oversight

Aviation Safety: FAA Needs to Update Curriculum and Certification Requirements for Aviation Mechanics

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-03-06.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

             United States General Accounting Office

GAO          Report to the Ranking Democratic
             Member, Committee on Transportation
             and Infrastructure, House of
             Representatives

March 2003
             AVIATION SAFETY
             FAA Needs to Update
             the Curriculum and
             Certification
             Requirements for
             Aviation Mechanics




GAO-03-317
             a
                                               March 2003


                                               AVIATION SAFETY

                                               FAA Needs to Update the Curriculum and
Highlights of GAO-03-317, a report to the
Ranking Democratic Member, House
Committee on Transportation and
                                               Certification Requirements for Aviation
Infrastructure
                                               Mechanics


The safety of millions of airline              BLS projects that there will be about 184,000 aircraft mechanics and service
passengers depends in part on                  technicians employed in the United States in 2010, an increase of 17 percent from the
aviation mechanics—known as A&P                number employed in 2000. We reviewed the methodology and assumptions used by
mechanics—that are certified to                BLS to make the employment projections and found the resulting projection to be
inspect, service, and repair the
                                               reasonable.
aircraft’s body (airframe) and/or
engine (powerplant). FAA
establishes the requirements to                A&P mechanics will continue to be supplied and trained by the civilian workforce,
become certified as an A&P                     the military, and the 175 FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician schools.
mechanic.                                      About 58 percent of the 47,500 A&P mechanics that were certified by FAA between
                                               1996 and 2001 were trained in aviation maintenance in the military or on-the-job, and
Concerns have been raised in the               the remaining 42 percent attended FAA-approved schools. Officials of the major
aviation industry about having a               commercial air carriers anticipate a sufficient supply of A&P mechanics from these
sufficient number of A&P mechanics             same sources through 2010, citing their ability to contract out work to repair stations
over the long term. GAO was asked              and to adjust wages and benefits to attract the employees that they need. This latter
to determine how many aircraft                 approach is consistent with economic literature on labor markets, which indicates
mechanics and service technicians
                                               that most employers take such actions to attract and retain needed workers. Eleven
the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
                                               of 15 participants on an industry/government panel we convened believe that
projects will be employed in 2010,
and the reasonableness of that                 employers may have difficulty hiring A&P mechanics in 2010. According to officials
projection; the sources that supply            at major airlines, when such a situation has occurred in the past, their companies
and train A&P mechanics and the                responded by raising salaries and improving benefits to attract the mechanics that
likelihood that they will provide a            they needed.
sufficient number through 2010; and
what is being done by FAA and the              FAA develops the minimum curriculum requirements for A&P mechanics attending
aviation industry to ensure that the           aviation maintenance technician schools. However, the curriculum has not changed
skills of A&P mechanics are                    significantly in over 50 years. Industry officials believe that the curriculum is
sufficient to work on technologically          obsolete geared toward smaller less complex aircraft, and does not provide enough
advanced aircraft?
                                               instruction on the materials and technology used on modern aircraft that transports
                                               the majority of the flying public.

FAA should review the required                 Aviation Maintenance Technician at Work
curriculum at aviation maintenance
technician schools, identify courses
that do not reflect widely used
aircraft technology and materials and
either de-emphasize or replace them.
Also, FAA should ensure that
changes to the required curriculum
are reflected on the A&P certification
examination.




www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-317.

To view the full report, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Gerald L.
Dillingham (202) 512-3650 or
dillinghamg@gao.gov.
Contents




Letter                                                                                                1
                             Results in Brief                                                         3
                             Background                                                               5
                             BLS Projection of Increased Employment in 2010 Appears
                               Reasonable                                                             7
                             Traditional Sources That Supply and Train A&P Mechanics Should
                               Be Adequate through 2010                                               9
                             FAA-developed Curriculum Does Not Cover Technologically
                               Advanced Aircraft                                                     18
                             Conclusions                                                             23
                             Recommendations for Executive Action                                    24
                             Agency Comments                                                         24


Appendixes
              Appendix I:    Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                      26
             Appendix II:    Survey of Aviation Mechanics Stakeholder Panel—Overall
                             Responses to Survey Questions                                           31
             Appendix III:   Survey of Aviation Mechanics Stakeholder Panel—2nd
                             Round                                                                   43
             Appendix IV:    Responses from A&P Mechanics                                            52
              Appendix V:    Responses from Aviation Mechanics Students                              54
             Appendix VI:    GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments                                  56
                             GAO Contacts                                                            56
                             Staff Acknowledgments                                                   56


Tables                       Table 1: Number of A&P Certificates Issued to FAA-approved
                                      School Trained and Nonschool Trained Mechanics, 1996–
                                      2001                                                           10
                             Table 2: Number of Certificates Issued by FAA, 1996 – 2001              11
                             Table 3: FAA Initiatives to Improve the Qualifications of
                                      Mechanics                                                      15
                             Table 4: Organizations Represented on the Stakeholder Panel             27
                             Table 5: Interview Locations and Organizations                          28




                             Page i                                           GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
Contents




Abbreviations

A&P          Airframe and Powerplant
BLS          Bureau of Labor Statistics
FAA          Federal Aviation Administration
DOD          Department of Defense
DOT          Department of Transportation

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Page ii                                                        GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
A
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, D.C. 20548



                                    March 6, 2003                                                                              Leter




                                    The Honorable James L. Oberstar
                                    Ranking Democratic Member
                                    Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
                                    House of Representatives

                                    Dear Mr. Oberstar:

                                    The safety of millions of air passengers depends on the abilities of a
                                    specialized group of aviation mechanics who are responsible for ensuring
                                    the airworthiness of about 200,000 civilian aircraft. These aviation
                                    mechanics inspect, service, and repair the planes’ bodies (airframe) and/or
                                    engines (powerplant). Mechanics who are certified to work on both the
                                    airframe and powerplant are commonly known as A&P mechanics.
                                    Airframe and/or powerplant mechanics have final authority in certifying
                                    that a plane is airworthy and approving its return to service. The Federal
                                    Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for establishing the minimum
                                    requirements to become an A&P mechanic, authorizing and providing
                                    oversight to the 175 schools that teach prospective A&P mechanics, and
                                    establishing the schools’ core curriculum. In addition, FAA certifies private
                                    individuals, called designated mechanic examiners, to test aviation A&P
                                    candidates on their knowledge of servicing an aircraft’s airframe and
                                    powerplant, and to issue temporary mechanic certificates that indicate the
                                    candidates have successfully met the requirements for certification. FAA
                                    issues permanent A&P certificates to mechanics.1

                                    Prior to September 11, 2001, there was concern within the aviation industry
                                    that there would not be a sufficient number of A&P mechanics available in
                                    the future. That concern abated temporarily with the decrease in air traffic
                                    and subsequent lay offs of mechanics, but may return as traffic levels begin
                                    to return to pre-September 11 levels. This report responds to your request
                                    for information on the prospects of having a continued adequate supply of
                                    qualified aviation mechanics. Specifically, we agreed to address the
                                    following questions: (1) How many aircraft mechanics and service
                                    technicians does the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) project will be
                                    employed in 2010, and how reasonable is that projection? (2) What are the
                                    sources that supply and train A&P mechanics and the likelihood that they


                                    1
                                     Mechanics can also receive certification for either airframe or powerplant. This report
                                    focuses on mechanics who have the combined A&P certificate.




                                    Page 1                                                          GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
will provide a sufficient number of mechanics through 2010? and (3) What
is being done by FAA and the aviation industry to ensure that the skills of
A&P mechanics are sufficient to work on technologically advanced
aircraft?

