Senate Commerce Eyes Aviation Workforce Initiatives

 - March 17, 2023, 12:42 PM
(Photo: Pixabay)

The Senate Commerce Committee yesterday focused on the workforce challenges confronting the aviation industry as it contemplates the development of a comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill.

“Now more than ever, we cannot afford to leave good talent on the table,” said Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell (D-Washington). She noted that over the next 20 years, the commercial aviation industry will need 128,000 pilots, 134,000 maintenance technicians, and 173,000 cabin crewmembers in North America alone, and looking at just this year, aviation manufacturers hope to hire 10,000 workers to ramp up production.

“With post-pandemic aviation growth, we face new challenges and we need to develop a pipeline of qualified workers to replace those who either retired or voluntarily left the workforce during the Covid-19 pandemic,“ she said.

She also pointed out the importance of diversifying the workforce, particularly since women represent just 5 percent of airline pilots and less than 12 percent of aerospace engineers, but are 47 percent of the total U.S. workforce. “We have got to bridge the gap.”

Further, Cantwell said, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than 15 percent combined of pilots and engineers are Black, Hispanic, or Asian. She also pointed to concerns about the rising cost of education.

Sen. Tammy Duckwork (D-Illinois), who chairs the aviation subcommittee, warned that “success or failure may ride on whether we will be able to dramatically strengthen our nation's aviation workforce over the next five years. She said, "Without a properly trained, quipped, and compensated aviation workforce, the safety of the flying public will be at risk and the delays we’ve seen in the past five years will seem mild by comparison.”

Duckworth also stressed the importance of keeping the 1,500-hour airline pilot rule in the face of workforce pressures.

Both Duckwork and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), the ranking member of the aviation subcommittee, agreed that the hearing focusing on means to strengthen the workforce was a key part of getting the next FAA reauthorization bill done.

“I am optimistic we will craft a proposal that will combine the best elements” of the various workforce initiatives offered in Capitol Hill to foster growth, Duckworth said.