of all respondents. This means that they think the creation of an international job association will allow the job and the training program to be better managed and more structured across international boundaries.

Only 39 percent of all categories of respondents would definitely like to be members but, if we take only the “Employees” category, this figure rises to 74 percent. This means that there are a lot of expectations and, perhaps, a lot of frustrations.

We can conclude that through this international association dedicated solely to A&Ps/AMEs, that they expect to be heard and have their opinions taken into consideration.

Overall Conclusions

This survey was performed online from March to June 2014 using anonymous questionnaires. It was primarily promoted by HAI, EHA and Safran Turbomeca.

There were 456 respondents from 64 different countries, the majority of whom (68.1 percent) were from “the West.”

• 85 percent of respondents were employees:

          - 65 percent of these employees were helicopter maintenance professionals.

          - 20 percent were managers.

We can therefore consider that the survey is representative of helicopter maintenance professionals’ opinions.

One of the conclusions of the survey is that “helicopter maintenance professionals like mechanical work and feel responsible and proud of the job they are doing”. However, they (40 percent) have doubts about the future of the job, and they feel worried about some upcoming changes.

How is industry managing the changes? How are operators covering needs today?

As it is facing the challenge of improving helicopter safety (the accident ratio of fixed-wing aircraft is lower than that of rotary-wing aircraft), the industry is innovating technology and associated services to make fleet operations safer and more reliable.

Helicopter maintenance professionals are therefore developing new skills using computers and software, but are moving away from using applied thought to solve problems. Current training programs do not differentiate between two categories of training needs, which we can summarize as:

- Having a standard set of skills for aeronautical procedures (basic mechanic)

- Having a standard set of skills plus mechanical training (including electronic and digital training), and capable of returning a helicopter to service (expert helicopter maintenance professional)

If we were to differentiate between these two categories, this could have two consequences:

- First: The shortage of helicopter mechanics could be partially solved.

- Second: If helicopter mechanics have a higher level of expertise, greater recognition and safety improvements can be expected.

From the answers received from the survey, it appears that the overwhelming majority is in favor of creating some form of international association for helicopter maintenance professionals. This association should be designed to work with other international associations and not be in competition with them. The subject of creating an international association is being discussed as you read this article, and a decision on this will likely be made sometime in early 2015. This allows those persons in the decision process to think through all that the association should be and how it will be organized.

In closing, here are six thoughts I propose to be the core of the 2015 symposium in Orlando, FL, at Heli-Expo 2015:

1. What can we do as an industry to better promote and entice those who might be considering becoming a helicopter maintenance professional?

2. What can we do as an industry to promote the future of the helicopter maintenance professional as a career?

3. What can the helicopter industry do to become more competitive against other industries that want to hire A&P/AME professionals?

4. What can we do to create more apprentice programs that are a win for all involved?

5. What can we do as an industry to create more uniform global training/qualifications so that these qualifications are more easily accepted by all regulatory agencies?

6. What benefits do you see, if any, to creating an international association specifically for the helicopter maintenance professional?

We hope that if you did not realize it before, that you realize now that there is a real shortage of helicopter maintenance professionals on a global scale. We believe that to start to fix a problem, we must initially accurately determine what the problem is. We also believe that we, the helicopter industry worldwide, are in the best position to help ourselves. If you can think of any other issues covered in the survey that we did not mention as a topic for the 2015 symposium, please send me an e-mail to fpolak@helicoptermaintenancemagazine.comwith your suggestions. Remember, if you would like to see this article in its entirety, please go to either the HMM or Safran Turbomeca Web sites.

helicoptermaintenancemagazine.com

safranturbomeca.com

We hope to see you in Orlando in 2015.