To address these questions, we obtained and analyzed information from a
variety of sources. From BLS, we gathered data on how it develops
estimates of current employment and projections of future employment for
individual occupations, including aircraft mechanics and service
technicians.2 In addition, we examined legislative and administrative
requirements for the A&P certification and curriculum and obtained and
analyzed FAA data on the number of airframe and/or powerplant
certificates that have been issued between 1996 and 2001. We also obtained
data from the United States Coast Guard, Navy, Army, Air Force, and
Marine Corps on the number of military personnel that have the
designation of aviation mechanics and information on their duties and job
requirements. In addition, we identified 17 industry and government
organizations representing A&P mechanics; businesses that employ A&P
mechanics; A&P schools; and FAA, which certifies the mechanics. Officials
from these organizations participated on a stakeholder panel that provided
their groups’ views on the employment and training of A&P mechanics, the
A&P curriculum of FAA-approved aviation maintenance technicians
school, and A&P certification standards. To obtain information on
certifying, hiring, training, and employing A&P mechanics, we interviewed
officials from FAA, the Department of Defense (DOD), and eight major
commercial carriers. In addition, we obtained information on hiring,
training, and employing A&P mechanics from regional airlines, fixed-based
operations,3 repair stations,4 and FAA-approved aviation maintenance
technician schools in the Washington, D.C., area, Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle,
Orlando, Daytona Beach, Fort Eustis, VA, and Oklahoma City. We
conducted our review in accordance with generally accepted government
auditing standards. Appendix I contains additional information on our
scope and methodology.


2
 Service technicians repair, maintain, and service aircraft under the supervision of certified
A&P mechanics. BLS uses the term service technicians, while FAA uses the term repairmen.
3
 Fixed-based operations are FAA-certified facilities, generally located at or near an airfield,
that repair and service aircraft.
4
 Repair stations are FAA-certified facilities, generally larger than fixed-based operations,
that repair and service aircraft.




Page 2                                                             GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
Results in Brief   BLS projects that there will be about 184,000 aircraft mechanics and
                   service technicians employed in the United States in 2010, which we
                   believe is a reasonable estimate based on our review of the process used by
                   BLS to make this projection. The aircraft mechanics and service
                   technicians’ category that BLS uses includes A&P mechanics that
                   specialize in the maintenance and repair of an aircraft’s airframe and
                   powerplant, repairmen, and others who work on aircraft.5 BLS’ projection
                   amounts to a 17-percent increase over the number the agency reported
                   employed in 2000, or an average annual average increase of about 2,600
                   aircraft mechanics and service technicians. BLS derived its projection from
                   a multi-step process in which the employment of aircraft mechanics and
                   service technicians is influenced by factors such as the projected demand
                   for air travel. In addition, BLS considers trend data on hiring, enrollment in
                   aviation maintenance technician schools, and information provided by
                   aviation industry participants in making its projections. There is always
                   uncertainty associated with projections such as those made by BLS
                   because they depend on assumptions about key economic factors, and the
                   actual values of these factors may differ from the estimated values.

                   The sources that will supply and train A&P mechanics are the civilian
                   workforce, the military, and FAA-approved aviation maintenance
                   technician schools. About 58 percent of the 47,500 A&P mechanics who
                   were issued certificates between 1996 and 2001 were trained in aviation
                   maintenance in the military or on-the-job, and the remaining 42 percent
                   attended FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician schools. Officials
                   of the major commercial air carriers, the largest employer of A&P
                   mechanics, as well as officials from regional and business air carriers,
                   anticipate there will be a sufficient supply of A&P mechanics from these
                   same sources through 2010, citing their ability to contract out repair and
                   servicing work to repair stations, and the ability to adjust wages and
                   benefits to attract the employees that they need. This approach is
                   consistent with economic literature on labor markets that indicates that
                   most employers, regardless of the industry that they represent, take such
                   actions to attract and retain the workers that they need. Many participants
                   (11 of 15) in our stakeholder panel believe that employers may have
                   difficulty hiring A&P mechanics in 2010. According to officials at major


                   5
                    There is no estimate of employment made specifically for airframe and powerplant (A&P)
                   mechanics. BLS’ employment figures include all aircraft mechanics and service technicians,
                   including airframe and/or powerplant mechanics and repairmen.




                   Page 3                                                         GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
airlines, when such a situation has occurred in the past, their companies
responded by raising salaries and providing other incentives to attract
mechanics that they needed.

FAA is responsible for developing the minimum requirements for the A&P
curriculum at the 175 FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician
schools nationwide, but it has not made significant changes to the schools’
curriculum in more than 50 years. According to most of the representatives
of the aviation industry that we interviewed, overall, the curriculum
provides a solid basic introduction to aircraft repair and maintenance.
However, they also believe that the curriculum is outdated, and geared
toward systems and materials on smaller, less complex aircraft that are
rarely used by most of the flying public. Representatives of the major air
carriers told us that since the aviation maintenance technician schools do
not provide enough instruction on the materials and technology used by
modern commercial aircraft, they provide on-the-job training to their
mechanics. FAA proposed changes to the A&P curriculum and certification
processes in 1994 and 1998, when it issued notices of proposed rulemaking
but negative comments on specific items in the proposals, such as a
requirement that mechanics have recurrent training, caused FAA to
withdraw the proposals. FAA officials told us that there are no immediate
plans to reissue the proposals. Since FAA is responsible for ensuring that
minimum requirements taught at the aviation maintenance technician
schools address current conditions, we are recommending that FAA review
the minimum A&P curriculum required for FAA-approved aviation
maintenance technician schools, and identify courses that do not reflect
widely used aircraft technology and materials on commonly flown aircraft.
These courses should be de-emphasized or replaced with courses that
address current conditions. We also recommend that FAA ensure that
changes to the A&P school curriculum are reflected on the mechanic’s
certification examination, thus ensuring that all candidates for the A&P
certificate meet the same standards. FAA and BLS generally agreed with
our findings and FAA agreed to consider our recommendation.




Page 4                                               GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
Background   Some members of the aviation industry expressed concern about a
             potential shortage of qualified aviation mechanics. Aviation mechanics
             (also called “airframe and powerplant” or “A&P” mechanics) who
             specialize in and are certified to inspect, service, and repair the bodies
             (airframe) and engines (powerplant) of civilian aircraft are a critical
             component of aviation safety because they are responsible for ensuring
             that aircraft are in peak operating condition and can be used to safely
             transport people and cargo. If an A&P mechanic fails to perform the
             required services before an aircraft departs, it could compromise the safety
             of the aircraft, passengers, and cargo. For example, in examining the
             January 2000 Alaska Airlines crash of Flight 261, the National
             Transportation Safety Board determined that maintenance irregularities
             were among the contributing factors to the crash. Concerns about the
             sufficiency of the number of specialized personnel in the aviation industry
             have not been limited to aviation mechanics. In a recent report on air traffic
             controllers, for example, we identified likely future attrition scenarios
             involving that workforce, and recommended that FAA better prepare for
             responding to them.6

             A&P mechanics inspect and repair engines, landing gear, instruments,
             pressurized sections, and other parts of the aircraft. They are also
             responsible for providing routine maintenance and replacement of aircraft
             parts; repairing sheet metal or composite surfaces; and checking for
             corrosion, distortion, and cracks in the fuselage, wings, and tail. After
             completing the work, A&P mechanics must test parts and equipment to
             ensure that they work properly, and then they can authorize the aircrafts’
             return to service. The mechanics often work under time pressure to
             maintain flight schedules.

             To receive A&P certification, candidates must first successfully complete a
             minimum of 1,900 hours of classroom instruction at any of the 175 FAA-
             approved aviation maintenance technician schools or acquire documented
             evidence that they have at least 30 months of on-the-job training or
             experience working with aircrafts’ engines and bodies. FAA developed the
             core curriculum on repairing and maintaining aircraft used at the aviation
             maintenance schools. A&P candidates must then pass written and oral
             tests and demonstrate through a practical test that they can do the work


             6
              U.S. General Accounting Office, Air Traffic Control: FAA Needs to Better Prepare for
             Impending Wave of Controller Attrition, GAO-02-591 (Washington, D.C.: June 14, 2002).




             Page 5                                                       GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
authorized by the certificate. For example, candidates must show
proficiency in working on items such as aircraft structures, landing gears
and components, and powerplant maintenance.

