Thom-Arne Norheim, Technical Director, Osm Aviation Management

The aviation industry is facing a dramatic change in the coming decade as the new generation aircraft become more prominent in the global fleet.

Airbus claims that the delivery of 37.400 aircrafts will be required over the next 20 years. Where 76 percent of the market requirements are for the next generation aircrafts with capacity up to 230 seats and a range up to 3.000 nm. This will ultimately drive the demand for a whole new and different set of special skills within the segment of maintenance engineers and technicians. Digital troubleshooting will require personnel who are highly skilled on computers and digital platforms on a much greater scale than what we experience today. 

The aircrafts are also sending more and more reliability data to the respective Maintenance Control Centers (MCC) on the ground and while airborne. For instance, take a look at the Airbus A350 with its 250.000+ sensors onboard that generate more than 10Gb of data every single flight hour.

Handling such massive and complex information will require much more and tighter dialog between the maintenance controllers and the engineers on the line, carrying out the maintenance functions. The preparations before a technical turnaround of an aircraft would also be more extensive, due to the increasing amount of reliability data being presented and processed, ultimately leading to a predictive maintenance environment and less time on the ground for these aircraft. With aircraft systems that are built more extensively on electronic structures and digital microsystems (i.e., in-between system communication), the old stick and string, as well as the classic hydraulics and pneumatics, are now being gradually replaced with newer and more advanced technologies: this generates a requirement for a whole new set of skills. Avionics training will be crucial in the coming years, allowing for safe, fast and reliable turnarounds.

 We see more and more computer-based, mobile and distance e-learning solutions, supplementing the traditional classroom instruction

From an aircraft design and construction level, we see an increased use of composite material and advanced alloys. For example, the Boeing 787-8 is built with over 23.000 kg of carbon fiber making this modern aircraft around 80% made of the composite material by volume and 50% by weight.

These new airplane constructions and designs require extensive training and a new set of specific skills on fiberglass and highly advanced composites repairs. Composite structures also require new techniques for damage mapping and evaluation that is needed to be carried out in a much more high-tech environment than that of traditional aluminum alloys. 

Generally speaking, I believe that the profession will evolve into a “system operator” orientation whereby the aircraft engineer role will be expected to cover additional responsibilities such as being a team leader and a technical event manager, all while maintaining a constant focus on the core responsibility – safety. The engineers will be constantly connected and online, acting more on directions from the Maintenance Control Centers of the operators, as well as keeping their main focus on the safety and compliance aspects of the role of a line maintenance engineer: responsibility and accountability – at all times.

These evolutions of skills in the industry appear to be valid both for fixed-wing and rotary operations, commercial as well as for business jets and military aircraft. Aviation technology is evolving at a rapid pace, requiring the best of the best maintenance people and processes to ensure airworthiness and safe operations– at all times.

OEMs are so far taking an active responsibility for training and bringing the skills up to the required levels.

We see more and more computer-based, mobile and distance e-learning solutions, supplementing the traditional classroom instruction. An array of new providers offering highly specialized training on these subjects and areas mentioned are entering the market. Boeing is, for instance, testing-out augmented and mixed reality solutions to improve student engagement, quality of instruction and knowledge retention. Airbus is also focusing strongly on the “Future Engineer” and claims that the next-generation aircraft engineers will be more of a mixture of degree-specific and the technical trade, where more of the University-Industry collaboration will be necessary to meet these challenges.

Personally, I believe that we need to change the initial training setup and requirements for the Licensed Engineers. Obviously, this can only happen if we take into account a crucial transition phase that is initiated by the Regulatory Agencies, all over the world. In fact, aircraft technical training and engineering should be delivered in a consistent and uniform way, on a global scale. As we progress into the new era of aircraft technical handling, I believe that we will see more extensive aircraft type-specific training and more “knowledge bridging” courses being made mandatory.

Recruits out of initial technical training today do not hold the skills required to be a Licensed Aircraft Engineer on next-generation aircraft to the full, in my opinion. Thankfully, the industry agrees on the fact that all recruits of today have a long and very exciting path of training ahead. All young graduates entering the technical segment of aviation will take part in this amazing journey. Both skills and training methods will have to be developed as we go forward. Constantly in change for the better. Constantly more exciting and constantly more on the edge of technology.  

So, what kind of training methods will be best at building these new skills?

Well, that’s the million-dollar question. I would not dare to speculate on which method, but rather state the fact that I strongly believe in investing in the individual employee. Make them all feel valuable and unique, which they truly are. 

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