Skip to content


Shortage of aviation technicians will lead to stagnation of air traffic

Klik voor Nederlandse versie

1. The position of the Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer

Aircraft maintenance vs annual technical car inspection
It is an accepted fact of life that the car you drive needs to be maintained. Maintenance at least once a year, possibly combined with an MOT, or even checking the oil level and tire pressure before a longer journey. If the necessary maintenance is skipped or performed substandard we can expect the misery of not starting, breaking down on the road or even worse: unsafe situations could occur.

Airplanes and helicopters are no different. But for these complex machines the entire maintenance process is regulated in fine detail by European and national legislation. Not once a year, but before every new flight, all essentials for a safe flight are checked. Literally every part in an aircraft has its own requirements and is replaced or checked after a predetermined number of flying hours, even if no problems have been detected.

The aircraft manufacturer draws up a meticulous maintenance package for each aircraft considering all parts (components), the engines and the airframe (airframe), including all parameters for load and use. The airline that operates the aircraft is required by law to have its fleet maintained at an aircraft maintenance organization, which has been approved by the aviation authority. In the Netherlands this is the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (IL&T).

Strict rules
The Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer is a certified aviation technician under the Dutch Aviation Act (Luchtvaartwet) and international regulations. Ground engineers, or “GWK´s” as they are commonly called in The Netherlands, are in possession of a European Aircraft Maintenance License (AML). This special authorization is issued by the Dutch KIWA Register, on behalf of the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management. The document is almost identical to the “Commercial Pilot License” that Dutch airline pilots require.

A separate authorization is required for each aircraft type that is maintained. Only when the ground engineer has successfully completed all courses, training on the job and practical training for a specific aircraft type, will he or she be authorized to certify the maintenance which is performed and is responsible for releasing the aircraft to service.

Crucial role in flight safety
Ground engineers release an aircraft “for service” after maintenance has been performed. Therefore they are also responsible and liable for checking for checking all activities during maintenance, also if this has been done by other non-licensed personnel, such as mechanics. The ground engineer is positioned by the regulator as the “last line of defence“, to minimize the risks with regard to aviation safety. Only the ground engineer is authorized to determine whether the aircraft can and may return to service after maintenance.

Working conditions
Maintaining aircraft is a true passion for aeronautical technicians. Working on a machine that lifts 250 tons with hundreds of passengers on board, with complex engines delivering vast amounts of power, is truly a unique and challenging job.

But the working conditions for mechanics and GWKs are not always easy. Commercial flights are carried out 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So maintenance is performed in continuous shifts, which entails that work is also done at night, on weekends or on public holidays. Some of that work has to be done in confined spaces or in places that are hard to reach. And the line maintenance work outside on the platform requires working in all weather conditions.

These circumstances do not deter a few thousand aviation technicians in the Netherlands from exercising their special profession with great satisfaction. Every day, mechanics and ground engineers make every effort to ensure that millions of passengers a year and of course also the colleagues in the cockpit and cabin, can board with confidence and enjoy a safe flight!

Lengthy training course

To become a GWK, a basic technical education is required, for example via an Aircraft Mechanics course. This also entails obtaining the practical and theoretical Part 66 modules on ensuring and approving maintenance performed on an aircraft. The content and examination of these modules is highly regulated by the EU. In The Netherlands only two training institutes are certified to perform these examinations (situated in Hoogerheide and Maastricht).

After passing the required exams at, the student obtains a bare AML. He or she can now call himself an “aircraft mechanic” and can apply for work at the technical department of an airline or for an aircraft maintenance company.

This new job is the start of further training towards obtaining the full AML and then progress to the position of GWK with a so-called certification privilege. The progression to a professionally mature ground engineer with demonstrable years of experience on a specific aircraft type or helicopter takes 7 to 12 years.

Recurrent exams and training must be performed regularly to maintain the aircraft type authorization’s validity.

Personal liability
That the release of an aircraft is a special privilege is underlined by the fact that GWK’s can be held personally liable in the unlikely event that they have made mistakes in the performance of their work. In severe cases, the Public Prosecution Service can even proceed with criminal prosecution. This responsibility cannot be transferred to the employer or an insurance company.

2. Shortage

Lack of new mechanics
The enthusiasm among young people to aspire to a technical career has been waning for years. This has been shown time and again in surveys and studies. The low influx of new mechanics into aviation is no different from other technical industries.

In addition, there are many vacancies and opportunities for young technicians entering the labour market. This competition for technically trained fresh talent has led to an increase in new employees leaving aviation within the first five years. As a result, these new mechanics do not remain employed long enough to progress to the position of ground engineer.

