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House committee backs funding aviation workforce programs

Editor's note: This story was updated June 11 to add statements from U.S. Reps. Lipinski and Graves on the House Appropriations Committee's vote.

The House Appropriations Committee has voted to recommend full funding of two workforce development grant programs supported by AOPA and the aerospace industry to develop high school aviation science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculum and support aviation maintenance technician initiatives to meet growing demand for aviation workers.

The Capitol is home to the U.S. Congress. The House and Senate have significant influence over general aviation. Photo by David Tulis.

The two programs each received committee backing for $5 million in fiscal year 2020. Both programs are authorized for five years, as proposed in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-254) but require funding through the annual appropriations process.

The pilot education grant program is intended to support the creation and delivery of curriculum and teacher development designed to provide high school students with meaningful STEM and aviation education, and develop the next generation of commercial, general aviation, drone, or military pilots. 

The aviation technical workforce grant program includes scholarships and apprenticeships, establishes new training programs, and allows the purchasing of equipment for schools. It also supports career transitions for members of the armed forces.

In July 2018, Boeing’s 20-year aviation jobs forecast predicted demand for 790,000 new pilots worldwide by 2037, including 206,000 new pilots in North America.

The pilot education program advances AOPA’s goal of bringing aviation-based STEM education to high school students nationwide through the AOPA High School Initiative, a component of the You Can Fly program dedicated to supporting and growing the pilot population.

Congress recognized the need to support aviation workforce development when creating the grant programs as part of the FAA’s reauthorization legislation, said Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs, noting that U.S. Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.) were leading supporters of the grant programs in the House, along with Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) in the Senate.

“We are very appreciative of several members of the House Appropriations Committee who were instrumental in supporting funding for these programs which will have an enormous impact on influencing the next generation of pilots,” Coon added.

In approving the programs’ funding, the Appropriations Committee said it supports “increasing the strength and number of aviation professionals who are well-trained and can be relied upon to make air travel safe and efficient.”

“I’m pleased that the House Appropriations Committee has recognized the importance of these new aviation workforce development programs and agreed to fully fund them in the FY2020 House THUD appropriations bill,” said Lipinski.  “I worked hard to get these programs into the 2018 FAA reauthorization law along with my colleague Rep. Sam Graves because hands-on training programs help maintain our aviation sector’s reputation as the best in the world and provide a pathway to stable job opportunities for the next generation of pilots and aviation maintenance technicians.  I want to thank AOPA, the Aeronautical Repair Station Association, and the rest of stakeholders for working with us to secure this important funding from the Appropriations Committee.”

Graves also expressed satisfaction with the committee action. “The aviation industry faces a daunting workforce shortage, which is why these grant programs encouraging young people to seek careers in aviation are so critical.  I was pleased to get them included in the FAA Reauthorization Act and see them receive the necessary funding in the appropriations bill so we can start preparing the aviation workforce of the future.”

The committee also voted to provide $169 million to support the contract tower program; $1.9 million for general aviation alternative fuels research; and an additional $3.5 million to reimburse New Jersey’s Solberg and Somerset airports and Florida’s Palm Beach County Park Airport, also known as Lantana, for losses arising from closure when long-term presidential temporary flight restrictions are put in place.

A vote by the full House of Representatives is expected in June. The Senate must also consider its own Fiscal Year 2020 Transportation Housing and Urban Development bill, and the two chambers will have to reconcile differences before a final bill can go to the president for signing.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, Aviation Industry, Career

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