Lawmakers Explore Aviation Workforce Diversity

The House Aviation Subcommittee held a hearing July 20 to discuss enhancing diversity in the aviation workforce.

The witnesses were (click a name to download their written testimony):

  • Rebecca Lutte, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha Aviation Institute
  • Claudia Zapata-Cardone, executive director of community relations and outreach for the Latino Pilots Association
  • Icema Gibbs, vice president of corporate social responsibility and diversity, equity and inclusion at JetBlue Airways
  • Joel Webley, chairman of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals
  • Kyle Kaiser, president of VIPER Transitions (and 2021 ARSA Annual Conference speaker)

According to Lutte, women make up less than 20 percent of the workforce in most aviation occupations. In the two types of jobs where the worker shortage is most acute – maintenance technicians and airline pilots – they represent just 2.5 percent and 4.6 percent of the workforce, statistics that have changed very little over the past 15 years. 

Lutte suggested that improving the quality of data about women and other underrepresented groups in aviation would help. “What gets measured gets done,” Lutte said. She also discussed barriers to women entering aviation jobs, including lack of outreach, low numbers of women in leadership positions, a lack of commitment to diversity and inclusion from the C-suite, costs of obtaining education, balancing family and professional responsibilities and workplace gender bias and sexual harassment. 

Gibbs discussed both gender and racial diversity in aerospace. While Black Americas make up 13.4 percent of the U.S. population, she said only 3.4 percent of all airline pilots are African American. The data she cited suggest the maintenance sector is doing a better job than other parts of the industry in recruiting minorities. According to Gibbs, 10.8 percent of technicians are Black and 23 percent are Hispanic or Latinx.

Addressing the diversity gap requires a two-pronged strategy, Gibbs said: increasing representation and building awareness of aviation careers. She discussed JetBlue’s diversity strategy, which includes improving diversity in leadership positions by helping frontline crewmembers transition from operational to corporate services roles and to help internal crewmembers interested in transition to maintenance careers.

Webley’s testimony described OBAP’s efforts to expose young people to aerospace careers as early as possible through school visits and student mentoring, with a particular emphasis on career tracks to help illustrate pathways to success. OBAP’s Aerospace Career Education (ACE) Academy provides middle and high school youth with exposure to opportunities in aerospace through week-long summer academies.

Kaiser told the subcommittee that improving veteran career transition would address multiple societal problems at once.  In addition to increasing the available talent pool for the aerospace sector, helping veterans find civilian jobs improves their perceptions of self-worth, which in turn reduces the risk that they will engage in harmful behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse or suicide (according to Kaiser, 16 to 22 veterans die by their own hand each day).

Witness testimony and video of the hearing, which includes statement by and questions from members of the subcommittee is available here.

As ARSA continues to address the maintenance workforce crisis, the team is anxious to hear from members about initiatives they are pursuing to improve diversity in their companies. Let ARSA know what your organization is doing.

Recording of the hearing live stream…

2/11/20 - ARSA Urges Swift FAA Action on Workforce Priorities at House Hearing

February 11, 2020

In a statement submitted for the record for a Feb. 11 House Aviation Subcommittee hearing on aviation workforce issues, ARSA called on Congress to apply more pressure to the FAA to implement key parts of the 2018 FAA law.

“ARSA appreciates that the new law gave the FAA a sizeable ‘to-do’ list and that the agency is navigating an important and high-profile safety-related investigation,” ARSA Executive Vice President Christian A. Klein wrote in the statement. “However, given that neither the agency nor the industry can function effectively without well-trained and capable employees, we are frustrated by the FAA’s slowness in implementing key provisions of the law.”

ARSA’s statement highlighted several parts of the FAA law designed to address the shortage of maintenance technicians and other key aviation employees, including the new recruitment and training grant program, tasking the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee to examine ways to improve repairman certification, updating part 147 (the regulation governing technician training schools) and improving FAA’s training of its own employees.

ARSA commended the subcommittee for making workforce a priority in the recent FAA law and for maintaining its focus in this area. “If properly implemented, the workforce mandates will do much to position the agency and industry for long-term success,” Klein said, adding that ARSA looks forward “to continuing to work with the subcommittee, the FAA and our industry partners to fulfill the law’s objectives.”

Testifying at the hearing were representatives from ARSA member companies Gulfstream and Delta Airlines, as well as the Aviation High School, Vaughn College for Aeronautics and Technology and Republic Airways. An initial round of speakers included Kate Lang, FAA senior advisor for aviation workforce outreach, and Heather Krause, GAO director of physical infrastructure issues.

During that first round of testimony, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) – who was a co-recipient of ARSA’s 2019 Legislative Leadership award for his efforts championing a maintenance workforce grant program – asked Lang about the FAA’s progress towards making those grants available. Noting that Congress has authorized and appropriated funds for the program, he asked if the agency would begin distributing money in this fiscal year.

“I can say categorically [the grant program] will be started this fiscal year,” Lang responded, noting the FAA is already in the process of performing the required administrative steps for standing up the program. “I will be a dog with a bone on any place where [the grant establishment process] is getting stuck.”

