By Brad Fornelius, AMFA-AEI Delegate at Large
From November 20-23, 2013, I was given the opportunity to attend the Aircraft Engineers International (AEI) 2013 Annual Congress. Before the congress began, I was somewhat familiar with AMFA’s involvement with the AEI. I knew that AMFA was the only AEI representative in the Americas, and I was aware of our membership’s differing opinions as to whether AMFA’s affiliation with the AEI was a good use of our members’ dues and AMFA’s resources. By the Congress’ conclusion, I learned much more about this organization, and through this report I will share what I learned with our membership.
The AEI was formed in 1971 after a group of technicians, known in the rest of the world as engineers, became concerned with decisions that the airlines and government regulators were making which directly involved us and our industry. These technicians had the foresight to realize that if they did not stand up and become involved with the decision and regulation-making process, we would slowly be pushed aside. The word got out, and by 2008 AEI’s membership grew to include 35 countries and 46,000 licensed engineers worldwide. Today’s airline business model and the rapid increase in outsourcing of maintenance prove that the concerns those technicians raised 42 years ago were valid then and still are today.
In addition to regular business and housekeeping, the Congress agenda included a wide variety of issues: outsourcing of maintenance, staff reductions, training standards, maintenance on demand, and technician fatigue. Especially interesting to me was the discussion about the increasing role that the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA - similar to our FAA) is taking in the aviation industry. Over the past few years, there has been a substantial influx of countries from across the world that have become members of or established working relationships with EASA. EASA actually now has an office in Washington DC so that they may work more closely with the FAA. It seems that someday in the future there may be a world standard for aviation regulation.
Another concerning item I learned about at the Congress was the current industry push to move licensing oversight away from governmental regulators, leaving the individual airlines responsible for maintenance technician licensing. It is feared that the airlines will employ only a few licensed technicians who would then supervise an unlicensed majority. It is very clear, in more ways than one, that airlines want their maintenance completed at the lowest possible cost; however, with the dumbing down of maintenance, more safety risks will arise - something that seems to be readily apparent when receiving “serviceable” aircraft from vendor maintenance.
I quickly realized that regardless of whether one is a technician from Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceana, or the USA, we all face the same pressures and concerns: properly maintaining aircraft while being under pressure to meet the flight schedule, and struggling to keep our jobs as airlines continually cut maintenance costs and attempt to maintain a growing fleet with fewer technicians.
So where does the AEI fit into all of this? The AEI is a passionate, motivated organization that for many years has been involved with EASA and other regulation makers; working for us, trying to ensure that the government does not give the airlines too much freedom; in essence, being a watch-dog for our industry. It makes sense that those who actually perform the maintenance on the world’s aircraft are involved in the regulation and decision making process that will ultimately govern our industry. It is much easier to be involved in this process than it is to try and have something changed after we realize that certain regulations work against us or threaten our careers or the careers of those who will be working in our field in the future.
In closing, I’d like to say that yes, it is a GREAT thing that AMFA is affiliated with the AEI. We now live with a truly global economy and the airline industry looks to be moving in this direction as well. I think that it would be very short-sighted of AMFA, as the only current representative of the Americas, to not be involved in helping make decisions that will shape our future.
Once again, I’d like to thank AMFA National and our members for affording me the opportunity to represent our Association on your behalf. It was a great, educational experience. If any of you have questions please feel free to ask.