July 20, 2021

Chairs DeFazio, Larsen Statements from Subcommittee Hearing on Improving Diversity and Inclusion in the U.S. Aviation 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, “Bridging the Gap: Improving Diversity and Inclusion in the U.S. Aviation Workforce.” Videos of DeFazio and Larsen’s opening statements are here and here. More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chair Larsen, for calling today’s hearing on the need to improve the diversity of the aviation industry’s workforce.

Unfortunately, we’re still a long way from attaining true equality for all in this country. And while the federal government and many industries in the private sector have improved the diversity of their respective worker bases, the aviation industry has not. When you look at the data, you have the sense that the aviation industry is still taking the first step to achieve a workforce that reflects the racial, ethnic, and gender identification composition of the country as a whole.

More than half of the U.S. population—50.8 percent—is female, according to the latest Census data. Yet only 2.4 percent of aircraft mechanics and just 7 percent of commercial pilots are women.

On the subject of pilots, we have two witnesses today representing the Latino Pilots Association and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals. So let’s look at the pilot profession specifically.

More than 13 percent of the U.S. population is Black. Yet only 3.4 percent of commercial pilots are Black.

More than 18 percent of the population is Latino or Hispanic. Percentage of Latino or Hispanic commercial pilots: 5.

Six percent of the population is Asian. Two percent of commercial pilots are.


Kids who are growing up in socioeconomically disadvantaged families—of all races and ethnicities—also face an undeniable financial barrier, especially to professions like pilots. If you graduate from high school and decide to pursue a four-year aviation-related degree at a private university and obtain your progressive pilot licenses at the same time, you might well rack up $150,000 to $250,000 in debt. That’s not an appealing proposition for anyone, especially one entering a profession where starting pay has historically been as low as $18,000 per year—although most regional carriers have done the right thing and increased pilots’ starting pay to more sustainable levels in recent years.

This committee does not have jurisdiction over matters like student loans, but I will say this: There is no universe in which I would advocate for rolling back the stringent pilot training rules enacted in 2010 to solve a problem—pilot supply—that doesn’t relate to safety, even one as serious as the problem we’re discussing today. There are other ways to address that issue, and if anyone suggests we should chip away at safety rules regarding training to address a workforce issue, they’re sorely mistaken and will find no reception with me for those views.

Although the representation of minority groups within the pilot and other aviation professions have improved over the years, the disparity couldn’t be more apparent. Nonetheless, Congress, the Executive Branch, and the industry itself has recognized the problem, and work to address it is underway.

For example:

  • Pursuant to Congressional mandates that we included in the 2018 FAA reauthorization bill, the FAA and DOT have created two expert panels: one to improve youth access to aviation through high school technical programs, and the other to promote organizations that recruit and mentor women in new aviation industry jobs.
  • In the same legislation, we authorized two programs in which the FAA will provide grants, totaling $10 million per year in the aggregate, to support the training and recruitment of new mechanics and pilots.
  • Three FAA offices and steering committees provide additional support for the recruitment and training of a future aviation workforce that reflects the diversity of the country.
  • In April 2021, one of the biggest four U.S. carriers committed to ensuring that at least half of an anticipated 5,000 pilot candidates will be women and people from underrepresented communities. The airline also pledged $1.2 million in scholarships to help address financial barriers to the airline pilot career path for students.
  • Another of the Big 4 carriers is providing $350,000 in grants to nine aviation high schools around the country, many of which serve racially and socioeconomically diverse students, as part of an effort to hire 2,000 new mechanics over the next decade.
  • Since 2019, an aerospace industry trade group has funded $120,000 in grants to schools in low-income communities and connected more than 80,000 students with rocketry and aerospace career mentors. Further grants totaling $50,000 are expected to be disbursed to schools in underserved communities next year through this initiative.
  • Last August, an aviation maintenance and repair company created a program at schools located near its repair stations to demonstrate how students can learn skills leading to multiple career paths at the company, hopefully with the outcome of diversifying the aviation maintenance workforce.

But this is clearly not enough. The aviation industry and the FAA, with respect to its own workforce, must embrace a “diversity culture” with the same commitment that led to the top-down adoption of strong safety cultures that reduced the rate of fatal U.S. air carrier accidents from two, sometimes four, per year in the 1990s to just two in the last 12 years. Diversity must be a value embraced and lived every day by everyone, starting at the top with CEOs and other leadership.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about what this committee can do to energize further commitment to diversity among private-sector aviation employers, as well as ensure that the FAA’s attention to the public interest in a diverse aviation workforce is not redirected.

Chair Larsen:

Good morning and welcome to today’s witnesses joining the Aviation Subcommittee’s hearing titled “Bridging the Gap: Improving Diversity and Inclusion in the U.S. Aviation Workforce.”

The topic of this hearing comes at a critical moment in time for the U.S. aviation and aerospace industries.

