Critical shortage of engineers means looming crisis for aviation, warns AeroProfessional

A new study on the aviation engineering sector warns it faces a ‘perfect storm’ of dwindling workers while demand for flying from travellers accelerates.

In The Risk to Aviation’s Future, released today by recruitment consultancy AeroProfessional claims 27% of the aircraft engineering workforce are due to retire in the next decade.

In addition, it claims a further 45% are considering switching to another industry just as aircraft manufacturer Airbus is predicting passenger traffic will double to nine million by 2041.

If that forecast is accurate it will require additional training of two million new personnel, of which 34% (680,000) will be engineers. Rival manufacturer Boeing has estimated over 600,000 new aircraft engineers will be needed in the next 20 years.

Sam Sprules, managing director of AeroProfessional, says: “The shortfall in aircraft engineers is already impacting output and it’s only going to get worse for the foreseeable future.

“The industry must act now to prevent long term, structural damage to the industry, and its ability to deliver a proven level of quality and service to passengers across the globe.”

AeroProfessional has demanded better coordination between the industry, educational institutions, and governments to promote aviation to the next generation of employees.

The firm says “while existing aircraft engineer shortages are driving up salary levels,pay is only one factor that is needed to increase employee retention”.

It added: “AeroProfessional research indicates that careers with a stable and progressive future are more valued by candidates.

“It’s therefore vital for the industry to provide clear routes for continued growth through additional training, mentoring, management programs and leadership options.

Sprules said: “It will take a concerted effort on behalf of MROs, airlines and other key stakeholders to attract more talent into the sector and futureproof what is currently a woefully underfilled qualified engineer pipeline. This will take significant planning and not least of all investment in all forms.”

Research in the AeroProfessional report points to a number of factors that are thought to be driving the shortfall in the aircraft engineer workforce.

  • Competition with other industriesMore than half (56%) of respondents to AeroProfessional’s said they didn’t feel they were getting paid enough for the job expectations. This was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic which reinforced employee perceptions of aviation as an unstable sector to work in.
  • Training bottlenecksLong and costly training process can take up to seven years, and there is insufficient training capacity to manage the resurgence of travel post-pandemic and demand for skilled engineers.
  • Ageing fleets – Just 20% of the global fleet of aircraft flying today are latest generation which require less maintenance. AeroProfessional estimates that the proportion of ageing, maintenance-intensive aircraft in the global fleet will not reduce significantly until 2040.
  • Brexit – Specifically a UK issue but one that is also a significant factor as aircraft engineer licenses issued by the UK authorities are no longer valid or recognised in the EU, and vice versa. This means UK aviation businesses have very restricted access to engineers from European countries.

AeroProfessional identified two crucial steps it believes the aviation industry should take to meet the shortfall in aircraft engineers.

  • Diversity – Only 2.6% of aircraft engineers being women. AeroProfessional says it is “vital need to appeal to underrepresented groups at an early age, to help break down the barriers and perceived cultures that have historically characterised aviation”.
  • Investment for the future – AeroProfessional research found that 38% of the respondents believe making approved apprenticeships more widely available would make a difference in attracting the next generation of workers. It also found 28% agreed there was a need to promote engineering as an option earlier in education.

The Risk To Aviation Report is available to download now for free. 

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