The recent flight testing of the new, environmentally friendly Boeing ecoDemonstrator 787 has definitely been a glorious moment for both aviation technicians and eco-activists. Unfortunately, according to the newest Oliver Wyman MRO survey, currently only 20% of companies consider investing in new technology as a way to adapt to challenges, connected with implementation of such innovations within the industry. The disappointing statistics clearly indicate that the already tense situation with new aircraft technology, accompanied with evolving MRO practices is not likely to be diffused any time soon.
The new Boeing is equipped with as many as 25 highly elaborate technologies aimed at improving its environmental performance. However, these are by far not the only reason behind the headaches increasingly suffered by MRO providers. In fact, other, less sophisticated equipment being introduced to older machines at an accelerating pace has also proven a real challenge for MROs in need of adapting the existing maintenance practices.
For instance, APEX indicates that almost 40% of all passengers have expressed a “strong” desire to see improvements in the area. Seeking to meet such an enormous demand, airlines are increasingly keen to install technologies facilitating Wi-Fi connection on board. Although these and other similar modifications might not seem like a major technological breakthrough nowadays, they still require MRO staff to develop appropriate knowledge of network interfaces, fault isolation and other diagnostic procedures.
“Undoubtedly, with all that new technology penetrating the industry, we are up for a truly exciting future. However, one must keep in mind that the qualification of MRO specialists must evolve alongside the aircraft they have to maintain. Moreover, there is also the issue of the aging generation of MRO specialists to consider,” says Kestutis Volungevicius, the Head of Engineering and Training at FL Technics.
In order to grasp the seriousness of the retiring staff issue, one should consider the following stats: according to a recent Boston Consulting Group report, in 2010 there were 0.3 people retiring for each person entering the aviation workforce; moreover, by 2050 that number is expected to reach 0.7. “With this in mind, the consequences of personnel shortage in the aviation industry and especially in the MRO sector could be extremely problematic,” comments Kestutis Volungevicius, the Head of Engineering and Training at FL Technics.
In the meantime, each year aviation companies invest more than 100 million dollars into R&D of new aerospace technology (acc. to Air Transport Action Group report). Although determining the true benefits of such investment is near impossible, the development of new technology is vital for the future of air transportation. For example, Japan Airlines was the first to experiment with wearable technology aimed at facilitating improved aircraft maintenance on tarmac. It involves the use of Google Glass near the airliner to scan and send the information more quickly and efficiently, thus minimizing the possibility of delay or cancellation.
Ironically, however, even though the trial was reportedly a success, the implementation has actually slowed the maintenance process down and required more technical staff than usual, since the technicians using the technology were rumored to be insufficiently trained. Therefore, although these innovative operations will most probably become the future of the industry someday, it is obvious that without the proper training today it is more of a hassle than a victory.
“The current demand for new, more technologically advanced aircraft is as high as ever. Moreover, experts believe that in 2010-2023 there will be around 750 aircraft retiring annually, which means that the future will definitely bring us even more new and way more technologically sophisticated aircraft. Following the latest development trends, the already multiple staff training issues will only keep piling up. One thing is clear, though: the industry must not only seek ways to solve the existing issues, but also learn to anticipate any potential challenges before they arise, and I am sure they will,” concludes Kestutis Volungevicius, Head of Engineering and Training at FL Technics. “