“The Looming Mechanic Shortage: What If Your Airplane Breaks And There’s No One To Fix It?” (AOPA) is by Mike Busch, who helps a lot of owners of piston-driver airplanes manage maintenance.
Good old days:
When my Skylane needed maintenance, I took it to the Cessna dealership on the field, which employed a half-dozen factory-trained airframe and powerplant mechanics who worked on nothing but single-engine Cessnas all day long. The Cessna dealership also had a parts room to die for, so when my airplane needed some component to be replaced it was likely to be in stock. Owners of Pipers and Beechcraft on the field enjoyed the same happy circumstance at their factory dealerships.
Sadly, those days are gone. The Cessna and Beechcraft dealerships at John Wayne Airport are long gone, and the old Piper dealership now exists primarily as a shop catering to bizjets and turboprops. If you base a Cessna single at John Wayne and need maintenance done, the Cessna authorized service center on the field is Jay’s Aircraft Maintenance Inc. It’s a good shop, but the fact that it’s an authorized service center doesn’t mean that it only works on Cessnas the way it used to. According to Jay’s website, “We are equipped to perform maintenance on any aircraft under 12,000 lbs., including but not limited to those manufactured by Cessna, Piper, Beechcraft, Cirrus, and Socata.”
So, the A&P/IA who starts the annual inspection of your Skylane might well have just finished working on a Comanche or a Baron or a Cub. He’s most likely a generalist, not a specialist. Instead of knowing a lot about a few aircraft models, he knows a little about a lot of aircraft models—occasionally just enough to be dangerous. That’s not good.
The COVID-19 lockdowns have been a disaster for A&P schools. According to the Aviation Technician Education Council, one in five A&P schools has suspended operations, with many other schools voicing concern over their long-term viability. Forty percent of the schools expect a decline in 2020 graduates averaging 28 percent. Half expect that enrollment will decline in 2020 and 2021 by 31 percent.
Perhaps electric airplanes, with their minimal powerplant maintenance needs, will save recreational pilots. Or maybe the collapse of the airlines will deliver mechanics back to the small shops.
But I wonder if this is an argument for getting a Cirrus, the most popular of today’s little airplanes. With about 8,000 of these in the field and the fleet getting regular use by owners, perhaps that creates enough of a critical mass for a real support network. Of course, there are a larger number of Cessna, Piper, and Beechcraft planes out there, but the ones that get high utilization tend to be in flight schools that do their own maintenance.
- “Short guide to breaking in a new piston aircraft engine” (also by Busch)