Bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate on February 27 would help ensure the aviation and aerospace industries in the United States remain competitive and are prepared to address the workforce challenges facing the entire industry.
Known as the National Center for the Advancement of Aviation (NCAA), the bill has already garnered overwhelming support from AOPA and organizations representing all segments of aviation across the country.
The NCAA would be a private entity and no general fund taxpayer dollars would be used to support it. The legislation calls for funding the initiative by using a small percentage of the interest that is accrued annually on the taxes and fees collected from users and deposited into the aviation trust fund. Today, users of our aviation system pay for nearly all the costs associated with the operations of the FAA including air traffic control modernization. Moreover, the proposed center would be prohibited from involvement in any political or legislative activity.
Spearheaded by U.S. Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), the NCAA would focus on four key initiatives: aviation workforce development, including the facilitation of STEM-based aviation curriculum for high school students; a repository for aviation research; safety and economic data analysis; and the fostering of needed collaboration among the entire aviation industry.
“The widespread support for this center is very encouraging. This center would do more to promote needed cooperation in the aviation community including efforts to address the workforce challenges our industry is facing now and into the future. Whether it be pilots starting in general aviation, military or commercial pilots, technicians, maintenance workers, or others, we need to ensure that our industry remains competitive and can meet these challenges,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “AOPA is proud to work alongside allies in Congress and respected aviation leaders to make this center a reality.”
Demand for air travel, a sizeable cohort of commercial pilots nearing the mandated retirement age, and the high cost of training have all led to a shortage of qualified professionals in the industry. Boeing’s 2019 Pilot and Technician Outlook predicts the need for 804,000 new civil aviation pilots, 769,000 new maintenance technicians, and 914,000 new cabin crew over the next 20 years to fly and maintain the global aircraft fleet. In North America alone, Boeing suggests 212,000 new pilots and 193,000 new technicians will be needed over the next two decades.
According to the Aeronautical Repair Station Association the technician shortage is costing the U.S. aviation maintenance industry an estimated $118 million per month ($1.421 billion per year) in lost economic opportunity. Additionally, the Aviation Technician Education Council predicts that the mechanic population will decrease 5 percent in the next 15 years. New entrants make up just 2 percent of the technician workforce annually, while 30 percent is at or near retirement age.
The U.S. Air Force is short thousands of fighter pilots but has taken significant steps to reduce that gap and seek initiatives to retain more airmen. Using 3D virtual reality, the Air Force is looking to speed up pilot training—a technique that could also benefit the civilian pilot training sector. The NCAA would be an avenue for the Air Force to share its experience, allowing for cross-industry collaboration and potentially reducing the cost of civilian flight training.
The future of the entire aviation ecosystem depends on effective training, resources, and innovative ideas, which can be accomplished through the establishment of the NCAA.
Additionally, this center would allow the FAA to focus on safety and certification while the industry invests in the collaboration of promoting aviation through education, training, research, and awareness of the many job opportunities in the aviation industry.