FAA administers the written examination and certifies private persons,
called designated mechanic examiners, located throughout the country to
administer the oral and practical tests to candidates. When a candidate
successfully completes the certification examination, the examiner issues a
temporary A&P mechanic certificate. The examiner submits the newly
certified A&P mechanic’s file to an FAA field office for initial review and, if
approved there, the file is sent to the FAA’s Airman Certification Branch, in
Oklahoma City. FAA issues the permanent A&P certificate to mechanics
who successfully pass all parts of the examination. The examiners charge a
fee, which is not set or regulated by FAA, to the applicants taking the
examination. FAA is responsible for overseeing the examiners, and both
FAA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General found
abuses in the past.7

While most aircraft mechanics are employed by the nation’s air carriers,
others work for repair stations, corporate flight departments, fixed-based
operations,8 air taxi and charter services, the federal government, and
aircraft manufacturers. Within the aviation industry, the major commercial
airlines, corporate flight departments, and aircraft manufacturers offer the
highest salaries for A&P mechanics, while salaries for mechanics who
work in regional airlines, fixed-based operations, and training facilities
tend to be lower. BLS estimates that the average salary of aircraft
mechanics and service technicians nationwide was about $41,000 in 2000.
According to representatives of some major commercial air carriers,
salaries for aviation mechanics vary within the occupation and are based
on factors such as the number of certifications the mechanics possess and
the sector of the aviation industry in which they are employed. Generally,
mechanics who are A&P certified earn more than those having other types
of aviation mechanic’s certificates.9 According to BLS, the mean hourly

7
 In 1999, FAA found that designated mechanics’ examiners in the Orlando, Florida, area had
fraudulently indicated that hundreds of applicants had passed the certification examination.
FAA retested many of the mechanics and instituted controls over the certification process.
8
See footnote 3.
9
 Examples of other types of aviation mechanics certificates include repairmen certificates
and avionics certificates, which are required to work on the electronic components of
aircraft.




Page 6                                                          GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
                       wage in 2000 for aircraft mechanics and service technicians was $19.49.
                       Officials of the eight major commercial air carriers that we spoke with told
                       us that they offer A&P mechanics an hourly salary rate ranging between
                       $16.50 and $37.00. The hourly salaries for aviation mechanics employed
                       with nine regional airlines, repair stations, and fixed-based operations that
                       we contacted ranged from $11.50 to $30.00.

                       FAA data show that as of May 2002, there were 268,996 certified A&P
                       mechanics, 14,984 certified airframe mechanics, and 10,421 certified
                       powerplant mechanics nationwide under the age of 70.10 In addition, 38
                       percent of these certified A&P mechanics are between the ages of 50 and 70
                       years old; 35 percent are between 39 and 49 years; and 27 percent are
                       between 18 and 38 years old. There are also about 80,000 FAA-certified
                       repairmen and an unknown number of noncertified repairmen that are
                       supervised by A&P mechanics at FAA-approved repair facilities, fixed-
                       based operations, and airlines. Neither government nor industry maintains
                       data on the total number of noncertified repairmen who work in aviation
                       maintenance.



BLS Projection of      As the federal government’s primary source of data on the national labor
                       market, BLS determines the current employment in various occupations in
Increased Employment   a given year, and it makes biennial projections of the number of future
in 2010 Appears        employees nationwide in various occupations over a 10-year period.
                       According to BLS data, at the end of 2000, about 77 percent (or about
Reasonable             122,000) of the nation’s 157,884 aircraft mechanics and service technicians
                       were employed in the aviation industry by entities such as air carriers,
                       airports, and aircraft parts businesses. BLS’ projection does not distinguish
                       between certified and noncertified aircraft mechanics and service
                       technicians. About 51 percent (or about 80,500) of the aircraft mechanics
                       and technicians worked for the nation’s air carriers, according to BLS. The
                       remaining 49 percent worked outside of the air carrier industry.




                       10
                        FAA data show the number of mechanics that have received an airframe and/or
                       powerplant certificate, while BLS data show the number of all aircraft mechanics and
                       service technicians that are, and are projected to be, employed.




                       Page 7                                                         GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
                              In December 2001, BLS projected that the number of aircraft mechanics
                              and service technicians employed in the United States would increase to
                              about 184,000 in 2010, an overall 17 percent increase (or about 2,630
                              employees per year) over the 157,884 aircraft mechanics and service
                              technicians that were employed in 2000.11 In its projections for 2010, BLS
                              estimates that the overall percentage of aircraft mechanics and service
                              technicians employed in the aviation industry will increase to 80 percent,
                              and the percentage of aircraft mechanics and service technicians employed
                              by the air carriers would increase to about 54 percent.



BLS’ Process for Projecting   BLS’ projection of future employment for aircraft mechanics and service
Future Employment             technicians appears reasonable based on our review of the agency’s
                              process for making the projection. To estimate future employment in
Appears Reasonable            various occupations, BLS uses historical data, an input-output matrix12 for
                              the economy, and forecasts of key economic factors such as economic
                              growth by sector of the economy and labor participation rates, to estimate
                              the output of numerous industries and the number of people employed by
                              those industries. As a result, projected employment in an industry is
                              influenced by the projected demand for the goods and services produced
                              by that industry. For example, the projected employment of aircraft
                              mechanics and service technicians is influenced by the projected demand
                              for air travel.

                              BLS produces a baseline estimate of employment by occupation in each
                              industry by assuming that the industry’s projected employment in the
                              forecast year will be divided among occupations in the same proportions as
                              it was divided in the last historical year available. For example, if
                              employment in an industry is expected to increase by 10 percent, then the
                              baseline estimate would show that employment for each occupation in that
                              industry would increase by 10 percent. Total employment within an
                              occupation is derived by adding the estimates for each industry in which
                              members of that occupation are employed. BLS occupation specialists then
                              consider whether the distribution of employment across occupations in the
                              various industries will change by the forecast year. For the occupation


                              11
                                   This is the most recent year for which actual figures are available.
                              12
                               An input-output matrix shows how much of various inputs, including labor as well as
                              materials, is used to produce a unit of various outputs (e.g., how much steel is used to
                              produce a car).




                              Page 8                                                               GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
                        category of aircraft mechanics and service technicians, the BLS occupation
                        specialist obtains information on factors influencing the supply and
                        demand of these workers from many sources, including trend data on
                        hiring; enrollment in aviation maintenance technician schools; and
                        discussions with various industry participants, including employers,
                        workers, FAA officials, and operators of aviation maintenance technician
                        schools. On the basis of this information, BLS concluded that by 2010
                        aviation mechanics and service technicians will be more productive due to
                        greater use of automated inventory control and modular systems by air
                        carriers, which will speed repairs and parts replacement. As a result, BLS
                        adjusted its 2010 projection for aircraft mechanics and service technicians
                        downward from its baseline. Since projections such as these depend on
                        numerous assumptions, there is always uncertainty associated with them.
                        For example, if the overall growth rate of the economy, one of the factors
                        underlying BLS’ projections, were to differ from the rate assumed in BLS’
                        models, then actual employment in various occupations in 2010 will differ
                        from the agency’s expectations. Nevertheless, BLS has constructed its
                        projection on a comprehensive set of factors and employed a sound
                        methodology to analyze those factors.



Traditional Sources     According to FAA and aviation industry officials, A&P mechanics will
                        continue to come from FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician
That Supply and Train   schools, the military, and the civilian workforce, and officials of the major
A&P Mechanics Should    commercial air carriers, the largest employer of A&P mechanics, as well as
                        those from regional and business air carriers anticipate a sufficient number
Be Adequate through     of mechanics from these sources through 2010. In addition, some air
2010                    carriers will contract out their aircraft repair and servicing needs to repair
                        stations, which can operate with fewer A&P mechanics. Most of our
                        stakeholder panelists believe that employers may have difficulty hiring
                        A&P mechanics in 2010. Aviation industry employers maintain that, as they
                        have done in the past, they will adjust salaries and benefits to attract the
                        mechanics that they need, consistent with economic literature on how
                        labor markets typically operate.




                        Page 9                                                GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
Civilian Workforce, Military   According to FAA officials, A&P mechanics received their aviation
Service, and Aviation          maintenance training either in the civilian workforce, during military
                               service, or after completing a prescribed curriculum at an FAA-approved
Maintenance Technician         aviation maintenance technician school. As table 1 shows, from 1996
Schools Are Sources of         through 2001,13 FAA issued nearly 47,500 A&P certificates, which
Training for A&P Mechanics     represents about 7,900 A&P certificates annually. About 58 percent of these
                               certificates were granted to A&P mechanics who were trained in the
                               military or during civilian employment.14 The remaining 42 percent of the
                               A&P certificate holders attended FAA-approved aviation maintenance
                               technician schools.