The continuity of the flight operation is thereby jeopardized in the near future by the decreasing overall number of GWKs due to retirement but in the slightly more distant future this will be compounded by the lack of mechanics growing into their licensed career phase. As the combined overall number of mechanics and GWK’s declines the required amount of people doing the work will no longer be able to meet demands.

Minimum staffing levels at risk
As in all other sectors, the aging population also plays a role in the increasing shortage of aviation technicians. In the coming years, many colleagues will retire and take their very valuable knowledge and experience with them.

For the airlines and maintenance companies, these developments are a huge loss in terms of the minimum staffing required to continue flying operations.

And these consequences are not concerns for the distant future, because if no action is taken before 2025, the shortages of aviation technicians could already lead to serious stagnation in airline flight schedules.

It should also be noted that the scarcity of aviation technicians is not limited to the Netherlands. The shortage of technicians will be a worldwide problem for the years to come, as can also be read in professional literature.

Consequences of flight reduction at Schiphol
Although the NVLT is of the opinion that the demand for and the supply of flights will continue to increase, we must also consider current events. The Dutch government intends to reduce the number of flights at Schiphol by 12% to 440,000 from 2023. In particular, noise and environmental exposure for local residents is to be reduced. The idea being that the number of flights may increase again if quieter and more environmentally friendly aircraft are flown.

If this intention, with all its legal complications, is implemented at all, it will only have a short-term effect on the shortage of aviation technicians. Growth according to the latest insights will still be fast paced, the first new quieter aircraft are already on their way. The growing shortage in a time of contraction of flight numbers will only mask the upcoming crisis due to the long training period required. The urgency of solving the shortages of aviation technicians will therefore not diminish in the event of a flight number contraction at Schiphol.

3. Position NVLT


The NVLT is deeply concerned about the increasing shortage of aviation technicians in the Netherlands. If the policy regarding recruitment and retention by airlines and maintenance companies remains unchanged, the technical workforce in aircraft maintenance will decrease rapidly. In fact, this trend has already been going on for several years now.

This will initially result in shortages in staffing and thus in an extremely undesirable increase in work pressure, which may lead to a potential threat to continued flight safety.

If the shortages continue to increase, flight production can no longer be guaranteed. After all, without the signature of the GWK, it is not possible to fly. If he or she is not available, flight operations will eventually come to a screeching halt with all the (national) financial and economic consequences that entails.

This is why the NVLT calls for effective campaigns to be started with the utmost urgency, first of all to retain current colleagues for the aviation sector and to keep them involved in their work for longer. In addition, a broad and intensive campaign must be started without delay to promote the choice of a technical career and to recruit aviation technicians.

For the numerical substantiation of our concerns, as well as the available options of possible solutions, we are in full agreement with the ‘Report Labour market shortage technicians’ (Rapport Arbeidsmarktkrapte Technici) by ROA (Research Center for Education and the Labour Market) and SEO Economic Research of September 2022 commissioned by the Ministries of Education, Culture and Science, Economic Affairs and Climate and Social Affairs and Employment.

4. Possible solutions

The Report Labour market shortage technicians provides a number of recommendations for solutions that appear to be important and/ or promising to (further) reduce the shortage of technicians (in italics). For each recommendation, the NVLT is willing and able to provide a suggestion for a practical application to the position of aviation technicians (in white).

Ensure more innovation on labour-saving (processes):
Because the development of the supply cannot be easily matched by the development of the demand for technicians, in the current demographic, economic and political conditions, the best solution is to ensure that the demand for technicians is tempered. Innovations and innovation subsidies should therefore be more focused on labour-saving (process) innovations, supplemented with social innovation, so that labour can be deployed more intelligently and the same production can be obtained with fewer technicians;

The current laws and regulations for aviation are extremely detailed and do not offer maintenance organizations any freedom to deviate from them.

The use of innovations, such as drones instead of visual checks, have a long way to go before they can be accepted. After all, research into new developments must first demonstrate that they can be used safely in aviation.
However, the NVLT certainly sees opportunities for innovations in the medium and long term and is happy to cooperate in exploring them.

In addition, we believe that maintenance organizations should look at further optimizing the efficiency of work processes and job content.

Ensure a culture change in technology:
Technology is a sector in which many (older) men work in full-time employment. The lack of flexibility in the number and timing of working hours prevents many young people and women from seeking a sustained career in technology. A culture change, which creates more room for diversity and flexibility in working hours and schedules, could increase the supply of technicians. The sector itself has a particular role to play here;

The NVLT fully endorses this analysis. The airlines and maintenance companies should experiment more with the choice of schedules.
Where currently only one basic roster is used for departments, rosters with other combinations of services could also be considered, as is used, for example, at Air France Industries.

