Aerospace Industry Plans for the Future

 - June 7, 2007, 6:22 AM

The head of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) told members of Congress early last month that they should support three pending bills that would boost efforts to attract young people to science, math and engineering studies.

Two House bills and one Senate bill would build upon the different science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) education programs currently under way within numerous federal and state agencies, said AIA president and CEO John Douglass. The Stem initiative is a priority for the aerospace and defense industry as it looks to increase the number of students in fields that could lead to careers in the industry, he added.

The aerospace workforce is aging, with 27 percent of employees eligible to retire in the next five years. In the meantime, young people are not choosing to pursue math, science, engineering and other technical areas of study in sufficient numbers to replace them. The result is that by 2011 there will be hundreds of thousands more positions available than qualified candidates to fill them.

“It’s vitally important we do all we can to attract young people to these important fields of study,” Douglass said. “The future of our industry and others in technical fields depends on the next generation of potential scientists and engineers.”

S.761 would establish grants and programs to start math and science specialty schools, improve teaching skills among public school teachers and create summer internships at national laboratories. The bill passed the Senate on an 88-8 vote and is pending in the House.

On the House side, H.R. 362 would enhance and expand upon an existing scholarship program that places science, math and engineering students and professionals in teaching positions in elementary and secondary schools. H.R. 363 would create a research grant program for early career scientists and engineers as well as endorse a balanced funding approach to NASA programs to make careers in that agency more attractive.

Last month, the FAA and NASA signed a memorandum of understanding for a Smart Skies Program that NASA developed with help from FAA employees. It uses an online ATC simulator and math workbooks to introduce middle-school students to ATC careers.

“This is part of our 10-year controller staffing plan,” said Ruth Leverenz, FAA associate administrator for regions and center operations.