Pipelines, proficiency, partnerships major themes of FAA Aviation Workforce Symposium

September 20, 2018

Last Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration hosted a conference, “Aviation Workforce Symposium: Ensuring America’s Pilot and Mechanic Supply”. Eno was on site at the event, which featured speakers representing the federal government, industry groups, the military, educational institutions, and private airlines.

Aviation confronts the same general workforce challenges facing other industries: a large cohort of workers representing the Baby Boom generation is preparing to retire, yet fewer young people are pursuing careers within the industry.

Yet, the aviation industry also faces a number of unique workforce challenges. For pilots, training is costly and burdensome – for example, 2013’s 1,500 hour flight time rule is among the barriers preventing trainees from stepping into the cockpit – and despite the promise of high salaries for senior pilots, entry-level wages fail to compensate students for educational costs. Workforce challenges exist throughout the aviation industry, from pilots to air traffic controllers to mechanics and manufacturers.

With an expected increase in air traffic, more personnel will be needed to meet travel demands. Meanwhile, some U.S. communities are starting to lose service, said George Novak, President of the National Air Carrier Association, during a panel outlining the scope of the challenge. Novak referred to the problem as a “perfect storm” because the issue is multifaceted, with no one source of the problem and multiple actors and approaches required to address it. Brett Levanto, Vice President of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association, indicated that by 2027, the repair market will be nine percent short of what it needs to operate. Vice President of the Aerospace Industries Association Frank Slazer pointed to diversity challenges (industry-wide, race and gender compositions do not mirror the U.S. as a whole), instances of companies like Boeing bringing retired manufacturing workers back into their workforce, and “just-in-time” manufacturing.

The next panel focused on how these issues can be addressed by attracting new people to aviation professions, or “priming the pipeline”. There was slight disagreement over whether young children are excited by aviation as a potential career, but all panelists agreed that efforts should be made as early as elementary school to build the aviation workforce pipeline. Cindy Hasselbring of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s High School Aviation Initiative emphasized reaching students where they are rather than requiring them to come to the airport to learn about careers in aviation.

But problems exist at the training stage, too. Once students are attracted to the industry, they and their families must grapple with long-term value propositions, said Managing Director of flight training for Delta, Jon Tovani. Dr. Beth Bjerke, Associate Dean of the University of North Dakota, and Jason Blair, of the Flight School Association of North America, both pointed toward instructor shortages, as well.

The final two panels focused on building partnerships between government, industry, academic institutions, the military, and community/advocacy groups and U.S. government initiatives, respectively. Senior Vice President of regional airline Republic Airways Matt Koscal pointed to a new partnership between Republic and Indianapolis-area community colleges to train students. Diane Auer Jones of the Department of Education pointed to the need for sector-based approaches (rather than the typical company-based approaches) for apprenticeships.

Overall, the event emphasized the grave, multifaceted challenges facing the aviation workforce. Like much of the larger workforce, the industry will need to focus on pipelines, proficiency, and partnerships to ensure that talent is available to fill a growing need for skilled professionals.

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