Air Transport World

MECHANIC

With 16,700 new aircraft to come on line in the next 20 years, a worldwide shortage of engineers is causing consternation throughout the industry

LONDON--IATA, Airbus Industrie, Boeing and most others in the crystal ball-gazing business take understandable pleasure in the current forecasts of massive growth for civil aviation over the coming 20 years.

General consensus is that up to 2017, the demand will be for 16,700 jetliners, worth $1 trillion, as traffic rises 5% a year despite the Asian economic crisis. But behind the euphoria is a nagging worry for manufacturers and airlines alike-where will the skilled engineers who will design and develop, make and maintain, with emphasis on maintain, these new aircraft fleets come from?

A view from the U.S. was put to ATW by John Driver, VP-engineering of the Denver-based Pemco, which specializes in passenger-to-cargo airplane conversions. Pemco is looking for engineers to staff a new subsidiary, First Engineering. Driver said: "There are plenty of engineers out there and some quality guys available but a lot of them want to work on contract, rather than be directly employed. There's no question that engineering is a seller's market these days."

FLS Aerospace, with major engineering bases at Stansted. Manchester and Copenhagen, has gained a number of customers, including British Airways, as airlines outsource some of their heavy maintenance. FLS employs around 800 engineers and according to one of its VPs, Bryan Southgate, has an annual turnover rate of some 10% as employees move around to other jobs, particularly in the London Heathrow Airport "honeypot." Southgate noted: There is a shortage of licensed engineers in the southeast of England. We have our own apprentice training school. We are recruiting engineers from all over the U.K., and are in the process of doing so from Europe, which we are allowed to do under EU regulations. And to find specialists on [Lockheed L-10111 TriStar maintenance, we have had to go as far as the Middle East."

Significantly, Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Co. (GAMCO), in cooperation with colleges in Abu Dhabi, has established academic training toward aviation apprenticeships. The first 15 apprentices started courses recently.

Aerospace in Germany already is suffering temporary shortages of engineers in some areas, notably data processing, as competition from other industries for specialists intensifies. …

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