February 11, 2020

Chairs DeFazio, Larsen Statements from Hearing on Aviation Maintenance and Manufacturing Workforce

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA) during today’s hearing titled: “Looking Forward: The Future of America’s Aviation Maintenance and Manufacturing Workforce.”

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chair Larsen, for calling today’s hearing on the outlook for the workforce of women and men who build airplanes and those who maintain them.

Challenges in sustaining this workforce are looming, if not already upon us. According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data, half of the 330,000 mechanics and repairmen in the United States were between 50 and 70 years old at the end of 2018. And the industry anticipates a need for 193,000 new mechanics and technicians in North America over the next 20 years.

The current generation of airplanes is extraordinarily complex. There are between 60 and 70 miles of electrical wire in a single Boeing 787. The Airbus A350 performed the world’s first fully automated takeoff last month. Gulfstream’s G650 jet is built using significantly different manufacturing techniques than previous designs, which required the company to provide specialized training to manufacturing workers.

And U.S. firms’ global competition is intense and unyielding. The transport airplane market is essentially a duopoly between Boeing and Airbus, but China is resolute about entering that market with serious contenders in every size category except the largest airplanes over the next 20 years. French, Canadian, and Brazilian firms compete with business jet manufacturers in the United States, including Gulfstream, which is represented on our second panel.

If the government and industry don’t take the right steps now to prepare the next generation of aerospace workers in the United States, there’s a new generation in multiple other countries ready to assume our mantle of the world’s leader in aviation innovation.

Data reflecting a shortfall between the supply of new workers and the industry’s demand for them is the canary in the coal mine. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Labor Department predicts roughly 11,800 job openings per year from 2018 through 2028 for mechanics and technicians, but the FAA certificated only about 8,600 per year over the last four years.

This is also a decidedly non-diverse workforce in many respects. For example, according to the GAO, only three percent of aviation maintenance workers with FAA certificates are women. In order to expand the pipeline and meet the growing industry demand for FAA-certificated workers, we can and must do better.

I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses regarding what this Committee can do to foster the education, training, and hiring of the next generation of aerospace workers—and to ensure that women, people of color, and other minority groups are amply represented. However, rolling back training requirements for mechanics is not on the table.

Before I conclude, let me just say that I expect today’s discussion will also touch on the supply of airline pilots, even though that is not the intended focus of this hearing. To the extent there is a shortage of qualified airline pilots, the airlines are stepping up to resolve it. As recently as five years ago, regional airlines were paying new pilots unsustainably low wages: as little as $20,000 per year, according to a 2017 report by the Department of Transportation Inspector General.  The first officer of Colgan flight 3407, which crashed near Buffalo in 2009, 11 years ago tomorrow, earned just $15,800 the year before the accident and was recorded by the cockpit voice recorder just before the crash saying “that her husband had earned more in one weekend of military drill exercises than she earned in an entire pay cycle.”

But the airlines have recognized that very few young people will take on a debt of as much as $250,000 for college and pilot training to make just $20,000 per year. Indeed, Republic Airways, which is represented on the second panel, pays new first officers a base salary of approximately $41,000 per year.

We now have the strongest airline pilot training standards in history and in the world. And airlines are finally starting to pay new pilots a salary commensurate with their professional responsibilities. This is good news and something we want to encourage.

Thank you, Chair Larsen, and I yield back.

Chair Larsen:

Good morning and thank you to today’s witnesses for joining the Aviation Subcommittee’s discussion on the “Future of America’s Aviation Maintenance and Manufacturing Workforce.”

At the beginning of the 116th Congress, I set a forward-looking agenda for this Subcommittee, “Aviation and Aerospace 2050,” to focus on fostering technological innovation, ensuring safety and improving the nation’s competitiveness in the global aviation and aerospace marketplace.

To ensure the United States remains at the forefront of aviation and aerospace, industry, federal agencies and Congress must continue to explore how to recruit and train the future aviation workforce.

Maintenance and manufacturing are key reasons why the U.S. aviation industry is such a powerful economic engine.

