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New generation of aircraft mechanics hoping to fill gaps amid worker shortage

The aviation industry is expected to see a shortage of 12,000 to 18,000 aviation maintenance technicians in 2023 as nearly one-third of the workforce is at or near retirement.

America is not only facing a pilot shortage, but an aircraft mechanic shortage. Whether it’s commercial, private, military or corporate planes – aviation maintenance technicians are crucial for safe flights. 

A recent report from consulting firm Oliver Wyman shows the aviation industry is expected to see a shortage of 12,000-18,000 in 2023, but a year-long program is hoping to help fill that gap.

The Aviation Maintenance Technology Program at Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC) in Granite City, Illinois, is preparing to graduate 12 students. The program is one of few offering a one-year format.

"I kind of think of myself as an airplane doctor," said Anne Hagstrom, one of the students. "You fix it and then it gets to go do what it’s supposed to do, and that’s really rewarding."

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Another student, Justin Bosco, said his love for aircraft started as a child.

"When I was younger there was a program called Operation Purple, where they would send military kids to a summer camp for a week," he said. "The Army National Guard came in one year and brought a Blackhawk helicopter, and little 8-year-old me was like that’s the coolest thing ever."

Among the pros of being an aircraft mechanic, Bosco said the job is very interesting, every day is different, and the money can't be complained about, "especially with everyone retiring."

Those retirements are helping drive the shortage of mechanics as nearly one-third of the current aircraft mechanic workforce is at or near retirement.

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"We had the baby boomer generation, and that’s what filled the workforce. So this is you know, the next large wave. All the people now are going to need to start filling in all the spots that are being vacated by people retiring or at that age," said Matthew Harter, the SWIC Aviation Maintenance Technology Program coordinator.

Harter said the shortage of technicians could impact travel. 

"If they don’t have enough mechanics, they can’t produce a certain amount of hours that inspections take, so they may have to down planes or extend planes maintenance activities longer," said Harter.

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Some commercial airlines like Delta and American don’t anticipate issues. Delta said they’re getting ahead of the shortage with a strong pipeline of workers through partnerships with schools and other recruiting efforts.

"We have a great team that goes out and helps with our forecasting to make sure we have enough of a spread. And then if we have to, we’ll add more schools in to the partnerships, and we’ll start drawing from other universities," said Joseph McDermott, Delta Air Lines' vice president of cabin operations and support services.

In the meantime, the future mechanics are ready to get to work. 

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"I’m glad that there are jobs available, but I really hope that a lot of people [are] joining us so that we don’t have to end up with having to work overtime and being stressed out," Hagstrom said.

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