SEATTLE – A Boeing study shows the aviation industry will need 2 million new commercial pilots, maintenance technicians, and cabin crew members over the next 20 years. When there’s an emergency landing as we’ve seen twice over the past couple of weeks with two Southwest Airlines planes, it's the maintenance technicians many people look to when there's something wrong with the plane.
“You take it very personally. It hurts you in the midsection,” said Selena MacFadden, who is as an adjunct instructor at South Seattle College's Aviation Maintenance Technology program.
She teaches students how to keep planes up in the air.
“You know what’s going on as far as how the mechanics are feeling, who that aircraft was assigned to, who was on board, everybody asks themselves, 'Did I have a part to do in it? Did I work on it? What happened?'” asked MacFadden.
However, the number of people responsible for keeping our planes in tip-top shape is declining due to retirement and a lack of new recruits.
“There’s an immediate fear of math and physics,” said David Skogerboe, a South Seattle College embedded career specialist.
At 50 years of age, Adrian Claybourne is answering the call. The former pastry chef who spent years sailing in the Caribbean is heading back to school to be an aviation mechanic.
“In the Caribbean, there are no mechanics really, so I decided I should probably learn how to fix my own plane,” said Claybourne.
It’s Skogerboe’s job to connect students like Adrian with the countless openings across the nation.
“People are starting to realize I can go to school for two years and make a lot of money pretty quickly,” said Skogerboe.
But a baseline salary of $20 an hour isn’t enough to fuel the shortage of aviation professionals.
“They think it’s low-tech, just turning wrenches and things like that,” said Claybourne.
Maintenance work isn’t all just about using your hands on complex parts. There’s a growing tech side.
“The electronics in an aircraft -- and that is exploding in need as aircrafts become more like computers,” said Skogerboe.
Claybourne graduates with his degree and two FAA certifications next month. He leaves behind one of many open spots at the aviation program for more students passionate about keeping us safe when we fly.
That same Boeing report shows there’s a shortage of pilots. One local flight instructor says money is a factor. Pilots don’t make as much money as what they used to and going to flight school is expensive and normally doesn’t come with opportunities for grants, scholarships, or student loans.