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Aircraft engineers: Spanner vs keyboard

Anyone working on aircraft today knows that computer-based diagnostic and troubleshooting skills are in demand. Mechanics and avionics, traditionally considered separate fields, are blending as technology advances, and specialised computer training for aircraft engineers is a must. But to deploy this type of training, managers need to take into account diverse needs for organisations across the industry, and the fact that mechanical skills still matter.

Many leaders have noted the shift away from the hands-on and towards the computer-assisted. Some believe that this will attract new crossover talent, but there is also concern about a lack of opportunities for hands-on skill development. “Skilled hands”, those with well-developed basic mechanical competencies, are still irreplaceable.

That said, traditional approaches can’t solve every problem. Many aviation maintenance training schools haven’t overhauled their curricula since the 70s, leading to a shortage of engineers with the broad knowledge to adapt to the more complex computer systems and aging hardware of present-day aircraft.

Experts point to big-picture teachings such as procedural awareness and system safety that could make engineers’ skills less prescriptive and more flexible. They also would like to see more detailed training for responding to the human element in aviation. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has seconded this idea, saying that their official rules direct all industry organizations to include human factors training. Such knowledge influences every aspect of an engineer’s job, particularly safety management, and it is among the spheres of training that is most in need of updating as technology marches forward.

The advent of digital has also changed aircraft maintainability. Predictive software can help teams plan maintenance in advance, which means fewer delayed flights. It goes without saying then that knowledge of such systems is another major demand for engineers and an important part of training, especially for managing positions that are responsible for handing out jobs. Some companies have even trained specialised personnel just for this purpose.

While certified mechanics will always be necessary, aircraft engineer training can afford to expand outward, including other roles with more flexibility or different specialties. Airlines and other companies want teams that can self-manage and handle a wide variety of problems efficiently and effectively. Building those teams is the future of aircraft engineer training.

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