Australia is in danger of missing out on the opportunities created by a looming world shortage of aircraft maintenance engineers.  This is one of the key conclusions of a team of researchers from the UNSW Business School which has completed a four year research project on the Future of Aircraft Maintenance in Australia, funded as a Linkage Project by the Australian Research Council. ​​​

The final report of findings examines the options for the industry's future, exploring the safety risks of offshoring, and the costs of developing or losing a skilled national aircraft maintenance workforce.

It found that there could be a bright future for the Australian aircraft maintenance industry, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, where the shortage is likely to bite hardest. 

“The Australian aerospace industry is well regarded overseas. It already has significant links with the supply chains of major aerospace corporations both in the civilian & defence sectors, and should be building on them.  The global skills shortage presents Australia with a golden opportunity to add aircraft maintenance training to the education exports that are a vital element of our trade balance,” said Associate Professor Anne Junor​ from the UNSW Business School.

“The world’s top international aviation bodies, ICAO and IATA, have been forecasting this shortage since late last decade. Practically every other country in the world is gearing up to meet it – except Australia, which continues to run down its skilled workforce,” said Doug Fraser, a research associate with the Industrial Relations Research Unit in the UNSW Business School.  

Australia would need to reset its policies around training and licensing, if the sector was to live up to its potential, the report found.  

Associate Professor Ian Hampson said “in researching the industry, we came in contact with many highly capable and motivated people.  Yet they were represented through competing organisations that made it difficult to present a coordinated message to lobby government”.  

The result was that policy settings sometimes missed the mark. 

“The growth in numbers of third party onshore and offshore providers of maintenance services challenged regulators to provide effective safety oversight, both nationally and globally.” said Professor Michael Quinlan, who led the project. 

Uncertainty about the reliability of offshored maintenance, combined with the skills shortage, would eventually drive much maintenance back onshore.

The Report recommends:

  • An urgent review of the existing system of safety oversight of offshored maintenance.

  • Setting up, with government support, an ‘Aircraft Manufacturing/ Maintenance Industry Advisory Forum’. 

  • Setting up a National Aviation and Aerospace College, to concentrate on developing Australian maintenance training to international standards.  

Associate Professor Hampson said “these measures are aimed at capitalising on existing strengths to expand the local industry, as well as helping to develop aviation maintenance training into a major export industry. “

For further details contact Ian Hampson​ on  0403 620 703.  

Media contact: 

Julian Lorkin: 02 9385 9887