Over the last 18 months, these industries were hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For instance, 557 million fewer passengers flew on U.S. airlines in 2020 than in the previous year.

The growth of aviation manufacturing was also hindered by the pandemic; by the end of 2020, the value of aircraft deliveries declined by nearly 15 percent.

As the nation reopens and Americans return to air travel, a discussion must be had regarding the status and needs of the aviation and aerospace workforce.

As a white man, I acknowledge that I, too, have more work to do to understand and address the barriers, such as systemic racism, that enable inequity and injustice to persist in the United States.

As Subcommittee Chair and as a Member of Congress, I have made improving diversity in the U.S. aviation and aerospace workforce a priority.

It is important that the economic and job opportunities available in these industries be available and accessible to all Americans.

However, in many cases, the U.S. transportation workforce does not reflect the true diversity of the country.

Unfortunately, the aviation and aerospace sectors are no exception. A recent survey of the aerospace industry found that women comprise only 25 percent of the industry’s workforce, while only six percent of respondents identified as a Person of Color and just less than eight percent identified as Hispanic or Latino.

The aviation and aerospace sectors also expect a good chunk of their workforce to retire soon.

The Aviation Technician Education Council estimates that 30 percent of the current workforce is at or near retirement age.

To meet the increasing demand for new and skilled aviation workers, employers must expand the talent pool from which they have traditionally drawn.

To fill existing and future workforce needs, several challenges must be met head on.

Today’s witnesses will help this subcommittee to better understand the need for diversity in the U.S. aviation and aerospace workforce, and challenges faced in their journeys to succeed in this industry.

I am pleased to welcome Dr. Rebecca K. Lutte, Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Aviation Institute, to share her research findings on representation in aviation and challenges to improving diversity in the sector.

One such challenge is the basic lack of exposure to aviation and aerospace careers for young people, especially from minority communities and women.

The federal government and industry must make a concerted to help promote these careers among these communities to better diversify the workforce.

I am pleased to welcome Captain Claudia Zapata-Cardone, Executive Director of Community Relations and Outreach for the Latino Pilots Association. Captain Zapata-Cardone, I look forward to hearing your story and recommendations to enhance the talent pipeline.

We are also joined by Mr. Joel Webley, Board Chair of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), an organization at the forefront of creating more pathways to these careers for historically underrepresented groups. Mr. Webley, I am interested in learning more about your experience in aviation and OBAP’s various outreach programs.

In their efforts to grow the aviation workforce, employers are also faced with the “skills gap”.

Employers have found there is a lack of skilled workers in positions requiring more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year college degree.

According to a 2018 industry report, this skills gap may leave an estimated 2.4 million manufacturing positions unfilled between now and 2028, resulting in a $2.5 trillion loss in the economy.

One way to address this gap is to help active duty servicemembers and veterans to transition into well-paying careers in the aviation industry.

Congress and this Subcommittee owe it to veterans to help them find pathways to the skills necessary for employment in aviation and aerospace.

I am pleased to welcome Mr. Kyle Kaiser, President of VIPER Transitions, about his organization’s critical work to help veterans enter this workforce and what Congress can do to support these efforts.

Underrepresented communities also face the challenge of bias when attempting to enter aviation careers.

A 2020 study by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University found “consumers and other pilots favored white males in all conditions, while females and minorities were viewed less favorably.”

The same study found such biases could deprive the aviation industry of the best job candidates.

Efforts undertaken by the aviation industry itself are critical to overcoming the challenges underrepresented groups face entering these jobs.

Which is why I am pleased to welcome Ms. Icema Gibbs, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for JetBlue Airways. Ms. Gibbs, I look forward to hearing more about JetBlue’s efforts to recruit more diverse talent, particularly in frontline operations and leadership roles.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included several provisions to improve the recruitment of young people and women to careers in the aviation industry.

The Youth Access to American Jobs in Aviation Task Force is responsible for providing recommendations and strategies to the FAA to encourage high school students to enroll in courses and secure apprenticeships that prepare them for an aviation career.

Last year, the DOT announced 20 appointees to this task force representing “a diverse range of backgrounds and expertise in aviation and education.”

The Women in Aviation Advisory Board is also tasked with exploring opportunities for education, training, mentorship, outreach and recruitment of women in the aviation industry. The DOT announced the appointment of 30 members to this advisory board in May of last year.

The law also established Aviation Workforce Development Grants to fund scholarships, apprenticeships and other outreach initiatives to expand educational opportunities for the next generation of aviation maintenance technicians, aircraft pilots, aerospace engineers and unmanned aircraft systems operators.

A question I have for today’s witnesses is: Are these initiatives enough? Or does Congress need to do more?

As the nation works toward full economic recovery, government and industry must work together to break down barriers and ensure careers in the aviation and aerospace industries are available and accessible to all Americans.

Doing so will not only boost continued economic growth, but also help to ensure the long-term health of the industries themselves.

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