                               Table 1: Number of A&P Certificates Issued to FAA-approved School Trained and
                               Nonschool Trained Mechanics, 1996 – 2001

                                                         Number of A&P
                                                   certificates issued to Number of A&P certificates                   Total A&P
                               Year               FAA-approved school          issued to nonschool                    certificates
                               issued                          attendees                 mechanics                         issued
                               1996                                   2,792                              4,776                  7,568a
                               1997                                   2,234                              5,302                  7,536
                               1998                                   3,003                              5,142                  8,145
                               1999                                   3,610                              4,489                  8,099a
                               2000                                   4,187                              4,155                  8,342a
                               2001                                   4,221                              3,567                  7,788a
                               Total                                 20,047                             27,431             47,478a
                               Source: FAA.
                               a
                                Amount differs from that shown in table 2. According to FAA, the discrepancy was caused by
                               database request dates. The database is continually changing to reflect the issuance of new or
                               updated certificates.


                               Over the same period, FAA issued almost 20,000 individual airframe or
                               powerplant certificates. Table 2 shows the number of aviation mechanics’
                               certificates issued between 1996 and 2001.

                               13
                                 Prior to 1996, FAA’s database did not distinguish the type of certification issued to
                               mechanics; therefore, it was not possible to determine the number of certificates issued to
                               airframe and/or powerplant mechanics and others. Since 1996, the database identifies the
                               type of certificate issued.
                               14
                                FAA classifies A&P certificate holders who were trained in the military or during civilian
                               employment as “nonschool mechanics” in its database.




                               Page 10                                                               GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
Table 2: Number of Certificates Issued by FAA, 1996 – 2001

                       Number of
                    airframe only          Number of           Number of both                 Total
Year                  certificates  powerplant only            A&P certificates        certificates
issued                     issued certificates issued                   issued              issued
1996                          1,973                     883                7,569a            10,425
1997                          2,017                     964                 7,536            10,517
1998                          2,292                     947                 8,145            11,384
1999                          2,494                   1,025                8,100a            11,619
                                                                                   a
2000                          2,393                   1,094                8,349             11,836
2001                          2,298                   1,091                7,795a            11,184
                                                                                   a
Total                       13,467                    6,004               47,494             66,965
Source: FAA.
a
 Amount differs from that shown in table 1. According to FAA, the discrepancy was caused by
database request dates. The database is continually changing to reflect the issuance of new or
updated certificates.


Many A&P mechanics were trained initially while in the military and
supplemented their experience with training on civilian aircraft in order to
meet the requirements for taking the A&P certification examination. The
combined branches of the U.S. military had about 93,000 aviation
mechanics as of July 30, 2002, and, according to military officials, many of
them are or could become eligible to take the A&P certification
examination. However, no data are available on the number of current
military aviation mechanics that have A&P certificates. Significant
differences exist in the requirements for military personnel with an aviation
mechanic’s designation and civilian aviation mechanics. Military aviation
mechanics are not required to have an airframe and/or powerplant
certificate, while civilian aviation mechanics must have a certificate (e.g.,
airframe and powerplant) that is appropriate for the work they are doing
before they can attest that an aircraft is operating properly and is ready for
departure. In addition, military aviation mechanics are often trained to
perform a specialized task on the type of aircraft that is typically used by
the mechanics’ branch of the service. In addition, according to military
officials, a military aviation mechanics’ job is compartmentalized in that
the mechanic is generally assigned to service or maintain a specific part of
an aircraft or perform a specific task on an aircraft. In contrast, civilian
A&P mechanics are trained to, and often conduct work on, various parts of
the airframe and powerplant of different types of aircraft. Since the work
performed by many military aviation mechanics is often so specialized,
many of them have to supplement their on-the-job work experience with


Page 11                                                               GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
knowledge and training on civilian aircraft before they can become eligible
to take the A&P examination. Several A&P employers told us that former
military aviation mechanics are highly sought after once they become A&P
certified, because of their discipline and attention to detail.

Another major source for A&P mechanics are the 175 aviation maintenance
technician schools nationwide that are authorized by FAA to teach a
specified curriculum on inspecting, repairing, and maintaining an aircraft’s
airframe and powerplant. There are no current or historical data available
on the number of enrollees and graduates of those schools, and FAA does
not require the schools to report this information.15 Officials at four
schools we contacted indicated that their enrollment was at capacity or
increasing. In addition, the schools’ officials told us that the majority of
their graduates worked initially in the aviation industry after leaving the
schools.




15
 The Aviation Technician Education Council, the organization that represents many FAA-
approved aviation maintenance technician schools, conducts surveys each year on the
schools’ enrollment and graduation rates. However, according to the Council, the survey
results cannot be used to provide trend information because the same schools do not
respond each year.




Page 12                                                       GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
Major Commercial,            Officials from the major commercial, regional, and business air carriers
Regional, and Business Air   that we interviewed anticipated a sufficient number of A&P mechanics
                             through 2010 for two primary reasons. First, the officials for the air carriers
Carriers Anticipate          indicated that they could avoid a shortage of in-house mechanics by
Adequate Supply of A&P       contracting out some of their aircraft maintenance to domestic and/or
Mechanics in the Future      foreign-based repair stations.16 In a 1997 report on repair stations, we
                             noted that the use of repair stations has grown substantially in recent
                             years, particularly by airlines and cargo companies just entering the
                             market.17 Many carriers have found it more economical to contract out
                             much of their maintenance work to repair stations rather than hiring their
                             own staffs and building extensive facilities. FAA is responsible for the
                             certification and oversight of repair stations, and for specifying the type of
                             maintenance that they can perform. While many repair stations have fewer
                             than 15 employees and a limited range of activities that FAA has certified,
                             some employ thousands of workers who completely overhaul engines and
                             renovate aging airframes. As of December 2002, there were about 5,600
                             FAA-certified domestic and foreign repair stations.18 The stations can
                             offset the need for large numbers of A&P mechanics by employing
                             repairmen, who may or may not be supervised by A&P mechanics, to do
                             the work. Neither FAA nor the aviation industry has established a
                             requirement or guidance on the ratio of repairmen to A&P mechanics at
                             those facilities, and we were unable to find any useable data on this issue.

                             Second, officials for the air carriers indicated that their companies would
                             likely adjust salaries and benefits for A&P mechanics to attract and retain
                             the number they need to operate effectively. Some of the officials stated
                             that during the 1990s, their air carriers experienced periodic shortages of
                             A&P mechanics and they responded by raising salaries and providing other
                             incentives to attract the mechanics that they needed to their companies.




                             16
                                  Facilities certified by FAA to repair and service aircraft.
                             17
                              U.S. General Accounting Office, Aviation Safety: FAA Oversight of Repair Stations Needs
                             Improvement GAO/RCED-98-21 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 24, 1997).
                             18
                              Officials for the major air carriers told us that the carriers require foreign repair stations to
                             follow U.S. requirements in some areas as a condition of their contract.




                             Page 13                                                             GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
Aviation Sectors’             The adjustment of salaries and benefits to attract workers is consistent
Expectations on Influencing   with the economic literature that we reviewed on this issue. The literature
                              confirmed the economic principle that businesses have typically responded
Mechanics’ Hiring through     to the potential of workplace shortages by taking action in several ways.
Salary and Benefit            First, if the number of employees in a given occupational specialty is
Adjustments Are Consistent    insufficient to support an employer's operations at a given scale, the
with Literature on Labor      employer can take actions that are likely to attract more new employees,
Markets                       and to reduce attrition among incumbent employees. These actions include
                              increasing wages, offering more generous nonwage benefits, and improving
                              working conditions. Second, employers can devote additional resources to
                              encouraging careers in the occupational specialty, such as advertising job
                              openings and participating in job fairs. Third, an employer could respond to
                              a shortfall in the number of employees in a given occupational specialty by
                              altering business operations so that fewer employees are required. For
                              instance, an employer could scale back operations, such as reduce the
                              number of flights provided. Finally, in some instances, employers may be
                              able to alter the technology to permit the substitution of other types of
                              labor for workers in the occupational specialty that is in short supply. In
                              the event that the number of qualified aviation mechanics should start
                              falling below the level that the aviation industry believes it needs to
                              properly conduct business, we expect that the industry will respond in the
                              ways discussed above.



