Dearth Of Mechanics As Threat To Aviation Sector

A widespread deficit of aircraft engineers across all continents has affected the sector in recent years with cases of aircraft engineers’ shortage. Recruiting mechanics has become noticeably more difficult, writes WOLE SHADARE

Huge deficit

The shortage of aviation mechanics is seriously taking a toll on the sector worldwide.

The shortage of aircraft engineers for many operators of Maintenance Repair Overhaul (MRO) in Nigeria has led to a capacity and expansion deficit in many of the nation’s MRO operators.

In the last five years, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has given Aircraft Maintenance Organisation (AMO) certificates to Aero Contractors, and 7-Star Global Hangers Limited, among others for the maintenance of ATR aircraft in addition to the certification given to Execujet, a global maintenance organisation for executive jets.

 

Aircraft undergoing maintenance repairs

Also, this year, the Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) facility being built in Uyo by the Akwa Ibom State government will come on stream. Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, Mr. Allen Onyema, recently said that the airline had plans to set up an MRO facility in Nigeria for the maintenance of its fleet and others.

Capital flight

It is good that NCAA is licensing MRO organisations in Nigeria to save the country about $2 billion spent on aircraft maintenance overseas every year. Besides the Nigerian market, airline operators in West and Central Africa would also bring their aircraft to be maintained in Nigeria, which would attract forex to the country.

The MRO business is a good one. But before investors go into it, they are expected to do their commercial evaluation, looking at the manpower, the clientele, and the skills so that their operations would be profitable.

Aero Contractors had been having third-party aircraft (from other airlines) for maintenance and they were not coming from Nigeria alone. The establishment of a veritable MRO is long overdue. Last year, Air Peace had 21 planes out of this country. That amounts to a huge sum of money spent to maintain the airplanes overseas.

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Stunted growth

Not a few had argued that the lack of capacity to repair many aircraft occasioned by the dearth of personnel and mechanics is stunting the expansion and growth of the indigenous MRO firms.

The firms have done a lot for themselves by having in-house repair facilities while extending it to a few other carriers, a situation that has also helped the carriers to cut costs while cutting down issues associated with Aircraft On Ground (AOG).

7Star Global Hangar MRO facility

Booking maintenance slots, which once required a few weeks’ notices, must now be made six months in advance according to an aircraft maintenance engineer.

Experts’ views

The Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Captain Mahmood Abdullahi, recently told our correspondent that airlines were at the mercy of these MRO owners overseas.

“You and I know the way they stigmatise us and everything in Nigeria. So you expend a lot of money taking these planes abroad. We need to have our MROs here. The good thing about having MRO is that you are not only going to be maintaining your own fleet, but other Nigerians will also come there, and the whole of Africa will come here.

Aviation is the same worldwide. “Once you have EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) approval for your MRO, you have FAA (US Federal Aviation Administration) approval for your MRO, NCAA approval and you have other civil aviation authorities’ approval, the whole world will be coming here. And that will be capital influx, not the ones (forex) flying out of Nigeria.

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So it will help,” he added. Another engineer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “In two years, in three years, if nothing changes, if young people continue to shun our sector, we won’t be able to deliver our products.”

However, the lack of capacity to maintain aircraft in-house by airlines is putting a lot of strain on overseas MROs and, by extension, depleting the number of mechanics that an MRO can support.

 

The aviation industry is faced with a dearth of aircraft. Reports also indicate that aircraft mechanics and flight simulator technicians are also in high demand, but can’t be found.

Lack of employment

The Nigerian College of Aviation  Technology (NCAT), a reputable training institution for pilots, aircraft engineers, cabin crew, and others, has been churning out pilots and engineers, but many of them are not gainfully employed to add value to the system that is in dire need of professionals to take over from aging personnel.

A 2022 Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace forecast expects a shortage of 58,000 skilled workers by 2028. Yet schools teaching maintenance, avionics, and structures provide less than a quarter of needed graduates, due to limited capacity and poor completion rates.

The reverse is the case overseas as many MROs are not having enough for their firms.

A classical case is that of Mark Collins, who considered quitting his avionics studies as COVID-19 crippled aviation, but the 23-year-old stayed in class, and now the industry is desperate for more like him to keep planes flying. Two years after lockdowns nearly grounded the airline industry, repair shops and suppliers are scrambling for students who received multiple job offers while still at training institutions.

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Awkward recovery

The hiring rush is evidence of a sharper than expected recovery in air travel, but also signals a looming labor shortage that is raising costs and could push up repair times as the industry stages an awkward recovery from its worst crisis. Shortages are on the minds of executives at the Farnborough Airshow near London, this year’s largest aerospace expo, which starts on July 18.

While a shortage of plane cabin staff has dominated headlines due to recent flight cancellations, finding mechanics also have executives sweating. Roughly $84 billion is expected in spending this year on maintenance, repair, and overhaul of aircraft, according to Naveo Consultancy.

“We are struggling in a big way. We can’t get enough (workers),” said a chief executive of a commercial aerospace company. “A shortage of aviation maintenance engineers, who certify an aircraft’s airworthiness, could lead to cancelled flights, or delayed appointments for repairs,” he said.

A Wells Fargo survey of aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul services providers showed the labour crunch worsening in July, with 60% of those polled saying they saw a “meaningful impact” from shortages compared with 35 percent in a prior survey.

Last line

The industry needs to develop its own training programmes because the NCAT does not have the capacity to train what the industry needs. Not a few are of the view that the industry hurt itself by not paying more. Now, it all catching up with everyone.

Wole Shadare