Regional airlines in Australia’s aviation-dependent northwest are facing a dire shortage of engineers.
Most important points:
- Regional airlines struggle to find technicians to service their aircraft
- Shortage could spell disaster for smaller airlines relied on in many parts of Western Australia
- The Association of Regional Airlines Wants Easier Migration Routes for Overseas Engineers
It comes after major airlines across the country experienced delays, flight cancellations and reduced services amid staff shortages and increased demand.
Cancellations at Broome Airport have forced residents to take stranded passengers home as hotels were fully booked during the busy dry season.
Qantas said cancellations at the airport were due in part to “technical requirements” and a full-time engineer was sent to fix the lingering issues.
But regional airlines in WA are also feeling the bottleneck, with industry figures saying that while most attention has been focused on pilot shortages, technical shortages are a bigger problem.
Shortages affect small operators
Aviair director Michael McConarchy said the shortage could be disastrous for smaller airline operators they rely on in many parts of Western Australia.
“What will happen is [the] the industry will start and maybe continue to feed itself to try and get additional engineers,” said Mr. McConachy.
“You’ll see some of the smaller operators fall by the wayside as a result, and even some of the bigger operators will struggle.”
He said the skills shortage could lead to safety concerns.
“If there is a shortage of engineers, then there is more pressure on operators to achieve the same or more with less, and that is not a good thing,” he said.
“The industry has been talking about this for the past 10 years as the ‘impending crisis’ and yet we are here and very little has been done to solve the problem.”
He said the state could change the matter in its favor.
“I think there is a great opportunity… for Western Australia to establish and support better training facilities and encourage young people to take advantage of the opportunities of aerospace engineering,” he said.
Filling the Skill Gap
Regional Aviation Association of Australia CEO Steve Campbell said the organization met with the federal government last week to address training issues and make it easier to bring in engineers from abroad.
“We are trying to get aircraft maintenance technicians on the so-called priority migration and vocational skills list,” said Mr Campbell.
“I’ve been told that deadlines are nine to 12 months even after they find a suitable candidate, so that’s a major concern for our members.”
Mr Campbell said the shortage in northwest WA had been exacerbated by engineers moving into mining and fewer people entering the industry due to COVID-related travel restrictions.
“The headlines about the pilot shortage seem to be getting the big draw… they forget the real problem that is there, which is the shortage of engineers,” he said.
Not enough engineers are trained
Federal Secretary Steve Purvinas of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association said the industry is not training enough people and too many people are retiring.
“There is no replenishment at the bottom of the industry, and as a result, as people reach retirement age, the deficits will only snowball in the coming years,” he said.
Mr Purvinas recalled being part of a class of 250 student engineers when he started in 1986, but lamented that major airlines now have “a big party when they attract half a dozen students”.
“They’ve just decided that we’re not going to train anyone at the bottom, and we’re just going to get them when we need them from the magic tree that doesn’t exist,” said Mr Purvinas.
“In the end, I’m concerned, the whole system will collapse.”
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