Most Panelists Believe That   While the primary employers of A&P mechanics expect a sufficient number
Hiring A&P Mechanics Will     of mechanics will be available through 2010, 11 of 15 panelists who
                              responded to our question reported that employers may have difficulty in
Be Difficult                  hiring them. The 11 panelists were from organizations that represent,
                              employ, or train A&P mechanics. Furthermore, many panelists believe that
                              more A&P retirees along with growth in air travel and the number of
                              aircraft will increase the demand for aviation mechanics in 2010.

                              We identified no nationwide data on the rate at which A&P mechanics
                              retire or leave the industry. In our discussions with some of the panelists,
                              we were told that the attrition information they provided for A&P
                              mechanics was based on anecdotal comments by their members. In
                              addition, all but one of the major commercial air carriers in our review
                              indicated that their annual turnover rate (which includes employees who
                              have left the industry as well as those who have taken a job with another
                              employer as an aviation mechanic) averaged about 3 percent in the 3 years




                              Page 14                                              GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
                                           prior to September 2001. The other carrier had a turnover rate of about 7
                                           percent during that time period.



FAA and Industry Have                      Both FAA and the aviation industry have programs or activities that are
Initiatives to Influence the               designed to influence the number of A&P mechanics in the industry, and
                                           the skills they acquire. In addition to the initiatives described in table 3,
Skills of A&P Mechanics                    FAA managers told us that local field offices conduct outreach efforts at
                                           schools to promote interest in careers in aviation.



Table 3: FAA Initiatives to Improve the Qualifications of Mechanics

FAA initiative                                 Program description
Aviation Safety Program                        The FAA Accident Prevention Program was started in 1971 to decrease the number of
                                               general aviation accidents. In 1996, the program's name was changed to the Aviation
                                               Safety Program and its mission was expanded to include all aspects of aviation
                                               including air carriers and maintenance. The program consists of 160 program
                                               managers who have published safety-related audiovisual materials and publications
                                               and conducted a series of safety seminars and clinics for pilots and mechanics. FAA
                                               reports that surveys it has conducted show that the program is an effective way to
                                               provide mechanics updated information on regulatory requirements, technological
                                               advances, and changes in safety responsibilities. In a 1998 survey of aviation
                                               mechanics, FAA found that 30 percent (about 7,200) of respondents attended at least
                                               one seminar and 10 percent (about 2,400) attended two or more seminars.
Aviation Maintenance Technician Awards         The program was started in 1992 to encourage aviation mechanics to participate in
Program                                        employer-sponsored initial and recurrent training classes on a voluntary basis.
                                               Mechanics are eligible to receive certificates of recognition, lapel pins, and other
                                               prizes such as roundtrip airfare, computers, and scholarships. Employers providing
                                               training to their mechanics may also receive certificates of recognition under the
                                               program. In fiscal year 2000, 19,963 pins and 104 awards were given to mechanics
                                               and employers, respectively. For fiscal year 2001, numbers increased to 24,047
                                               mechanic pins and 146 employer awards. Over the last 3 years, FAA estimates that
                                               participation in the program increased 5 to 7 percent.
Source: FAA.




                                           Page 15                                                         GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
                                 The aviation industry is also pursuing a variety of initiatives to promote
                                 careers in aviation maintenance and to expand their own opportunities for
                                 recruiting qualified aviation mechanics. For example, an aviation industry
                                 employer offers cash incentives to its employees whose referral of an A&P
                                 mechanic results in his or her employment. In addition, airlines, including
                                 Continental, Northwest, Horizon, Delta, United, and America West,
                                 reported involvement with local aviation maintenance technician schools,
                                 through providing teaching aids, such as surplus aircraft parts and
                                 equipment, and by participating in local schools’ recruiting fairs. Finally,
                                 some airlines reported engaging in other initiatives to recruit, hire, or retain
                                 qualified aviation mechanics, including participating in career days at
                                 middle and high schools in order to introduce students to aviation as a
                                 possible career, serving on the board of directors of aviation maintenance
                                 technician schools, and working with professional organizations that
                                 represent aviation mechanics. In addition, prior to September 11, 2001,
                                 Alaska Airlines had planned to establish a program that would offer
                                 internal apprenticeships and tuition assistance to employees who express
                                 an interest in earning an A&P certificate, provide mentors to high schools
                                 and trade schools, establish a direct hiring program in partnership with
                                 some A&P schools, and provide tuition assistance for A&P mechanics who
                                 want to attain advanced avionics19 training. Plans for these programs were
                                 deferred after September 11, 2001; however, a company representative told
                                 us that the airline might implement them on a limited basis in 2003.



FAA and DOD Have                 Military and FAA officials have established initiatives that are intended to
Initiatives to Assist Military   assist military aviation mechanics in pursuing the A&P certification. The
                                 initiatives include computer-based training of A&P courses on selected
Aviation Mechanics in
                                 military bases and a program that encourages FAA field offices to be more
Obtaining A&P Certificates       consistent in assessing the military’s aviation maintenance training and
                                 experience.

                                 Several military officials told us that there had been some concern about
                                 the potential for a shortage of military aviation mechanics because some
                                 mechanics left the service after their initial tour of duty. According to the
                                 officials, some mechanics chose to leave the service because the training
                                 needed to become A&P certified was not offered on the military bases
                                 where mechanics were stationed. The military wanted to devise a way to


                                 19
                                      Avionics is the science and technology of electrical and electronic devices in aviation.




                                 Page 16                                                              GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
assist military aviation mechanics in pursuing A&P certification as an
incentive for mechanics to extend their enlistment. Keeping military
aviation mechanics beyond their first tour of duty was important because
several branches of service do not have a full complement of aviation
mechanics. For example, the Navy and Coast Guard told us that they have
full complements of aviation mechanics; however, the Army, Air Force, and
Marine Corps indicated that they needed to add thousands of mechanics
before they reached full capacity. According to an FAA official, a problem
with any plan to assist active duty military aviation mechanics in obtaining
A&P certification is that the mechanics are not always stationed in areas
where it is convenient to attend an FAA-approved aviation maintenance
technician school to acquire the training needed to supplement their on-
the-job experiences. Consequently, the military asked FAA to develop
computer-based A&P courses that could be offered on military bases. This
training would provide military mechanics with the same courses being
offered at FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician schools and that
are part of the requirements for A&P certification. FAA agreed and, with
funding from the Air Force, initiated a pilot program in 2001 at three
military bases. At the time of our review, approximately 1,600 military
aviation mechanics, from all branches of the armed forces, were enrolled in
this program.

FAA and DOD collaborated to address another major concern among
current and former military aviation mechanics who believe that FAA field
offices are inconsistent in assessing whether their military training and
experiences meet the requirements to take the A&P certification
examination. According to both FAA and DOD officials, FAA field offices
lack consistency in assessing the training and work experiences of military
aviation mechanics and determining whether credit should be given toward
the requirements for A&P certification. While some FAA field offices gave
credit for some experiences, others did not. Some FAA field office staff
were unfamiliar with how to evaluate the duties of military aviation
mechanics. For example, military officials told us that service personnel
that had the designation of a military aviation mechanic perform duties as
diverse as refueling a plane exclusively to working on an aircraft’s
powerplant. Although both service personnel are aviation mechanics, only
the mechanic that worked on the powerplant should be given credit toward
the A&P eligibility requirement, according to FAA field office staff.
However, the documentation provided to the FAA field office personnel
would not always describe the duties performed by military aviation
mechanics, so a field office might credit the work of one mechanic, while
another field office might deny credit. To assist the FAA field offices in



Page 17                                              GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
                        better assessing the experiences of military aviation mechanics, DOD
                        identified occupation codes that meet specific A&P requirements and
                        provided them to FAA. FAA field office personnel are instructed to refer to
                        these codes as a starting point or indicator that the applicant met some
                        requirements needed to become eligible for the A&P examination.

