The Input Quill - August-September 2014
Revamp the Maintenance Industry
Nice to see you expanding your scope of interest!
I was one of the multitude who responded to the NPRM regarding the proposed Part 66. My opinion at the time was that “aircraft maintenance engineer” would be the way to go. Since then, I have taught at an A&P school and seen that the FAA-approved curriculum has changed little since I went through my training so many years ago. If the curricula have not advanced past the WWII-era training aids we had then, I do not see how we can advance our own image. We are today training tomorrow’s mechanics to work on yesterday’s aircraft.
In my humble opinion, the entire aircraft maintenance industry needs to be revamped from the ground up if we are to stand any chance of improving our standing and image. This would involve a cooperative effort, most likely in the form of an FAA ARAC to review the responses from the aborted Part 66 effort and come up with something more palatable to the maintenance community.
The makeup of the ARAC will be critical to its success or failure. It must be representative of a wide range of special interests who can nonetheless see the “big picture.” This is what doomed the late proposal; everyone fought for their own narrow interest until what we were left with was the aviation equivalent of a gnu — widely described as a horse designed by a committee.
With proper leadership, not necessarily a pre-designated FAA set of goals, a revival of the Part 66 rewrite effort could result in improved training standards, possibly to include college degrees for school graduates. This would require a truly cooperative effort far beyond what was envisioned in the original proposal, but which would provide a truly solid foundation for tomorrow’s aircraft maintenance personnel.
Howard Fuller, Manager, A&P, IA
What’s in a Name?
Hi Joe, I’m an A&P/avionics technician. I was reading your article in the back of the June/July 2014 issue. You’re right about the acting as a professional, especially when we want to be considered as such. Your appearance is one of the most influential things one can do to get others to believe that you know what you’re talking about. I have the trust of pilots here because I work with them on write-ups and not try to tell them they don’t know what they’re doing in that fancy machine. I keep my hair cut and my face shaved. Shirt tucked in is mandatory in my book. If we want to be thought of as professionals, then we should present ourselves as professionals. People say you shouldn’t judge but we all do. As soon as someone walks into a room we are looking him or her up and down. I’m not some high on my horse kind of guy, but I would like to see a little more self-conscious attitude towards appearance.
What’s in a Title?
I’ve been thinking about your back page editorial, “What’s in a title?” I don’t really think it is terribly important what we call ourselves (with the standard “just don’t call me late for dinner“ caveat). I do think it is a little more important what others call us because it sways outsiders due to group mentality and may shape how we see ourselves.
I like being called a mechanic. I don’t think there is a thing wrong with it and I think A&P mechanic makes it known that we work on aircraft.
What more do we need? As you point out, despite the efforts of the FAA, you can’t shape someone’s preconceptions by changing a job title, although I do think it is part of the equation. I also like the term engineer because at least in the U.K. it can mean anything from a white-collar managerial desk job designing the next generation of turbine engines to a job where you are actually fixing jet engines from several decades ago.
The perception in our society, even though we know better, is that jobs that require us to use muscle and get dirty are somehow at the lower end of some sort of heap of jobs. The top of that heap is festooned by those jobs that are inside, wearing nice clothes, making decisions about what we do and how we do it. If we split the A&P mechanic’s job into two parts and one person was responsible for all of the troubleshooting and paperwork and the other actually had to perform the task, which of the two parts would receive more pay, have a bit more prestige, and get all the thanks? My bet would be on the “supervisor” part. Anyone who has worked on helicopters has had the experience of being engaged in their job at some location where the public might be watching. I can’t count the number of times I have heard these exact words (and I’m not making this up), “Wow, are you the pilot or JUST THE MECHANIC?” I have always answered this with a polite “No, I’m just the mechanic,” followed by an intentional eye-to-eye stare that only the most dimwitted folk would mistake for anything other than a silent “really…?”
So we have to ask ourselves where the “just the mechanic“ part comes from. It comes from this concept that physical labor and getting dirty is somehow inferior and that what we all really want is to have a job where we don’t have to do either. That attitude boils down to people buying into the belief that there are menial jobs. I think a job is a job is a job. People should be judged by how successful they are at their jobs, not by what their jobs are. In order for us to promote that, I think that the best we can do is try to avoid living up to the stereotype.
The term stereotype comes from the making of a printing block, carved with relief so as to allow multiple prints to be made that are all the same. I think that in this world, if you live up to the stereotype that people have of a particular job, that it perpetuates their belief and there is nothing short of changing how you behave that will change what they think. Even at that point, because it is easier to categorize people using as few real characteristics as possible, the stereotypes last long after the printing block that made them is gone. I hate to say it, but good luck trying to get anyone who thinks of a mechanic as anything other than someone wearing greasy coveralls, rag in the back pocket, probably not too smart beyond “righty tighty, lefty loosey” to really change what they think. More important for us, rather than changing them, is to understand how we are seen by others and decide whether or not we are happy with that. People always want to know if I “can fly ‘em” as well as work on them (another thing I am consistently asked). They are never going to say, “Gee, can you work on them too?” because they are unimpressed with people who can only fly. Flying is perceived as glamorous; fixing, not so much. We are also not very well organized in many ways. I think that is one reason Helicopter Maintenance and D.O.M. are important publications. Everywhere you go, there are regional pilot organizations. We don’t tend to do that. I think we like being the cats that others are trying to herd. We like our independence and that makes it a bit harder to influence those we work with.
Even AOPA is Airplane Owners and PILOTS Association. Where does that leave the people who represent a hefty chunk of the industry that keep the owners and pilots flying? It is changing, albeit slowly. All we can do is the best we are able and make that stereotype a little less real every day we go to work. I don’t really like the expression “be professional” because it is too broad. If you look up what it means to be professional, you find everyone has their list of 10 things you should do but they are all different. I think that if you want a list of what makes us professional, you need only use some adjectives like honest, respectful, industrious/enthusiastic, receptive, friendly and so on. The problem is when adjectives like cynical, secretive, humorless and unfriendly mark the path taken by someone. It is really a pretty simple choice. Don’t get me wrong, you can be a hardcore cynic (or have other “unprofessional” traits) and still be completely “professional” as long as you don’t let your cynicism influence your dealings with others to the point where it interferes with working together.
So in summary, people outside of our profession have stereotypes and we need to work every day to change those. It’s all about perception — theirs and ours. When their perception confirms the stereotype, it does double or triple damage because it is so hard to undo.
That’s my $3.78 worth.