United Airlines is taking proactive measures to address the anticipated shortage of aircraft mechanics by announcing plans to hire over 7,000 aviation maintenance technicians in the next few years. Kate Gebo, United’s EVP of human resources and labor relations, highlighted the challenge of hiring for this core function in a highly competitive job market. Despite not requiring a college degree, finding qualified mechanics has been a significant hurdle for the airline.
To expand the pool of potential candidates, United has introduced a 36-month internal maintenance program called Calibrate, initially available to current employees and soon to be opened to the public. The aim of this hiring campaign is not only to address the current shortage but also to prevent a future deficit, considering that a significant portion of United’s technicians are approaching retirement age.
Industry projections indicate a growing need for technicians, with Boeing estimating a demand for 610,000 technicians by 2041, exceeding the requirement for pilots. Consulting firm Oliver Wyman’s recent report predicts a shortage of 12,000 to 18,000 technicians in 2023, attributing the gap to retiring Baby Boomers and a limited supply of Generation Z workers. By 2027, the deficit could reach 47,000 technicians, which would significantly impact airline operations and profitability.
Jonas Murby, a principal at AeroDynamic Advisory, notes that the industry is already experiencing the effects of the shortage, although it was temporarily masked during the pandemic. He suggests that increasing wages, similar to the approach taken to address the pilot shortage, could attract more talent. However, the challenge lies in the airlines’ ability to raise salaries for technicians, considering the elevated cost structure resulting from higher pilot wages.
Automation could also be a solution to alleviate the strain on the available workforce. By automating certain tasks, productivity can be increased, as seen with aircraft maintenance company Gameco in Guangzhou, China. The automation of their paint stripping line was driven by the shortage of mechanics, highlighting the potential benefits of such technological advancements.
As the aviation industry faces an imminent shortage of aircraft mechanics, United Airlines’ proactive hiring strategy and the consideration of wage increases and automation reflect the industry’s efforts to mitigate the potential operational and financial impact.