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ARSA-Supported Bill Takes Aim at Aviation Maintenance Skills Gap

Legislation introduced on March 7 by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators aims to address a major threat to the long-term health of the U.S. aviation maintenance sector: the persistent technician shortage.

The bill authored by Senators James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) would establish a new pilot program to train maintenance professionals, help veterans transition to civilian careers and recruit new technicians. Grants of up to $500,000 per year would be available to business or unions, schools and governmental entities that partner to pursue creative solutions to one of the aviation community’s most pressing strategic challenges.

“We’re extremely grateful that Senators Inhofe, Blumenthal, Cantwell and Moran have taken up this cause,” Christian A. Klein, ARSA executive vice president, said.

“If there’s one issue keeping ARSA’s members awake at night, it’s where to find the next generation of technical talent. This bill is an important step in the right direction. It will incentivize local cooperation to develop new aerospace professionals and help veterans and others transition to careers in this high-tech, growing industry,” Klein said.

The aviation maintenance industry employs more than 275,000 American workers, contributes $44 billion to the U.S. economy and helps ensure the safety of civil aircraft operating world-wide. The industry’s global footprint is expected to grow from around $77 billion to more than $114 billion over the next decade.

However, a shortage of technical workers could make it difficult for U.S. firms to capitalize on those opportunities. Oliver Wyman’s CAVOK Division, a leading aviation consulting firm, projects that demand for technicians will outstrip supply beginning in 2022. Data from ARSA suggests that the impact is already being felt: More than 80 percent of respondents to ARSA’s 2018 member survey report difficulty finding qualified technicians and more than two thirds of responding companies have unfilled positions. As a result, companies say it is taking longer to complete work for customers, that their companies are not adding new technical capabilities and in some cases are turning down new business.

“Our aviation industry needs skilled workers and the aviation maintenance industry provides high-paying, high-skilled jobs across the country,” Sen. Inhofe said. “Aviation is an economic multiplier, connecting local communities and cities in support of commercial activity and generating tourism revenue. We can’t afford to let these skilled jobs go unfilled. This bill will make it possible to close the skills gap by incentivizing businesses, labor groups, educational institutions and local governments to develop innovative ways to recruit and educate the next generation of America’s aviation workforce. I applaud the efforts of [ARSA] and their member companies like AAR and NORDAM for their continued advocacy for aviation maintenance issues before Congress.”

Given the scale of the threat to the industry, 17 leading aviation industry organizations, representing all segments of the aviation industry joined a letter coordinated by ARSA in support of the bill and delivered to the sponsoring senators on March 5.

“The U.S. aviation industry is a diamond in the crown of our economy. Working together, manufacturers, operators, maintainers, labor organizations, schools and workers have built an industry that provides unprecedented mobility for people and goods. Your legislation will help ensure our member organizations have the technical professionals they need to grow, compete globally, and, most importantly, continue to ensure the safety of civil aviation aircraft,” the organizations said.

ARSA is now working with its members and allied organizations to build support for the legislation and get it enacted this year, likely as part of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill.

In addition to ARSA, the following industry organizations signed on to the March 5 support letter:

Aerospace Industries Association
Aerospace Maintenance Council
Aircraft Electronics Association
Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
Airlines for America
Aviation Suppliers Association
Aviation Technician Education Council
Cargo Airline Association
General Aviation Manufacturers Association
Helicopter Association International
Modification and Replacement Parts Association
National Air Carrier Association
National Air Transportation Association
Professional Aviation Maintenance Association
Regional Airline Association

To review the bill, click here.

To see ARSA’s other updates related to technical workforce development, click here.

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