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Forty-one years after becoming an aircraft maintenance engineer, Sam Longo is spearheading a national effort to elevate the AME profession at a time when it is facing a critical labour shortage.
Longo was recently elected president of the Canadian Federation of Aircraft Maintenance Engineers Associations, or CFAMEA. The organization loosely amalgamates the country’s six regional AME associations: Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Central, Western and Pacific.
But Longo told Skies that CFAMEA is not really known outside aviation circles. Last September, at the group’s annual meeting in Ottawa, regional AME representatives discussed changing the association’s name and rebranding it to help improve the occupation’s perception and professionalism. He said that both industry and regulators have indicated they’d like to see a strong national body representing Canadian aircraft maintenance engineers.
“That is one of the driving forces, feedback from Transport Canada, our airlines, and our members,” explained Longo. “In that vein, we want it to be nationwide, and get everyone on board. As AMEs, we are as responsible as pilots for aircraft safety.”
In Ottawa, members agreed to adopt a new name: Aircraft Maintenance Engineers of Canada (AMEC) or Techniciens d’entretien d’aéronefs du Canada (TEAC).
“This has been talked about for 25 years,” said Longo. “The biggest problem is that one or two regions weren’t on board. This is the first time in a long time where the presidents of each regional association saw the value of the vision and agreed to try to make it happen.”
AMEC is looking to create a new logo and a national website with links to all regional groups. In addition, members have voted to standardize membership dues at $70 per year across the country. The goal is to streamline operations as much as possible.
Longo, who is the past president of the Ontario AME Association and an active member of that group for three decades, said there are about 17,000 licensed AMEs in Canada. In total, the regional AME associations have just 900 members – so there is definitely room to grow.
He said younger people in the industry seem to be more interested in joining, but “it’s a hard sell sometimes,” even though there are more than 27 benefits Ontario members get from their regional association alone.
“It speaks to the nature of AMEs – they are not typically joiners, they are loners. They’d much rather interface with machinery than with people. We’re not good at blowing our own horn.”
But Longo said now is the time for aircraft maintenance engineers to unite with one strong national voice.
The most pressing problem facing the industry is a severe labour shortage that is predicted to be even worse than that facing the pilot profession.
In March 2018, the Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace (CCAA) released a labour market report that predicts 5,300 new AMEs will be needed by 2025 to keep up with growth and retirements.
Global News reported that 46 per cent of AMEs were between the ages of 50 and 79 years old in December 2016.
While Canadian college programs graduate about 600 aircraft maintenance technicians annually, only a reported 77 per cent go on to work in the field. Often, they are snapped up by other industries upon graduation for their transferable skills.
Longo – who is also a former Centennial College aircraft maintenance instructor – said a major focus for AMEC will be educating young people about the viability of the AME career path. He himself got involved because his uncle was an AME for Air Canada. But many young people are lacking such a connection.
“We’re going to trade shows, pitching our trade, and interfacing with all kinds of people in the communities to make ourselves known.”
The new national association will also focus on government relations to ensure the AME’s voice is heard when it comes to regulatory matters.
“We must liaise with groups like Transport Canada so we know what changes may affect the air regs.”
Longo said that while reaction to the creation of AMEC has been positive, the biggest challenge stems from the fact that everyone involved is a volunteer. Many are still working in the field, so have limited time to devote to the association.
Still, AMEC intends to keep pushing forward. Progress may be slow, but Longo believes the vision of a strong national voice for aircraft maintenance engineers is both achievable and necessary to ensure the future success of the profession.