Our Ageing Fleet
Aircraft corrosion is only one aspect of aircraft maintenance faced daily by our Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineers – LAMEs for short. Aircraft maintenance is a skilled profession requiring the dedication and expertise of many experienced and properly trained LAMEs. The life and safety of all pilots and air travellers is in their hands.
Unfortunately just as our aircraft fleet is ageing, so are our LAMEs. A rather hard to find page on CASA’s web site (www.casa.gov.au/ame/amestats.htm) has a graphical representation of the trends between the years 2000 and 2006. Reference to the aircraft register data published by CASA shows that in January 2000 there were a total of 11,438 aircraft registered in Australia including all ‘VH’ registered types (including gliders), but excluding RAA and HGFA registered aircraft. By 2006 this number had increased to 12,254, an increase of just over 7%. All of these aircraft require maintenance and we must have the trained personnel to do this.
On the face of it we don’t have a problem, as the total number of LAMEs (all trades, airframe, engines, electrical instruments and radio) in Australia is increasing at approximately the same rate as the increase in the aircraft numbers. Unfortunately things are not really as rosy as this. Our LAME population is ageing. The average age has increased from 44 years old in 2000 to 46 last year.
To further complicate the situation there are less young engineers qualifying as LAMEs: the number of LAMEs aged between 21-30 is in steady decline. In fact, if we were to extrapolate the current trend line into the future, it would indicate that there would be no LAMEs in the 21-30 age bracket by the year 2014!
The progressive retirement of the older LAMEs, together with the reducing inflow of young engineers to replace them, is a problem that must be addressed urgently. Why are we facing this situation and what is the solution? We clearly need to arrest the current trend before we are unable to maintain our aircraft fleet safely.
My personal thoughts are:
• We do not make our industry attractive enough for young people and we do not try hard enough to promote ourselves. In the ‘old days’, young people could hang over the fence at aerodromes, talk to people and even ‘touch’ aircraft. In today’s security sensitive environment this no longer occurs so, as participants in our industry, we must make extra effort to promote and encourage the younger generation.
• Salaries are not commensurate with the responsibilities inherent in maintaining aircraft. LAMEs are highly trained and skilled and assume huge responsibilities: salaries must adequately reflect this.
• The regulatory requirements are too onerous and obscure and discourage trainees from continuing with and sitting for the exams required to qualify for their LAME licences.
• The CASA ‘cost recovery’ fees are too high. Just picking one example, reference to the fee structure on the CASA web site shows the cost for the ‘Issue of a rating on an aircraft maintenance engineer licence based on the applicant’s practical experience, per category’ is $520! This is in addition to all the other fees associated with LAME licences.
It must always be remembered that LAMEs are tax payers like the rest of us, and CASA are public servants paid for from consolidated revenue derived from tax payers. Surely this is double dipping! Whilst it can be argued by politicians that ‘cost recovery’ is common and that these particular cost recovery fees can be justified, my personal view is that the level of these fees is inordinate. Maybe some of the ‘services’ we are asked to pay for are unnecessary and do not contribute to aviation safety.
Whether you agree with my views or not, I do hope that at least some constructive comment and ideas will result. If we do nothing our industry will eventually be strangled!