The aviation sector is facing significant disruption as the number of trained engineers dwindles while demand accelerates, according to research released today by leading international aviation recruitment consultancy, AeroProfessional.

In a report entitled “The Risk to Aviation’s Future”, AeroProfessional’s study reveals that 27% of the aircraft engineering workforce is set to retire in the next decade, while almost half (45%) are alarmingly considering moving to an alternative industry.

This stark decline flies in the face of growing demand for air travel and the skilled personnel integral to achieving that growth. Airbus estimates that passenger traffic will double to nine million by 2041, requiring the additional training of two million new personnel, of which 34% (680,000) will be engineers, while Boeing2 suggests that over 600,000 new aircraft engineers will be needed in the next 20 years.

AeroProfessional’s research indicates that, in addition to growing demand and a rapidly ageing workforce, a combination of factors drive the shortfall in the number of aircraft engineers:

Alternative industries are presenting an increasingly attractive route for aircraft engineers, with 56% of respondents to AeroProfessional’s research stating that they didn’t feel they were getting paid enough for the job expectations. AeroProfessional forecasts a flight of experienced aircraft engineers to other sectors. This situation is exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic which reinforced employee perceptions of aviation as an unstable sector to work in.

With a long and costly training process that can take up to seven years, bottlenecks are becoming a major issue, with insufficient training capacity available to manage the resurgence of travel post-pandemic and the associated demand for skilled personnel such as engineers.

The age of the current global commercial aviation fleet is also exacerbating the shortfall, with only 20% being the latest generation of aircraft with lower maintenance requirements. AeroProfessional estimates that the proportion of ageing, maintenance-intensive aircraft in the global fleet will not reduce significantly until 2040.

In the UK specifically, Brexit is also a significant factor as aircraft engineer licenses issued by the UK authorities are no longer valid or recognised in the EU, and vice versa. As a result, UK aviation businesses have very restricted access to engineers from European countries.

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 identified several steps the aviation industry should take to meet the shortfall in aircraft engineers.

As only 2.6% of aircraft engineers are women3, a key area to address is the lack of diversity. AeroProfessional’s research highlights the 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.

Improving training is crucial

Investing in the next generation and improving training is crucial, with 38% of the respondents in AeroProfessional’s research stating that making approved apprenticeships more widely available would make a difference, while 28% stated the need to introduce and promote engineering as an option earlier in education.

To achieve this, AeroProfessional is calling for better coordination between the industry, educational institutions, and governments to promote aviation as a more attractive job path for the next generation.
While existing aircraft engineer shortages are driving up salary levels, pay is only one factor that is needed to increase employee retention. 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 adds: “It will take a concerted effort on behalf of MROs, airlines and other key stakeholders to attract more talent into the sector and future-proof what is currently a woefully underfilled qualified engineer pipeline. This will take significant planning and not least of all investment in all forms.”

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