Aviation struggles with 50-year-old maintenance training regulation
© Getty

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations dictate what educational institutions teach aspiring aviation maintenance mechanics.

The agency — saddled with the responsibility of keeping U.S. skies safe — rightly seeks to ensure that our future technicians obtain the proper training and experience before maintaining the aircraft.

Unfortunately, FAA-dictated curriculum requirements have not been updated in more than five decades. In an age where technological advances are constantly driving innovation for safer and more efficient aircraft, schools are required to teach techniques for constructing and maintaining the now obviously antiquated, “Wright Flyer.”

Industry is left holding the bag, forced to retrain new graduates to ensure they can complete basic tasks required to maintain a modern, sophisticated aircraft.

Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 147 governs aviation maintenance technician schools that hold an FAA certificate.

The regulation was originally established under the Civil Aviation Administration and re-codified into 14 CFR in 1962. Since that time, neither the regulation, nor the subject areas it dictates be taught, have significantly changed.

During the same time, the design regulations mandating the standards to which a civil aviation article must be certificated and maintained have changed innumerable times. These revisions have enhanced safety significantly; they also mandate more sophistication and knowledge in maintenance personnel.

Widespread use of advanced materials and electronic operating systems, computers, high bypass propulsion systems, and “smart” aircraft did not exist in 1970 when minimum curriculum requirements were promulgated.

Rapid advances in rotorcraft technology, unmanned aerial vehicles, glass panel light support aircraft, and the spread of electronics into every aspect of aircraft are therefore not addressed in FAA-approved training programs.

Everyone agrees that part 147 is long-overdue for modernization.

An Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee, made up of industry and FAA representatives, issued a December 2008 report with specific recommendations to update static minimum curriculum requirements.

A 2003 Government Accountability Report (GAO) report called for updates, recognizing that:

…the required curriculum at aviation maintenance technician schools does not fully prepare [airframe and powerplant] A&P mechanics to work on commonly flown, technologically advanced commercial aircraft…today’s modern aircraft require A&P mechanics to have a different set of skills than those being taught at aviation maintenance technician schools. Since A&P mechanics that are newly graduated from aviation maintenance technician schools lack the skills to work on modern aircraft, officials at some major airlines said they are reluctant to hire them directly from school.

Outdated training mandates are more than an impediment; they hinder the aviation maintenance industry’s economic growth. As the global aviation sector expands, economic forecasts predict that U.S. maintenance companies will be unable to meet increased demand because of a significant skilled worker shortage.

To meet the need, training organization must produce better prepared aviation mechanics.

In 2015, the FAA issued a part 147 notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM). While a step in the right direction, industry took issue with several provisions of the proposal, calling for a less-prescriptive rule that would allow for competency-based programs and the freedom to cater training to industry needs.

The Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC) — along with fourteen other aviation trade organizations — decried the agency’s continued reliance on class time at the expense of technical capability.

The trade group also asked that the agency publish a rule free from specific subject area requirements that would pigeonhole the industry as technology advances, and mechanic certification testing standards change.

Since the NPRM was issued nearly two years ago, an internal agency deadline to promulgate a rule has come and gone. While industry awaits a new regulation — one that expectantly provides opportunity for growth and innovation — schools continue to teach outdated curriculum and companies continue to spend exorbitant amounts of time turning new graduates into productive employees.

ATEC is asking Congress and the FAA for action. Government must promulgate a rule — and soon — to ensure aviation maintenance technician schools teach industry realities and adequately prepare students for much-needed positions, to provide more attractive career paths for aircraft maintenance professionals, and to enhance an industry that already greatly benefits the public.

Crystal Maguire is the executive director of the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC), a contributing writer to Aviation Week’s Inside MRO, and operational manager for the Aerospace Maintenance Council, a nonprofit group that raises awareness about aviation maintenance technician careers through its annual Aerospace Maintenance Competition.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.