Crisis in the airline hangars: A badly tuned piece of anti-social engineering

26 August 2013 / by the GAA team / Employment, Maintenance, Opinion
There's an airline boom in Asia and the Pacific - but New Zealand cannot compete

There’s an airline boom in Asia and the Pacific – but New Zealand cannot compete

Hot on the heels of a claimed skills shortage of pilots, in which an application by Air New Zealand and PricewaterhouseCoopers said that only eight people in our great nation qualify for an interview for airline pilot positions, Air NZ now threatens up to 190 redundancies in its team of wide-body aircraft engineers.

In stark contrast, at Singapore Airlines, SIA Engineering is benefiting from industry growth driven by airlines expanding their fleets. Carriers from Air Asia (Asia’s biggest budget airline) to Tiger Airways have ordered at least 1000 new aeroplanes in the past five years. About 15 low-cost carriers began flying in the past decade in the region.

Boeing has stated that “the demand for trained maintenance personnel will grow in proportion to the expanding global fleet. There will be a strong need for basic skills training in these emerging markets to develop a local source of technicians.

“The need for maintenance personnel will grow most rapidly in the Asia Pacific region, which will require 247,400 new personnel. China’s requirement will be the region’s greatest, with an expected need for 108,300 maintenance personnel.”

So what’s going on? And who is now planning a career as a New Zealand aircraft engineer? The Careers NZ website suggests that your chances of gaining employment as an aircraft engineer in NZ are at best “average” due to steady numbers of workers and low staff turnover.

In spite of burgeoning world demand for aviation maintenance, Air New Zealand cannot compete because the Kiwi dollar stubbornly refuses to fall to a sensible value. This may lie behind Air New Zealand’s demand to the engineers’ union. No details have been released, but it probably reads: Work longer and earn less.

Since there is no other Kiwi airline of choice, can you guess where all these skilled people are going, apart from the dole queue (which will not happen because engineers, like pilots, are highly motivated people)?

The announcement comes alongside Air New Zealand’s request to have Aeroplane Pilot added to the list of Essential Skills in Demand – countered by GAA’s evidence that there is no such shortage. NZ First MP Denis O’Rourke questioned Steven Joyce (Minister for Economic Development, Minister of Science and Innovation, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, Associate Minister of Finance – in fact, Minister of Almost Everything) about the implications of this for pilots wishing to return to work in New Zealand, or airline jobs for student pilots. Mr Joyce smugly retorted that there seemed to be a current skills shortage in the Labour Party, and did not seriously address Mr O’Rourke’s questions.

Those facile jibes may indicate the importance our own government attaches to alleged skills shortages and real unemployment.

New Zealand’s economy remains largely reliant on the dairy industry. The bad news is that the tit-tuggers’ virtual monopoly outlet, Fonterra, has allegedly failed to guarantee 100% pure products and is wrecking the country’s pristine reputation.

The good news for Air New Zealand engineers, and the rest of us, is that Fonterra’s failures are also affecting our dollar. If it falls far enough, the airline might gain a few maintenance contracts without really trying.

Strachan Crang, from the EMPU, says the airline’s engineers had worked hard to remain productive. “Over the past three years, they’ve delivered productivity gains in the double figures but this has all been eaten away by the high value of the New Zealand dollar.” Unless the dollar fell under US70c, it would be impossible to remain competitive against cheaper Asian engineering facilities.

Unfortunately, by the time the dollar has dropped sufficiently, these aircraft engineers will probably have been absorbed by other engineering-related businesses in New Zealand, will have become gainfully self-employed here or will have accepted employment in other countries.

We almost forgot that other snout in the trough: the CAA and its compliance costs. They must be affecting the airline, just as they are wounding smaller operators.

You can rest assured that there are no redundancies being signalled in the CAA.