Imagine waking early on your annual family vacation day and packing the car for a trip to the airport. You arrive two hours ahead, park the car, and check the luggage. Finally, you clear security and arrive at the gate. It is packed, wall-to-wall people.
You see the airplane at the gate; it cannot be long now. Suddenly, the ramp crew starts pulling bags off the airplane, and the gate agent makes an announcement via the intercom: “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my sad duty to report that our aircraft suffered a mechanical issue and cannot make today’s flight.” Now, this is typically not an issue, just dispatch maintenance, but in the near future, it could be detrimental to your vacation.
Who is going to work on the airplane?
My colleague Michael Wildes recently penned a piece about this for FLYING, and not much has changed since. Thankfully, the industry is resourceful and constantly taking measures to correct the situation.
Avionics for the Rest of Us
Those of you who follow my column know of my passion for training the next generation of aircraft maintenance professionals. You also know that my avionics skills are on a third-grade level. No offense to third graders. The FAA mandates training for pilots and mechanics, but avionics techs is a virtual no-man’s-land.
All of this brings me back to our Skyhawk project. When we last left Corey, he was working through the idea of upgrading his avionics panel using removed serviceable material from his friend’s Saratoga. During the time spent walking through that project, Corey informed me that he would need all new wiring to go with his new gear. Enter Oasis Aviation Avionics & Maintenance, a Newnan, Georgia, aircraft maintenance facility with a new business element that just may surprise you.
Earlier this week, I met with Oasis owner and president Steve Olive, a retired Air Force colonel, and found a pleasant surprise in my own backyard. Olive and company are looking to fill the void for avionics technicians by offering an apprenticeship program. Oasis Aviation is the sponsor and pays the student. Learn Avionics LLC delivers the related training and instruction.
Oasis is selective with its candidates, as the plan is for the students to join the crew at some point. There are only two criteria: The applicant must be 18 years old and a high school graduate. The firm receives applicants from high schools in its surrounding area, the Coweta CEC Center, and Spaulding County, Georgia.
Olive outlines what traits make good avionics technicians:
- Keen attention to detail
- Touch of OCD
- They never ever give up.
The avionics technician apprenticeship program is one year or roughly 2,000 hours. Graduates can add airframe and powerplant (A&P) for another two years or 30 months. Students start by stripping wire. Soon after, they move to pinning wire, assembling a connector, and then eventually building up the wiring harnesses, like they are doing for Corey. Once complete, the team creates a custom wiring diagram for all installations. Thus far, 10 graduates have finished the program.
Apprenticeships are not new, having been around for centuries. With a majority of the media focusing on FAA Part 147 schools, apprenticeships are sometimes an afterthought. Longtime industry organization Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) offers an apprenticeship program, but it differs from Oasis as AEA graduates are eligible for a FAR section 65.101 (a)(5)(ii) allowance for the issuance of a repairman’s certificate. While the outcome is slightly different, Oasis does use the AEA curriculum in its program. The hope is that students stay on and join the team.
The U.S. military is keenly aware of the need for its service members to transition smoothly. Given that, the Department of Defense created the SkillBridge Program. Commanders in the military allow service members to leave the military early in order to train. Olive knew of a Marine who recently went through the program and is now at West Star Aviation in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The Georgia Department of Economic Development provides some good information on what an apprenticeship is. It describes it as “a work-based training method that combines formal instruction with on-site, occupation-related training.” There are also apprenticeship opportunities at the federal level. The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employment and Training Administration offers ways to register for an apprenticeship. There is a tremendous amount of good intel there. Another good resource is the DOL’s ApprenticeshipUSA. I encourage you to take a look and do your research. Perhaps you know someone who could benefit from a program like the ones offered?
Growing the Tribe
The best part of my job is getting connected with like-minded people who are always seeking to help one another. The Oasis Aviation Network was created for that very purpose. I’ve told you that my strong suit is not avionics. Most aircraft maintenance technicians are either A&P or avionics skilled. Some can do both, and if you find such a unicorn, capture it. We want to study and replicate it somehow.
The Oasis Aviation Network approached small aircraft maintenance shops with an idea to expand their businesses. Did you know that you can install the radio with just an A&P? These smaller shops may not have an avionics-skilled person on staff, but they are confident in their relationship with the network and can always call upon the team for help.
Now having more than 300 network members, the Oasis Aviation Network continues to look for ways to support the aircraft maintenance industry. Members can buy products, obtain training, and receive technical support. I am going back to spend some additional time with Olive this week. I might even learn a thing or two!