Navigate the airline labor shortage through MRO modernization


The airline industry is facing a potential labor shortage.  A large percentage of the workforce is set for retirement in the next five years.  In testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee, Justin Welner, vice president of human resources for Spirit AeroSystems, told U.S. lawmakers that nearly 40 percent of the airline industry’s front-line workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next five years.

This adds up to what could be a critical labor shortage in an industry that relies on skilled technicians for their day-to-day operations. Airlines will need to take steps to entice their existing workforce to stay a little longer and to attract new hires. Here’s how:

1. Develop an IT technology migration plan to move off legacy technology

Most of the major airlines use IT systems that are more than three decades old. These legacy systems are based on a combination of independent transactions on a green screen, paper work, manual processes and tribal knowledge. Training a new technician how to be a mechanic is hard enough. Showing that technician how to use the legacy system exaberates the problem . Replacing a retiring workforce with a new crop of experts elevates the need to transform a legacy MRO system to a modern one flexible enough to accommodate the ever-changing airline business and support streamlined, best practice digital processes.

2. Organizational Change Management 101

A large ship does not turn on a dime. Replacing a legacy MRO system requires change at many levels of the organization. This change impacts how engineers and technicians manage new fleet intake, trouble shoot records issues, manage modification requirements, and execute maintenance programs. Everything from how the supply chain is managed to how the maintenance work is executed is impacted. Mechanics make up the largest percentage of those within the organization that rely on the MRO system to manage their workflow. Their procedures for all aspects of the maintenance process, from ordering the part to recording the signoff and installation of a part on the aircraft, will change.

Managing change at this scale will require champions from across the organization to form a team dedicated to the task.  Engaging champions from multiple levels of the organization ensures that the benefits of the transformation are delivered in a more personal way and in a language that can be understood and accepted by the audience.

Pairing up with partners that are experts in change management, the airline business, MRO systems and migrating data will be critical to achieving a successful digital transformation of the airline’s technical operations.

3. Attract newly trained mechanics with the promise of a modern work environment

Airlines can continue to attract newcomers with state-of-the-art technology:

  • An MRO system that can be mastered quickly, integrates best practices and is intuitive.
  • Information that can be accessed quickly and electronically, such as 3D engine diagrams that can lead the mechanic through repair diagnostics and enable data analyisis in real-time.
  • User manuals and other repair information that are accessed on an iPad or tablet with a simple click.
  • Mobile devices that enable work to be planned and signed off will minimize the amount of time spent in front of a screen and maximize the amount of time spent working on the aircraft.

By emphasizing investments in modern tools and nurturing the development of the career-enhancing job skills available in their industry, airlines should be poised to attract new talent.


The transition to modern MRO will not happen overnight — it may take up to five years — but it is a necessary step in solving a critical labor shortage and in creating a modern, efficient and rewarding work environment. There’s a lot at stake. As airlines move forward on their customer service systems, book more flights and offer new digital services, they’ll need a reliable, empowered maintenance workforce that can support the traffic. It’s time to acknowledge these realities and meet the challenges head on.

Lilly Croke headshotLilly Croke was the lead architect for the SCEPTRE MRO system.


  1. Nirmal Pathak says:

    Nice article about MRO modernization. Probably adding few more points about re-skilling the existing staff in their mid career can be helpful too.


  1. […] By implementing this cutting-edge technology, airlines should also have an easier time attracting and retaining tech-savvy workers, possibly helping to mitigate the labor shortages forecast for the industry. […]

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