April 19, 2023

Ranking Members Larsen, Cohen Statements from FAA Reauthorization Hearing on Aviation Workforce

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Aviation Steve Cohen (D-TN), during today’s hearing titled, “FAA Reauthorization: Examining the Current and Future Challenges Facing the Aerospace Workforce.”

Video of Larsen’s and Cohen’s opening statements can be found here and here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.


Ranking Member Larsen:

Thank you, Chairman Graves, for calling today’s FAA reauthorization hearing to explore the challenges facing the U.S. aerospace and aviation workforce.

American innovation, economic growth and global leadership are impossible without the hard-working Americans that make up our nation’s aerospace workforce.

These dedicated and talented individuals keep our skies safe and efficient; design, build, repair and operate our most modern aircraft; and help ensure the traveling public arrives at their final destinations without incident.

The last few years have exacerbated ongoing challenges facing the industry and workforce. Congress has a responsibility to address these challenges to ensure we retain a robust U.S. aerospace and aviation workforce now and in the future.

Recent projections show that air travel is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels in North America by the end of the year.

While this growth is welcomed, the industry has struggled to keep pace with this robust recovery that—thanks to decisive Congressional action to sustain the industry during the pandemic—occurred much faster than anticipated.

Often at the forefront of this discussion is the availability and recruitment of U.S. commercial airline pilots.

While there continues to be debate about whether the current or future supply of pilots is enough to adequately meet demand, here are the facts:

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has reportedly issued on average more than 6,200 new Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) and restricted (R-ATP) certificates every year since 2014;

From 2017 to 2022 alone, the number of new ATP certificates issued annually more than doubled, from an estimated 4,500 to 9,600 certificates; and

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the overall employment of airline and commercial pilots to grow 6% from 2021 to 2031.

Meanwhile, the U.S. maintains its role as the global leader in aviation safety, in part due to the key safety rule requiring 1,500 hours of total flight time for pilots hired by U.S. airlines; commonly referred to as the “1,500-hour rule.”

As many of us know, this standard was enacted following the tragic Colgan Air flight 3407 crash near Buffalo, NY in 2009?and I would like to recognize the families who lost loved ones for their unwavering advocacy; some of whom are here in person today.

Since the establishment of the 1,500-hour rule, the U.S. commercial airline industry has experienced one of the safest decades on record.

While the advancement of aviation technologies, such as full-scale flight simulators and other computer-based equipment, are helpful tools in developing a more skilled and safer pilot workforce, there is no substitute for real-world flying experience on a flight deck.

Preserving the current safety requirements on pilot training are critical to maintaining the U.S. gold standard in aviation safety.

Further, Congress, the FAA and stakeholders must expand the pipeline of talent and improve efforts to recruit, train and retain a robust U.S. aerospace workforce from every part of our society.

To address this priority, the 2018 FAA reauthorization law invested $10 million annually in the Sec. 625 aviation workforce development grants to support the training and recruitment of new aircraft mechanics and pilots.

For example, in Everett, Washington, Aviation Technical Services earned a $459,000 grant to support their apprenticeship and training programs, which focus on introductory and displaced workers, as well as veterans transitioning to civilian life.

This grant program is widely supported by stakeholders across the aerospace sector. Unfortunately, despite receiving hundreds of applications, the FAA could only award 53 grants in the last two funding rounds.

Increasing the overall funding level for the program would help alleviate this bottleneck. Furthermore, expanding the grant eligibility to include aviation manufacturing would help cultivate the skills necessary—particularly in innovative technologies—for the U.S. aerospace workforce to compete globally.

As our nation works toward long-term economic recovery, it is critical that the educational and career opportunities in the aerospace industry be available and accessible to all Americans.

According to the latest Census data, women represent more than half of the U.S. population—50.8%. Yet only 3.6% of airline captains and 2.6% of aircraft mechanics are women.

Furthermore, more than 13% of the U.S. population is African American. However only 3.4% of commercial pilots are African American.

The U.S. aerospace industry is taking the initial steps to enhance and diversify its workforce, through the creation of flight training academies, apprenticeships and other career pathway programs. But more can be done.

Congress must expand the pipeline of people entering aerospace careers by increasing outreach to, and opportunities for, communities underrepresented in the industry. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s probably the most economically competitive thing we can do to maintain the long-term health of the industry.

The 2018 FAA reauthorization law created two expert panels−the Youth Access to American Jobs in Aviation Task Force and the Women in Aviation Advisory Board−to help address this issue and their final reports were completed late last year. The Committee is assessing their recommendations for inclusion in the upcoming reauthorization bill.

The current and future challenges facing the U.S. aerospace workforce are significant, but I believe we can meet them.

I look forward to hearing recommendations from today’s witnesses on how we can enhance the talent pipeline for the aerospace workforce and ensure U.S. leadership in this growing sector.


Ranking Member Cohen:

Thank you. I look forward to hearing from our esteemed witnesses today as we seek to learn more about how we can develop and diversify the U.S. aviation workforce.

The aviation industry is approaching a critical juncture with respect to its talent development, especially the recruitment, training, and retention of individuals in its workforce.

A significant post-pandemic increase in demand for air travel and an aging workforce, are just two elements that have exacerbated the need for the FAA, Congress, and industry leadership to be vigilant in workforce development efforts.

The reality is that without a robust workforce, planes cannot fly and people cannot travel safely.

For instance, partly due to recent staffing issues, the traveling public has had to deal with notable disruptions in air transportation over the past 24 months, with increases in commercial airline delays and cancellations, leaving millions stranded at airports.

Last year, 20% of flights arrived behind schedule, resulting in 1.3 million delayed flights. Furthermore, there were roughly 181,000 cancelled flights in 2022, exceeding 2021 cancellations.

These statistics suggest that Congress must move with urgency to intentionally develop the workforce and ensure U.S. air travel can continue to meet the demands of the flying public.

And to ensure our safety remains the gold standard, we must shift the focus to cultivating new pipelines for upcoming aviation professionals to flow through.

One obvious solution resides within collegiate aviation programs, which help students transition from “college to career” on the flight deck, in airports, and in repair shops.

In 2022, the Tennessee Board of Regents approved a new program at Southwest Tennessee Community College in my district.

The program, which aims to help students enter the aviation industry, is the first two-year program of its kind in Tennessee, and is poised to help diversify the aviation workforce.

There has also been some progress made with the FAA’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Initiative Program and several commercial operators, such as Delta Air Lines, have pathway programs aimed at diversifying the workforce.

Another great example in my district can be seen at FedEx through their collaboration with HBCUs to help break down entry barriers for Black students. They have created and funded three programs since 2021, which aim to empower and educate HBCU students while also connecting them to internships and mentorships within the FedEx network.

While these programs are helping to make progress, minority demographics are still severely underrepresented in commercial aviation.

For instance, Black Americans constitute only 3.4% of professional pilots, 5.6% of Airport Management positions, and 9.5% of air traffic controllers, whereas women comprise only 20% of the aviation workforce.

To rectify this issue, strengthen the workforce, and protect the industry’s longevity, the concepts of diversity, equity, access, and inclusion must be at the forefront of all workforce endeavors.

I applaud the FAA, Congress, and aviation stakeholders for their efforts thus far in helping move the needle in the right direction to develop the U.S. aerospace workforce.

However, as we will hear from our witnesses present today, there is still more work to be done to ensure our workforce continues to grow. 

I look forward to learning more about how our Subcommittee can support this multifaceted development so equity and inclusion can become concepts embedded within all of aviation, making recruitment and retention challenges an issue of the past.

Thank you.