The 2022 Aerospace Maintenance Competition marks an important milestone for American Airlines. For the first time in its approximately 14-year involvement in maintenance competitions, an all-female team and all-Hispanic team will compete.
American sent its first team of aircraft maintenance technicians (AMTs) to the AMT Society’s first annual Maintenance Skills Competition in March 2008. Team American, the team’s official name, was made up of AMTs based out of LaGuardia (LGA), John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Boston Logan (BOS) airports. The team was organized by Dave Hayden and team members included Joseph Hoczela, Domenico Mallozzi, Phillip Firmano Robinson Torres and James Labrecque. The team finished third place in the commercial aviation category.
“Getting involved was a way of giving back,” Dave said. “For the guys involved, it was an opportunity to show their skills and have fun at the same time.”
Showcasing the craft and learning new skills
The purpose of the maintenance competitions is to showcase the AMT profession and the contributions made by AMTs to provide safe and airworthy aircraft.
Evie Garces, a Senior Manager at LGA at the time, who now leads American’s Maintenance Operations Control as Managing Director, was an advocate for team members wanting to get involved in 2008.
“When an average person thinks about airlines and the aviation industry, most have experienced our pilots, flight attendants and gate agents,” Evie said. “What they don’t see is what happens behind the scenes and all of the work our mechanics do to make the plane safe. Safety is ingrained in our operation because of hours they spend on the ground, whether it’s in the rain, overnight, year-round – they make sure our planes are reliable.”
Because of the important role AMTs play in the aviation industry at large, Evie shared it was important for her to support team members’ request to participate in the competition.
“It’s so important to advocate for the craft,” Evie said. “Involvement in this competition was a chance to advocate, so I took it and supported them along the way. That first team – they were rock stars.”
In addition to encouraging team member involvement, American has sponsored the involvement of students pursuing their aircraft and/or power plant (A&P) certificate to become AMTs.
Andy TePoele, an American Airlines AMT, joined Dallas-Fort Worth’s first team in 2009. In 2022, he is leading a team out of Chicago. During his time in Dallas, Andy mentored students from Fort Worth’s Tarrant County College.
“For me, it’s important to share this profession with students,” Andy said. “Being a mechanic is an incredibly fulfilling career to work on a plane that comes in with problems, troubleshoot it and see it take off. You can say: I worked on that.”
Andy says the competition also helps students and seasoned AMTs learn new skills.
“I had a team member who specialized in engines,” Andy said. “He finished the competition with new avionics skills he would have never been exposed to in his day-to-day role. It opens the door for many and encourages them to believe that they can pursue other areas of the profession.”
Increased industry-wide participation
Ken Mactiernan, an American Airlines AMT, founder of the Aircraft Maintenance Technician Association and vice president of the Aerospace Maintenance Council, has been at the center of various maintenance competitions since the early 2000s.
“Involvement from the industry has increased over the years,” Ken said. “Nine teams competed in 11 events in 2008. In 2022, about 81 teams will compete in 27 events.”
As more teams signed up each year, the competition needed more events. Ken turned to the industry and encouraged companies to sponsor events by providing materials and judges.
Since 2010, Kevin Ferrin, an American Airlines tech supervisor in Tulsa, has organized American’s sponsored events and the judges. Most recently, events provided by American include a virtual reality experience using center cockpit pedestals from two retired MD-80s and an auxiliary power unit (APU) burner can in which competitors must safely change the unit.
Beyond coordinating the events for the competition, Kevin also supports teams as they practice prior to the competition.
“There is a lot of time involved in preparation for an event,” Kevin said. “It’s impressive when you see what it takes to put an event on.”
American AMTs making history
With six teams competing in 2022, the AMTs representing American will bring many skillsets and diverse perspectives.
American’s first all-female team, named Women in Tech Ops, is led by Elena Gonzalez, an AMT at Miami International Airport (MIA).
“A few years back when I went to the AMC as a member of the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance, it was so amazing to see everyone competing, but the first thing that came to mind was why aren’t there any women teams representing American?” Elena said. “Everyone deserves a chance to put their best foot forward, and by doing this, there may be other women who feel inspired to get involved.”
From April 25-28, Elena along with Meylin Concepcion, Pari Soneji, Allison Codd, Malinda Hamm and Regina Patronie will make American Airlines history as the first all-female team. Additionally, Joey Travieso, Dalvy Negron, Edgar Danis-Montero, Jean Carlos Oquet, Hector Fernandez and Christopher Ortega will make American Airlines history as the first all-Hispanic team.
Watch the historical moment and the nearly 40 AMTs representing American Airlines during the livestream of this year’s Aerospace Maintenance Competition.
Read the all-female team’s full story on American’s newsroom.
Additional team photos
Have images or additional stories about American’s involvement in maintenance competitions over the years? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.