Former NTSB Member and JDA Associate John Goglia eloquently writes about the forecast shortage of future pilots and aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs) as established by the Boeing Company. The below charts makes the case for the need to attract young people to these two professions—
The Honorable Mr. Goglia understands the labor markets and comments that the supply of students reflects the perception of the airline salaries of both professions is low. He suggests one solution by referring to a recent article on jobs in general:
“…changing the typical path of high school to college to work. In ‘Alternative Paths to College Education: First Learn a Job,’ a writer at Forbes makes the case that with the high cost of education and the difficulty of finding jobs that pay enough to cover high student debt, prospective college students should consider an alternative path, such as getting job skills first and then rounding out their education with a college degree.”
The Torqued column reviews the standard analysis of why there appears to be a lower level of interest in aviation careers:
“The glamour days of air travel have ended and with them much of the excitement of working in this field. Salaries and working conditions have not kept pace with those in other industries. Attracting students in high school and providing them an affordable career path will be critical to addressing the projected shortfalls.”
This view of the source of the shortage is not universally held; the GAO found that the evidence is not that conclusive.
John also takes direct action by speaking to schools and other forums where possible entrants are present. His enthusiasm for his profession likely would highly motivate his audiences.
One other explanation for immediate problems can be ascribed to recently promulgated FAA rules. The increased requirements have added to the flying threshold needed to fly. While relaxing that restrictive requirement may actually bring more able cockpit crew members to the job, the likelihood of the reduction of the rules’ hours is at or near zero. The FAA should seek other collateral methods to increase the flow of qualified pilots to the civilian market as it did with its policy for recognizing the hours to be credited for military flying.
What else might be done? Here are a few suggestions:
- CREATE INTEREST AT AN EARLIER STAGE IN AVIATION EDUCATION—A good example of this approach is the successful Wings Aerospace Academy, a charter school in Colorado. From this quote it’s clear that this form of enticing students is working “with the laser focus on one niche topic, it’s logical that families are clamoring to enroll their passionate kids. In fact, Hyatt says he’s gotten letters from neighboring schools complaining that WAA is ‘stealing their best students.’ ‘Up your game,’ Hyatt says in response. ‘Steal ’em back.'”
- From Seattle to South Carolina, these early educational initiatives are working. Outside of schools, the private sector has created programs to stimulate high school students.
- Departments of Labor, Education and Transportation sponsor aviation—Create packages that will entice HBCU schools to establish accredited aviation curriculum.
- ADJUST THE PERCEPTION OF AVIATION CAREERS—Yes, being a pilot or being an AMT is not as glamorous as it was 15-20 years ago. But the employment rate, salaries and opportunities of graduating seniors are not what they used to be. The overall labor market is disappointing and many English majors are using their writing skills as baristas at Starbuck’s. Flight will be around for many years, unlike some of the skyrocketing new ventures; technology’s short half-life frequently results in forced job changes.
- Tax credits for off-the-street hiring—Given the importance of transportation is to the national economy and the regulatory actions which have distorted the labor market, Congress might consider giving training credits for hires of candidates without the required skills. This approach has been successful and the calculation of the enhanced salaries and the concomitant income tax might make this a net neutral response to the shortage. Ab Initio Training has been adopted by Jet Blue for pilots, AMTs and skilled workers at manufacturing plants.
- Like Goglia’s personal efforts, individual actions by many of us in aviation to encourage and mentor prospective aviation professionals. Nothing is as powerful as individual effort; the impact on the potential aviators and AMTs is significant—because the person taking the initiative is committed to the industry. For example, Boeing’s Ray Conner and his wife donated $300,000 to Central Washington University to support STEM students there.
- Generate interest in existing pilot programs/industry scholarships at existing Aviation Universities—The inventory of excellent college programs, which likely would welcome new students, is long and strong. One major university announced that it was going to close its aviation curriculum, but recanted when the administration examined the forecast demand for pilots, particularly after the FAA’s new tighter experience requirement. Many colleges are making stronger efforts to advertise their classes and such outreach should help. President Obama has said that Community and Junior Colleges should become a more prevalent and affordable education option; why not help them to teach the essentials needed on the way to a long term career.
- Highlight existing MX schools—Again, the educational resources are both large in number and high in quality (many are subject to FAA surveillance). Assuring that career counselors and state employment offices know about the availability of these institutions, the demand for future AMTs and the relatively good wages (see 3 above). Also, industry must help the Part 147 organizations to keep their syllabuses relevant to the current technology.
- Encourage schools to lower their tuition/PUBLICIZE their PROGRAMS—The lowering of tuition may result in greater interest in the careers. One existing aviation institutions decided to reduce their charges and its enrollment increased. Another school announced increased investments in its equipment and facilities. Both of these actions resulted in local coverage of the availability of these career options.
- Encourage new teaching technologies—One innovative institution redesigned its program to utilize simulators for more of the training. The FAA might try to identify other regulatory hurdles which could be lowered without reducing safety. Airlines, manufacturers and repair stations have computerized their in-house training; ought not they share those educational tools with the institutions which supply them with needed resources. If those learning platforms can be made available on the internet, distance learning may result and cheaper credit hour charges likely to be offered.
- DONATIONS OF TEACHING ASSETS TO SCHOOLS—Teaching on real airframes, powerplants and avionics, even if they are no longer economically useful, increases the learning of the students. If these teaching aids are donated, the school will have lower costs and may reduce their charges to the students. The donor gets both positive public exposure and a tax deduction. Va Tech was the recipient of a Rolls Royce Trent 1000, which unfortunately is being used as an art piece.