                        In December 2001, DOD and FAA developed a “certificate of eligibility,”
                        which is issued to military aviation mechanics by their military trainers
                        when they have completed the requirements needed to take the A&P
                        certification examination. According to FAA and DOD officials, military
                        aviation mechanics may present the certificate of eligibility to any FAA
                        field office as proof that they are eligible to take the A&P exam. During our
                        visits to FAA field offices in Atlanta, Seattle, and Dallas, however, we found
                        that officials were either unaware of or had little information about the
                        certificate of eligibility initiative. In one case, a field office official told us
                        that he had been informed of the certificate initiative a week earlier. This
                        official stated that in addition to accepting the certificate of eligibility, he
                        would continue to question all applicants applying for the A&P certification
                        examination as a quality control measure. We discussed the field offices’
                        apparent lack of familiarity with the certificate of eligibility with an official
                        in FAA headquarters and a DOD consultant who worked on this program.
                        Both acknowledged that all FAA field offices had not been informed of the
                        initiative at the time of our visits, but had been by June 2002. According to
                        the DOD consultant, three active duty military mechanics—all from the
                        Coast Guard—have successfully used their certificates at FAA field offices
                        to establish their eligibility to take the A&P certification examination.



FAA-developed           FAA is responsible for developing the A&P core curriculum at 175 FAA-
                        approved aviation maintenance technician schools nationwide, but it has
Curriculum Does Not     not made significant changes to the curriculum of aviation maintenance
Cover Technologically   technician schools in more than 50 years. Consequently, the training
                        received by prospective A&P candidates at those schools is not relevant to
Advanced Aircraft       most of the aircraft flown today. Most of our stakeholder panel and aviation
                        industry representatives indicated that the current curriculum, which is
                        required for A&P certification, provides a solid basic introduction to
                        aircraft repair and maintenance. Major commercial aviation
                        representatives believed that the curriculum is too focused on smaller, less
                        complex aircraft and does not adequately prepare mechanics to work on
                        the advanced technology and materials typically found on the aircraft that
                        fly millions of passengers and cargo, and have consequently required their
                        mechanics to take additional training.



                        Page 18                                                   GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
FAA Establishes Core          FAA is responsible for developing the required or core curriculum for
Curriculum but Has Not        students attending aviation maintenance technician schools.20 FAA
                              established the present curriculum in the 1940s and, according to
Made Significant Changes in   employers and school officials that we interviewed, the curriculum
Decades                       continues to reflect the technologies and material common to smaller, less
                              complex aircraft of that era. Most of the industry employers with whom we
                              interviewed indicated that the core curriculum at the A&P schools
                              provided mechanics with a solid understanding of basic repair principles,
                              but that some parts of the current curriculum are obsolete and cover
                              aspects of aviation repair that are rarely needed or used by A&P
                              mechanics. The curriculum does not provide A&P candidates with the
                              training needed to maintain activities for aircraft that are used most
                              prevalently today. The views of aviation employers about the curriculum
                              are not new. Two studies (one sponsored by FAA) on the aviation
                              mechanics’ occupation, issued in 1970 and 1974, by the University of
                              California, Los Angeles, indicated that the rapid rate of technological
                              advances within the aviation industry made it necessary to update the
                              instructional program then provided in most aviation maintenance
                              technician schools.21 In addition, an FAA-sponsored report issued by
                              researchers with Northwestern University’s Transportation Center in 1999,
                              concluded that aviation maintenance schools’ core subjects on tasks
                              involved with working with wood and dope and fabric structures22 and on
                              soldering and welding should either be deleted or condensed because very
                              few aviation mechanics performed tasks associated with these items
                              frequently in any segment of the industry.23 All three reports suggested
                              changes in the A&P curriculum.




                              20
                                   49 U.S.C. Sec. 44707.
                              21
                               University of California, Los Angeles, A National Study of the Aviation Mechanics
                              Occupation (1974) and the U.S. Office of Education and the California State Department of
                              Education Survey of the Aviation Mechanics Occupation (Washington, D.C., and
                              Sacramento, CA: 1970).
                              22
                               Dope and fabric are pre-World War II-era material used to cover the wings of older, general
                              aviation aircraft such as crop dusters.
                              23
                               Northwestern University, The Transportation Center, Job Task Analysis of the Aviation
                              Maintenance Technician, Evanston, Illinois: May 1999).




                              Page 19                                                         GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
FAA Proposals to Change      FAA acknowledges that both the A&P curriculum and certification
Curriculum and               requirements are outdated and in need of revision. The agency attempted,
                             in 1994 and 1998, to address both areas when it issued Notices of Proposed
Certification Requirements   Rulemaking.24 The 1994 proposal was the result of a series of
Were Unsuccessful and the    recommendations made to FAA by a multiorganizational group convened
Agency Is Not Currently      for the purpose of reviewing existing regulations on the certification
Considering Changes          requirements for aviation mechanics. These recommendations included
                             specifying all experience requirements in hours instead of months for
                             initial certification and clarifying the procedures for taking the certification
                             examination. Many of the recommendations in the 1994 proposed rule were
                             incorporated in the 1998 proposed rule; however, FAA withdrew the
                             proposals in 1999 after some organizations expressed concern about
                             various items that were proposed. For example, according to an FAA-
                             sponsored report,25 the item on the withdrawn rule that drew the most
                             negative comments specified recurrent training for aviation mechanics. In
                             addition, the Air Force believed that the rule should have addressed the
                             FAA process for the certification of military personnel more explicitly.
                             According to an FAA official, new drafts of proposed revisions have been
                             written, but their implementation is not part of the agency’s current priority
                             list for action.

                             In addition, the FAA-sponsored report concluded that the aviation
                             mechanics’ training and certification rules must reflect, among other
                             things, the technology, certification levels, and training curricula needed by
                             the domestic aviation industry. FAA officials indicated that the agency was
                             taking the report’s recommendations under advisement, but had no
                             immediate plans to take action. The officials stated that FAA was reluctant
                             to make significant changes to the curriculum, especially adding courses,
                             because the cost of acquiring modern technologies for hands-on instruction
                             would be cost prohibitive for some schools and they might close. In
                             addition, FAA officials pointed out that aviation maintenance technician
                             schools have some flexibility to make changes to their curriculum as long
                             as they remain within FAA guidelines. Any additional courses would have
                             to be approved by the local FAA inspectors and taken in addition to the


                             24
                              The announcements were made in the 59 Federal Register 42430, August 17, 1994, and 63
                             Federal Register 37172, July 9, 1998. They were withdrawn in the 64 Federal Register 42810,
                             August 5, 1999.
                             25
                              R. Goldsby and A. Soulis, Optimization of Aviation Maintenance Personnel Training
                             and Certification (Washington, D.C.: January 2002).




                             Page 20                                                        GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
                            existing required 1,900-hour curriculum. However, school officials told us
                            that adding hours to the current requirements might discourage some
                            students from pursuing these advanced courses because of the additional
                            cost to take them. In addition, many of the school officials agreed with
                            FAA’s contention that the cost of adding courses that focus on advanced
                            technology and require expensive equipment would be cost prohibitive for
                            some aviation maintenance technician schools.



Commercial Aviation         According to officials from some major commercial airlines that we
Officials Believe that      interviewed, the required curriculum at aviation maintenance technician
                            schools does not fully prepare A&P mechanics to work on commonly
Curriculum Does Not Fully
                            flown, technologically advanced commercial aircraft. Those officials told
Prepare Mechanics to Work   us that today’s modern aircraft require A&P mechanics to have a different
on Commonly Flown           set of skills than those being taught at aviation maintenance technician
Aircraft and Have Added     schools. Since A&P mechanics that are newly graduated from aviation
Training                    maintenance technician schools lack the skills to work on modern aircraft,
                            officials at some major airlines said they are reluctant to hire them directly
                            from school.