This topic hits particularly close to home for me.

The Pacific Northwest is the aviation capital of the world.

In my home state of Washington, more than 136,000 highly skilled aviation workers produce an estimated 1,400 aircraft and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) each year.

Snohomish County, where I was born and raised and in part represent, is home to nearly 50 percent of aviation and aerospace jobs in Washington state.

In 2018, Congress passed the longest Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization in decades.

The bipartisan five-year law includes a comprehensive workforce development title to support important aerospace jobs across the U.S., and to help the aviation industry prepare and diversify its future workforce.

Among its provisions, the law:

Authorizes a key aviation maintenance workforce grant program to support the education and recruitment of aviation maintenance technicians,

Establishes a Women in Aviation Advisory Board to encourage women and girls to pursue rewarding aviation careers, and

Includes my provision to create a new Youth Access to American Jobs in Aviation Task Force to encourage high school students to enroll in aviation manufacturing, maintenance and engineering apprenticeships.

On today’s first panel of witnesses are Kate Lang, the FAA’s Senior Advisor for Aviation Workforce Outreach, and Heather Krause, the Government Accountability Office’s Director of civil aviation issues.

Ms. Lang, I expect your testimony will offer substantive updates on the administration’s efforts to swiftly implement the FAA reauthorization bill’s workforce requirements and other efforts to address aerospace workforce-related challenges; and

Ms. Krause, I look forward to hearing more about barriers to enhancing the workforce development pipeline.

While globalization and the emergence of new markets present opportunities for American aviation, there are challenges.

For example, according to the Aviation Technician Education Council, 30 percent of the Aviation Maintenance Technician workforce is at or near retirement age.

Although today’s hearing focuses on the U.S. aviation maintenance and manufacturing workforce, the issues faced by U.S. aerospace employers are reflective of broader issues across the industry.

Witnesses on our second panel play important roles in the aviation maintenance and manufacturing pipeline.

I have also seen how federal funding is having a positive impact on the recruitment of a more diverse aviation maintenance workforce in Washington.

Women currently make up less than 3 percent of the aviation maintenance workforce nationwide.

With the aid of a National Science Foundation grant, Everett Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing Training & Education Center (AMTEC) is partnering with local school districts and the aviation industry to increase recruiting of women into its aerospace technician programs by 30 percent over the next three years.

I have also visited the Edmonds Community College’s Washington Aerospace Training & Research (WATR) Center located at Paine Field in my district, where, with the help of GI Bill benefits and other financial assistance programs, students learn the skills necessary for high-wage, high-demand aerospace and manufacturing jobs in just 12 weeks.

Aviation High School and Vaughn College in New York are innovative educational leaders whose programs produce future aviation maintenance technicians and engineers. 

Mr. Jackson and Ms. Devivo, I look forward to hearing more about your efforts, and what the FAA or Congress can do to improve outdated maintenance curriculums and reduce the amount of debt for students.

Key employers like Delta Air Lines and Republic Airways will shed light on recruiting and retaining skilled workers. 

Mr. McDermott and Ms. Donati, I am interested in hearing more about your companies’ work to expand the pipeline of qualified workers, particularly to women, people of color and other historically underrepresented groups.

Lastly, manufacturers like Gulfstream depend on a skilled workforce to remain competitive in the U.S. and abroad.

Mr. Neely, I look forward to hearing your recommendations on addressing the skills gap and what is on the horizon for the U.S. maintenance and manufacturing workforce.

The future of America’s aviation maintenance and manufacturing workforce is bright, but it is clear Congress can do more to ensure the U.S. remains at the forefront of the aviation and aerospace

Today’s hearing provides this Subcommittee the opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to supporting U.S. jobs and the aviation workforce.

Improving skills training and diversifying the aviation workforce is an all-around win for employers, job seekers and the aviation and aerospace sectors.

Thank you again to today’s witnesses, and I look forward to our discussion.

Chair Larsen’s remarks as delivered can be found here.