In addition, airlines can also invest in aircraft capacity that is above budget, so that maintenance can be shifted from the nights to the daytime service.

Arouse more interest in technology at a younger age:
The number of young people opting for technical training increases at master’s level and decreases at MBO level. In addition, a large proportion of young people who start technical training leave technology during their studies, most frequently at MBO level. Various parties indicate that young people do not come into contact with technology enough in education, starting with primary education. When young people come into contact with technology earlier and more often, they also choose it more often in their education and career choice.

Various Dutch technical companies, such as ASML, have already started initiatives to introduce primary school students to technology by means of guest lectures. This is certainly an interesting option with regard to aviation technology. This certainly also applies to the enthusiasm of secondary school students.

Airlines in particular can invite students and show them around hangars and also in and around aircraft under maintenance.
It can also be considered to provide (part of) the training through company schools, which will provide more involvement with the company.

The NVLT is also of the opinion that more involvement in aviation technology can be organized by hiring trainees (for a generous fee). Supervision of trainees could be provided by senior GWKs, thereby alleviating the harsh shift work pressure on the elderly, and also by retired colleagues.

A guarantee on an employment contract could be given at the start for both company courses and trainees.

Invest more in the matching and training of lateral entrants:
Lateral inflow could be used even better by looking beyond diplomas and work experience, namely to all knowledge, skills and competencies (skills) that employees and job seekers have to offer to carry out their work in technology. The skills approach can considerably increase the potential target group for lateral entry into technology, especially in combination with the right public and private training;

Given the limited availability of persons with the legally required AML on the labour market (about 1,500 in the Netherlands) and the required long-term experience for the position of GWK, we believe that lateral entry can only make a very limited contribution to solving the shortage of aeronautical technicians.

Set up a joint network for technical training:
In the study, various parties indicate that setting up joint regional networks (network organisations) could contribute to stimulating training in technology by combining knowledge, finances and organizational strength. Through economies of scale, more training can be provided for more technicians at more (smaller) technology companies;

The NVLT strongly supports the establishment of such networks aimed at aviation and is more than willing to participate. We are happy to support initiatives by airlines and maintenance companies in this regard.

Ensure attractive primary employment conditions:HBO graduates in technology experienced a stronger growth in hourly wages than MBO graduates. It is therefore advisable – where possible – to consider an increase in primary employment conditions, especially for MBO graduates. As a result, the supply could increase (more MBO students, more lateral enrolment, less leakage), which could partly provide a solution for the high demand for MBO graduates;

Based on our research of current technical job openings we have concluded a shortfall up to 20% in basic entry-level salary at the KLM-group technical departments as compared to today’s technical labour market. When compared to the end-of-scale salaries this shortfall increases to 25% or more. Based on its own responsibility, the NVLT will focus on catching up with this backlog in primary employment conditions in the upcoming collective labour agreement negotiations for the retention of employees.

We also believe that the fringe benefits are important instruments for retention and recruitment. Consider, for example, broadening reimbursements from sustainable employability budgets (for example for sports subscriptions and health programs), making leave options flexible in schedules and expanding training options at the employer’s expense (also not job-related). Airlines could also extend the employee discount on airline tickets.

It is important to give employees and applicants more insight on career opportunities within the company. Solutions to make it easier to switch from alternating shifts to day shifts during one’s career should be explored. The current loss of the shift work allowance is proving to be a major barrier to internal mobility.

In the current labour market, the salary development of MBO students with a technical education is greater than that of HBO students (article Telegraaf). This benefit should also be promoted more among high school students.

Put labour shortages in technology in a social perspective:
The tight labour market for technicians appears to be a major threat to the quality and continuity of the technical sectors in the Netherlands.At the same time, the labour market is tight in several sectors of the economy. Greater competition between sectors in combating labour shortages reduces the chance that solutions will also be effective in the longer term. Solutions for reducing the shortage of technicians should therefore be taken in conjunction with solutions for reducing the shortage of personnel in education, healthcare, the police, the food supply, etc.

In the view of the NVLT, balancing the tight labour market for technicians from a social perspective is primarily a task of the government, because it can streamline and regulate matters across sectors.

5. Finally

The NVLT is the only trade union in The Netherlands dedicated exclusively to the interests of aviation technicians. Monitoring flight safety as one of the most important tasks of our association and our members is also anchored in our statutes.

For more information, please contact:
Mr. Rob Swankhuizen, President NVLT
mobile +31641529748

Back To Top