The ever-present pilot shortage continues to weigh on the minds of airlines, maintenance companies, flight schools, and the entire aerospace industry. Compounding the shortage are the facts that air travel is increasing, pilots are aging, skilled technicians are needed, and Generation Z seems to be preoccupied with online games.
But a group of 40 aviation organizations has urged the Trump Administration to include in its upcoming budget a proposal to fund two new grant programs, signed into law last year, aimed at recruiting and training the next generation of aerospace workers and pilots.
Led by AOPA and the Aeronautical Repair Station Association, a letter to the Department of Transportation and the White House Office of Management and Budget was sent on Feb. 5 urging the agencies to seek full funding of $10 million for these programs as part of the president’s fiscal year 2020 budget request. Though the two grant programs were established by the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018, they still must be funded.
The groups wrote, “The resources provided through these temporary initiatives will incentivize businesses, labor and pilot organizations, schools, and governmental entities to work together to pursue innovative new strategies to develop technical talent and encourage our next generation of pilots to pursue careers in aviation. This, in turn, will help ensure the continued global leadership of America’s aerospace sector.”
In what the Wall Street Journal called a “critical” pilot shortage, the funding will help meet the demand for a well-trained workforce. According to the group’s letter, North America needs more than 10,000 new pilots each year to keep pace with air service demand and retirements. But FAA data show only 5,437 original airline transportation pilot certificates were issued in the first 11 months of 2018. Additionally, pilot certificates issued by the agency have decreased more than 60 percent since 1980.
Similarly, the aviation maintenance technician workforce is in desperate need of talent. As cited in the letter, “The Aviation Technician Education Council recently determined that new entrants make up just two percent of the aviation technician population annually, while 30 percent of the workforce is at or near retirement age.”
The group’s letter praised President Donald Trump for making career technical education a priority especially at a critical time for our aerospace sector, which generates more than 7 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, contributes $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy, and supports more than 11.5 million jobs.
Key supporters of these aviation workforce development programs in Congress include: Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Reps. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), and Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.).