For the last four years, Uganda-based aviation engineer Dave Waterman has been servicing MAF aircraft across Africa. As Dave prepares to move to Liberia in November to play a key role in developing MAF’s new West Africa Maintenance Base, Dave explains how this new operation could help solve MAF’s aviation engineer shortage.
Further to the pandemic, which has seen the aviation industry struggle and thousands of aviation staff lose their jobs around the world, another crisis continues to affect the sector.
According to Boeing’s Pilot and Technician Outlook (2021 – 2040), 626,000 new maintenance technicians (aviation engineers) are needed to maintain the global fleet over the next 20 years.
In Africa alone, 20,000 aviation engineers are needed to service aircraft across the continent. As an unabashedly Christian organization seeking to recruit Christian staff who want to live overseas, MAF International’s HR Manager, Mike Riley, sums up the predicament:
“We’re trying to recruit the one percent of the one percent – that’s our recruitment pool.”
As global aviation advances, the long-term demand for talented engineers to maintain, repair and overhaul aircraft continues to rise.
Licenses and length of training
MAF would not be able to function without people like Dave Waterman – a former commercial aviation engineer who has served MAF in Uganda for the last four years.
Every MAF aircraft requires the support of two engineers to meet safety standards. When engineers are in short supply, this impacts flying schedules – a world wide problem.
MAF’s challenge is not a shortage of pilots or planes as Dave explains:
“You can become a pilot in 12 to 18 months, but to become an effective engineer takes five to eight years of training – that’s before gaining experience and approvals (licenses).”
The other issue is the time it takes to convert an international engineering license to a locally approved license. Dave continues:
“When we place our engineers into an international program, they come with a valid approval, but they have to convert it to the local approval, which can take years.”
Rethinking MAF maintenance
As MAF expands into West Africa, Dave will assist in developing MAF’s new hangar in Monrovia, Liberia, which will become MAF’s new maintenance base for the region.
MAF’s new approach to maintenance in West Africa is about adopting a ‘regional’ mindset as opposed to a country specific focus. This will be a new direction for MAF.
As MAF’s new regional engineer for West Africa, Dave looks ahead to how the maintenance base might work:
“There always has to be a regulatory licensing system in place, which we have to operate under – European, American or Australian for example. If we pick one single system, we’ll only have to train our engineers one way in future. It will be a lot easier and save us from this maintenance madness.
“Rather than each program having two engineers, we’ll gather all the engineers for West Africa in one place, i.e., our new Monrovian hangar, and have the airplanes, which serve West Africa, come to us for maintenance. This will massively reduce the complications we currently have.”
Aircraft breakdown for MAF is rare
Thanks to generous donor support and wise operational investment, aircraft breakdown for MAF is rare as Dave testifies:
“98% of the time, the airplanes are working fine – it’s only 2% of our operating time when we need to fix an airplane that has broken down. The rest of our engineering work is scheduled maintenance.
“For us, maintenance is mostly when an airplane has flown for 100 hours and needs some work done. In future, pilots in the region can just fly their aircraft to us! Our new engineering base will look after the whole region, not just Liberia.”
A mammoth task ahead
As work continues to establish a single regulatory licensing system for MAF’s West Africa base, Dave contemplates another mammoth task ahead – kitting out MAF’s new Liberian hangar, which will be able to service up to nine aircraft:
“The hangar is built, but it’s not finished. We’re waiting for the equipment to arrive from the US and Europe. Solar panels need to be installed and the facilities need finalizing. We’ll need to increase stock levels and obtain all the parts to service a number of airplanes.
“Once everything is ready in the hangar, we need five staff to start with, plus their approvals. The plan is modular. With every additional aircraft or location, that’s when we add more people – it’s all scalable.”
Gone are the days when MAF just had one aircraft in Liberia, a little office and where maintenance took place in a borrowed hangar!
MAF’s new West Africa base – a ‘good blank canvas’
Unlike MAF Uganda, which has a well organized hangar, Liberia is somewhat unknown territory for Dave:
“Liberia is a good blank canvas, which continues to evolve – I have an opportunity to add my brushstrokes to the foundations laid by others who have gone before me.
“It’s got such potential – everything MAF plans to do in Liberia, Guinea and surrounding countries will be really high impact.
“Right now, there’s a limit to what we can do, but to be part of a solution that could enable so much more work is amazing! I’m looking forward to helping make that maintenance base the best it can possibly be. This new regional approach frees up more potential to reach so many more people.
“Our biggest flying restriction is the global aviation engineering shortage –there are not enough people to fix planes. My goal is to take that problem away. If we can get rid of that, particularly in West Africa, then we’re winning.”
A dream come true
As Dave and his wife Becky prepare to relocate to the world’s wettest capital in November, which endures an annual rainy season of nine months, Dave is excited about the future.
He can’t quite believe he’s living the dream that God gave him as a thirteen-year-old boy, when he first spotted an advert for an aviation engineer in MAF’s Flying for Life Magazine:
“I’ve wanted to do this job since I was 13. Now at the age of 35, I’m doing my childhood dream – that’s bonkers! Who gets to do that? Who gets to work on airplanes in Africa that fly off and change people’s lives?”
MAF’s West Africa Maintenance Base will be ready for regional aircraft maintenance within the next two years. In the meantime, MAF’s Liberia program will continue to operate out of the new hangar in Monrovia.
STORY by MAF UK with PHOTOS by David Waterman, Mark & Kelly Hewes, and Ping Domtta & Rembrand Rodenburg