                            In response to concerns about the curriculum, FAA officials said that while
                            the schools provide some practical “hands-on” experiences, the agency
                            does not require candidates for certification to develop a level of skill to
                            work on or repair all the various aircraft, systems, and engines that exist.
                            FAA officials concluded that the current A&P curriculum provides students
                            with basic and theoretical knowledge of engines, aircraft structures, and
                            other items that are necessary to make them eligible for FAA certifications.
                            FAA’s descriptions of the aviation schools’ curriculum and mission
                            generally echo those of some in the aviation industry, who also believe that
                            the curriculum provides students with basic knowledge of some aircraft
                            systems and structures. However, some commercial aviation industry
                            officials are concerned that the basic courses are outdated and the systems
                            and structures being taught to prospective A&P mechanics are for aircraft
                            that do not transport the majority of the flying public.




                            Page 21                                               GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
The stakeholder panel and most of the employers that we interviewed
identified several courses or technologies that they believe should be part
of the aviation maintenance technician schools’ A&P curriculum. Many of
the panelists indicated that computer-related subjects should receive
greater emphasis within the current curriculum. Other courses and
technologies suggested by some officials with the commercial air carriers
that we interviewed include composites,26 repair of turbine engines, basic
and technical writing, and reading comprehension. Officials frequently
mentioned the need for training in composites. For example, aviation
mechanics from BF Goodrich reported that the increasing use of
composites in both the frames and engines of aircraft requires time-
consuming and exacting techniques. They believed that mechanics need
specialized training for working with composites, but it is not part of the
required curriculum at aviation maintenance technician schools.

Officials from several commercial air carriers said that their suggestions
were based on interactions with graduates of aviation maintenance
technician schools and the lack of fundamental skills that they perceived
from the schools’ graduates. For example, a representative of one major
commercial air carrier said that 75 percent of their newly hired A&P
mechanics that graduated from aviation maintenance technician schools
failed the air carrier’s basic skills assessment test for mechanics.

The representatives of the major commercial airlines that we interviewed
reported that some form of additional training was needed for newly hired
A&P mechanics before they are allowed to work on aircraft, and none of
the representatives indicated a problem with this approach. The airlines’
practice has not changed since we initially reported it in a May 1991 report.
At that time, we reported that representatives of the major airlines told us
that their mechanics need 2 to 3 years of on-the-job training under close
supervision, in addition to experience derived in an aviation maintenance
school, to be fully productive.27 Representatives of several major air
carriers told us the training they provide is generally job and aircraft


26
 Composites are a blend of materials used for the shell of aircraft. Composites replaced
other types of materials, such as wood, aluminum, and dope and fabric, that were used to
build aircraft because they were lighter, stronger, and more flexible than those other
materials.
27
   U.S. General Accounting Office, Aircraft Maintenance: Additional FAA Oversight
Needed of Aging Aircraft Repairs (Vol. 1), GAO/RCED-91-91A (Washington, D.C.: May 24,
1991).




Page 22                                                        GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
              specific. For example, Delta requires new hires to participate in classes
              that provide an introduction to commercial jets, instruction in basic
              maintenance, and safety rules. In addition, selected A&P mechanics also
              receive specialized training in hangar environments, aircraft systems, and
              troubleshooting for the specific types of aircraft in their fleet, as well as in
              other areas that may not be addressed by the aviation maintenance
              technician school curriculum. FAA officials stated that airlines have
              specific air carrier maintenance training requirements to ensure that
              aircraft maintenance personnel are competent.

              In addition to initial training programs, many commercial airlines provide
              some form of ongoing or recurrent training to their mechanics, regardless
              of their level of experience. The airlines consider this additional training
              necessary, since aircraft equipment and components are constantly
              evolving as new technologies and maintenance techniques are developed.
              For example, Alaska Airlines reported that each mechanic typically
              receives at least 100 hours of formal company training each year in order to
              become familiar with new equipment and aircraft. However, while
              companies may voluntarily give ongoing training to their mechanics, it is
              encouraged but not required under current FAA regulations. Since many
              major commercial carriers already require ongoing training, such a
              requirement would have little impact on their mechanics.



Conclusions   FAA is responsible for setting the minimum requirements for the A&P
              mechanics’ core curriculum, making sure that students are trained
              sufficiently to ensure aircraft safety, and reflecting the curriculum
              requirements in the mechanics’ certification examination. However, the
              agency has made few substantive changes to the curriculum in decades.
              The required A&P curriculum at FAA-approved aviation maintenance
              technician schools is outdated and primarily geared to smaller less
              complex aircraft that do not transport significant numbers of passengers
              and, according to many in the aviation industry, not relevant to most of the
              aircraft flown today. Basic courses that train students to maintain and
              repair the body and engines of modern commercial aircraft are limited.
              FAA requires the schools to provide instruction on the repair of aircraft
              made from dope and fabric, while guidance on repairing aircraft made of
              composites and having sophisticated computer systems is limited. There
              are about 4,000 dope and fabric aircraft, many of them crop dusters,
              compared to tens of thousands of modern aircraft that transport millions of
              passengers and cargo in the United States.




              Page 23                                                 GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
Recommendations for   We recommend that the Secretary of Transportation direct the FAA
                      Administrator to review the minimum A&P curriculum required for FAA-
Executive Action      approved aviation maintenance technician schools and identify courses
                      that do not reflect widely used aircraft technology and materials on
                      commonly flown major commercial aircraft. These courses should be de-
                      emphasized or replaced with courses that address current conditions. We
                      also recommend that the Secretary direct the Administrator to ensure that
                      changes to the A&P school curriculum are reflected on the mechanic’s
                      certification examination, thus ensuring that all candidates for the A&P
                      certificate meet the same standards.



Agency Comments       We provided a draft of this report to the Departments of Transportation,
                      Labor, and Defense for review and comment. FAA’s Deputy Associate
                      Administrator for Regulation and Certification and BLS’s Assistant
                      Commissioner, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment
                      Projections provided oral comments; the Department of Defense did not
                      provide comments. FAA agreed to consider our recommendations and
                      indicated it would work with the aviation community’s ongoing efforts to
                      review current and future skill requirements for aviation mechanics for
                      commercial and general aviation. FAA noted that part of this review
                      includes identifying skill requirements that may need to be revised. BLS
                      indicated that the employment data used in this report and the description
                      of their projection process were generally accurate. Both FAA and BLS
                      provided clarifying comments and technical corrections, which we
                      incorporated as appropriate.


                      As agreed with your office, unless you announce the contents of this report
                      earlier, we plan no further distribution until 10 days from the report date. At
                      that time, we will send copies of this report to other congressional
                      committees; the Secretaries of the Departments of Transportation,
                      Defense, and Labor; and the Administrator, FAA. Copies will also be




                      Page 24                                                GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
available to others upon request and at no cost on GAO’s Website at
www.gao.gov. If you or your staff have any questions about this report,
please call me at (202) 512-3650. Major contributors to this report are listed
in appendix IV.

Sincerely yours,




Gerald L. Dillingham
Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues




Page 25                                               GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
Appendix I

Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                                                           AA
                                                                                                              ppp
                                                                                                                ep
                                                                                                                 ned
                                                                                                                   n
                                                                                                                   x
                                                                                                                   id
                                                                                                                    e
                                                                                                                    x
                                                                                                                    Iis




              Our report focuses on the future supply and quality of training of aircraft
              mechanics. We addressed the following research questions: (1) How many
              aircraft mechanics and service technicians does the Bureau of Labor
              Statistics (BLS) project will be employed in 2010, and how reasonable is
              that projection? (2) What are the sources that supply and train A&P
              mechanics and the likelihood that they will provide a sufficient number of
              mechanics through 2010? and (3) What is being done by the Federal
              Aviation Administration (FAA) and the aviation industry to ensure that the
              skills of A&P mechanics are sufficient to work on technologically advanced
              aircraft?

              To determine BLS’ projected employment of aircraft mechanics and service
              technicians in 2010, we obtained the most recent projection reported by
              BLS, which was in December 2001. BLS developed this estimate as part of
              its biennial projection of nationwide employment in various occupations.
              BLS does not make separate employment projections for A&P mechanics.
              Rather, it uses the category “aircraft mechanics and service technicians”
              for people who are employed in the maintenance and repair of aircraft. To
              determine the reasonableness of the projection, we reviewed the process,
              methodology, and sources of information used by BLS to make the
              projection. We discussed this information in detail with BLS staff
              responsible for making the occupational projection. We did not verify the
              data that BLS collects and uses, and we did not evaluate the assumed
              values it uses for forecasting key economic and demographic factors.

              To identify the sources that supply A&P mechanics and determine whether
              they would be able to provide a sufficient number of mechanics through
              2010, we used a modified Delphi technique1 to survey representatives of
              aviation maintenance technician schools and aviation mechanics’
              organizations and businesses; conducted case study work at several
              locations; and interviewed FAA and military officials. The modified Delphi
              technique we used involved getting the commitment of representatives of
              17 government and industry organizations to serve on a stakeholder panel
              and developing and distributing 2 self-administered questionnaires to panel
              members. The 17 organizations represented on the panel are listed in table
              4. Results from the first questionnaire were summarized in the second
              survey and used to develop additional questions. Fifteen panelists



              1
               We used a two-stage process in which initially, panelists are surveyed individually and are
              subsequently asked to respond to group’s comments.




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responded to the first questionnaire and 13 to the second. Panelists’
responses to the questionnaires are shown in appendixes II and III.



Table 4: Organizations Represented on the Stakeholder Panel

Segment of aviation industry
represented                          Organization
Federal government                   Federal Aviation Administration
Aviation maintenance technician      Aviation High School
schools                              Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics
                                     Purdue University
                                     Westwood College of Aviation
Umbrella organization for aviation   Aviation Technician Education Council
maintenance technician schools
Trade associations and unions for    Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association
aviation mechanics                   Association for Women in Aviation
                                     Professional Aviation Maintenance Association
                                     International Association of Machinists and
                                       Aerospace Workers
                                     International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Industry groups whose members        Aeronautical Repair Station Association
employ or use aviation mechanics     Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
                                     Air Transport Association
                                     National Air Transportation Association
                                     National Business Aviation Association, Inc.
                                     Regional Airline Association
Source: GAO.


To better understand the role of the U.S. military as a source of aviation
mechanics, we obtained data on the current number of aviation mechanics
for the Coast Guard, Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps. We also
interviewed military and civilian officials at Fort Eustis, VA, and the
Pentagon to obtain information on DOD initiatives to assist military
aviation mechanics in pursuing A&P certification. We obtained and
analyzed information and data on A&P and repairmen’s certifications and
the aviation maintenance technician schools’ curriculum from FAA’s
headquarters and FAA’s Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma
City.

In addition to the locations cited above, we also obtained information and
data on aviation mechanics on visits to six locations: Atlanta, GA; Dallas,
TX; Orlando and Daytona Beach, FL; Seattle, WA; Oklahoma City, OK; and
Ft. Eustis, VA. We chose Atlanta, Dallas, and Seattle to obtain geographical




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                                              diversity, and because located in each city are FAA field offices, aviation
                                              maintenance technician schools, commercial and regional airlines, repair
                                              stations, and fixed-based operations that we wanted to contact. Orlando
                                              and Daytona Beach were selected because they have an FAA field office
                                              and prominent aviation maintenance school, respectively. Oklahoma City is
                                              the location of FAA’s A&P certification database and FAA-managed
                                              computer-based training program for military aviation mechanics. The
                                              cities and organizations where we conducted our work are shown in table
                                              5.



Table 5: Interview Locations and Organizations

Location                  Type of organization                         Participant
Atlanta, GA               Commercial air carrier                       Delta Airlines
                          Regional air carrier                         Atlantic Southeast Airlines
                          Federal government                           FAA’s Atlanta field office
                          Fixed-base operation                         Epps Aviation
                          Repair station                               Raytheon Aircraft Services
                          School                                       Atlanta Technical College
Dallas, TX                Commercial air carrier                       American Airlines
                          Regional air carrier                         American Eagle Airlines
                          Federal government                           FAA’s Dallas field office
                          Fixed-base operation                         Hank’s Corporate Maintenance, Inc.
                          Repair station                               Texas Pneumatic Systems, Inc.
                          School                                       Aviation Maintenance Training, Inc.
                          Training facility                            Bombardier
Fort Eustis, VA           Federal government                           U.S. Army Aviation Logistics School
Oklahoma City, OK         Federal government                           FAA’s Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center
Orlando, FL               Federal government                           FAA’s Orlando field office
Daytona, FL               School                                       Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Seattle, WA               Commercial air carrier                       Alaska Airlines
                          Regional air carrier                         Horizon Airlines
                          Federal government                           FAA’s Seattle field office
                          Fixed-base operation                         Galvin Flying Services
                          Repair station                               Goodrich Aviation Technical Service, Inc.
                          School                                       South Seattle Community College
                          Training facility                            Boeing
Source: GAO.




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To obtain information on the adequacy of the supply of mechanics through
2010, we conducted interviews with representatives from eight major
commercial air carriers: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental
Airlines, Delta Airlines, Federal Express, Inc., Northwest Airlines,
Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines. We obtained information and data
on their A&P mechanics, salaries, perceptions of their ability to hire
qualified mechanics in the future, and other issues relevant to this
assignment. In addition, we obtained information on employment issues
from PlaneTechs Aircraft Maintenance and AirMate, companies that
provide contract mechanics to employers. We also interviewed a
representative of the Aircraft Electronics Association, to obtain
information on the future supply of aviation mechanics. We also obtained
and analyzed numerous articles on the supply of aviation mechanics and
the supply and demand principles for the overall employment market.

To obtain information on the likelihood that there will be a sufficient
number of qualified mechanics through 2010, we also developed
questionnaires for A&P students and A&P mechanics that asked about their
immediate and long-term career plans in aviation mechanics. We
distributed the questionnaires for A&P students at the aviation
maintenance technician schools that we visited in Dallas, Atlanta, and
Seattle to a few students. We also asked the officials of the commercial and
regional carriers, repair stations, and fixed-based operations that we visited
in those cities to make the questionnaire available to their A&P mechanics
for completion. We received 121 and 53 responses from the students and
mechanics, respectively. This information is anecdotal and cannot be
generalized to other students and mechanics. The responses to these
questionnaires are shown in appendixes IV and V.

To obtain information about the effect that a shortage of skilled aviation
mechanics would have on aviation safety, we met with representatives of
the National Transportation Safety Board. In addition, we talked with staff
from the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, about
their previous investigation of designated mechanic examiner violations
and about current efforts under way to study the issue.

To identify government and private sector initiatives to impact the quality
and supply of aviation mechanics, we obtained information from the
stakeholder panel. We also interviewed FAA and DOD officials, and
aviation industry representatives, particularly employers, to determine
their agencies’ plans to promote interest in the aviation field. In addition,
we analyzed the federal regulations that govern the certification of A&P



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Objectives, Scope, and Methodology




mechanics and repairmen, and give FAA authority to approve aviation
maintenance technician schools and establish their curriculum. We
conducted a comprehensive literature search and analyzed various reports
addressing aviation maintenance issues and their recommendations.

We conducted our review from October 2001 through February 2003 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.




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Appendix II

Survey of Aviation Mechanics Stakeholder
Panel—Overall Responses to Survey
Questions                                                   Appendx
                                                                  Ii




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Survey of Aviation Mechanics Stakeholder
Panel—2nd Round                                             Appendx
                                                                  iI




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Responses from A&P Mechanics                            Appendx
                                                              iIV




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Appendix V

Responses from Aviation Mechanics Students                 Append
                                                                x
                                                                i
                                                                V




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Appendix VI

GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments                                                          Appendx
                                                                                                      iVI




GAO Contacts      Gerald L. Dillingham (202) 512-3650
                  Teresa F. Spisak (202) 512-3952



Staff             In addition to the above, Nancy Boardman, Michael Bollinger, Carolyn
                  Boyce, Timothy Carr, Jay Cherlow, Colin Fallon, Samantha Goodman,
Acknowledgments   David Hooper, Phillis Riley, and Lisa Vojta made key contributions to this
                  report.




(540021)          Page 56                                              GAO-03-317 Aviation Safety
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