Overall, the hearing explored the general areas surrounding aviation workforce and career development that ARSA has been highlighting for years. The broad discussion included questions about increasing diversity, student engagement down to Kindergarten and the challenges of interindustry competition for technical skills. Considerable attention was given by committee members to the now long-overdue rewrite of rules in part 147 governing aviation maintenance technician schools.

ARSA’s full statement, which was distributed to all members of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, is available here.

More information about the hearing from the hearing, including a recording and testimony information, is here.

9/30/19 - Workforce Priorities Key to ARSA Hearing Statement

September 30, 2019

ARSA made workforce development the central theme in the association’s statement submitted in conjunction with a Sept. 26 House aviation subcommittee hearing on FAA reauthorization implementation.

ARSA said that, while it “considers several provisions in the FAA law related to certification and oversight to be significant, we have chosen to focus these comments on workforce issues because neither the agency nor the industry can function effectively without well-trained and capable employees.” 

ARSA’s statement highlighted the most important workforce-related provisions of the bill, including those creating the new grant programs, directing the FAA to examine ways to improve repairman certificates, updating part 147, improving and giving industry access to FAA training, and workforce-related GAO reports and stakeholder bodies.  

To read the full text of ARSA’s statement, which serves as a great summary of the association’s workforce priorities, click here.  

7/23/19 - Variations on the 'State of Aviation Safety'

July 23, 2019

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation held a hearing on July 17 to examine the “State of Aviation Safety.” The session provided a venue not only for family members impacted by the loss of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 but also a number of special interests seeking to advance a broad range of “safety” reforms.

The tear-jerking testimony given by Mr. Paul Njoroge – who lost his wife, three children and mother-in-law on Flight 302 – alleged significant safety flaws in the industry and provided an avenue for other organizations to interject a variety of other concerns unrelated to the incident.

Rep. Garret Graves mentioned the progress made in aviation safety by highlighting a 95 percent reduction in aviation accidents since 1997. The Congressman said the industry experiences only one death per 3 million flights but cautioned all to continue pursuing lessons learned to prevent future incidents.

During the hearing, specific concerns relevant to the Ethiopian incident involved aircraft software as it relates to design approval and the notice process for known errors. The processes of modifying existing type designs and the FAA’s design approval methods were scrutinized, challenging what would merit the need for an entirely new type certificate. With the investigation ongoing, it was clear Congress will continue to look closely at the FAA’s role in oversight of safety and certification and where failure occurred in the process.

Another issue raised was how the industry publishes errors later discovered in design. Testimony pointed to known errors in Boeing’s Maneuvering Characteristic Augmentation System (MCAS) software. This sparked calls to require manufacturers to publish newly discovered errors in manuals as soon as possible, which would do little to advance safety in the industry if the FAA continues to inconsistently enforce manual standards.

Piggybacking on the main focus of the hearing, various organizations testified on topics such as international pilot standards, flight attendant issues, seat size in relation to safety, toxic fume detection, integration of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and even risks with lithium batteries on aircraft. Members discussed the risk associated with the recent government shutdown, its impacts on the FAA and safety, and efforts to pass the Aviation Funding Stability Act of 2019 to prevent future interruption of FAA services.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) didn’t hesitate to seize the opportunity to bash FAA-certificated foreign repair stations. Though the hearing focused on safety concerns in manufacturer design and handling of errors, the TWU attempted to steer the conversation to maintenance, alleging potential safety risks involved with servicing U.S. registered aircraft at foreign repair stations. Complaints accused the FAA of applying inconsistent standards overseas, particularly related to announced inspections and non-required drug testing or background checks.

A reoccurring theme of the hearing was the impossibility of the FAA to provide the required amount oversight and safety inspections needed to ensure compliance across the industry. The Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS) mentioned the FAA relies on designees to perform 90% of safety oversight. While TWU criticized a lack of foreign oversight, PASS noted limitations of FAA review of domestic maintenance providers – a theme echoed by long-time foe of contract maintenance Reb. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

As hearings and the investigation continue, the ramifications of the Ethiopian crash will resonate throughout the industry. ARSA members and allies must continue to lead the world in aviation safety while preventing knee-jerk, reckless action that collaterally punishes all corners of the industry.

For additional information and an in-depth look into what transpired at the Hearing, click here.

ARSA continues to represent its members and advocate for sensible improvements in aviation regulation. To view an issue paper recently circulated by the association related to international regulatory issues, click here.

2/28/17 - House Aviation Subcommittee Talks Certification, Workforce in First Hearing

February 28, 2017

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation held its first hearing of the 115th Congress on Feb. 15, to discuss the “State of American Aviation Manufacturing.”  The hearing was the first in the ongoing series “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America,” focusing on FAA reauthorization and reform and the modernization of America’s aviation system.  

The witnesses included FAA Aviation Safety Office leadership as well as industry representatives from Pratt and Whitney, Boeing and Textron Aviation. Certification process reform dominated the hearing and testimony, with both the agency and industry strongly supporting the part 23 rewrite and expansion of the organizational designation authorization (ODA) process.

The subcommittee’s membership expressed a strong bipartisan desire to reform and streamline the certification process. Promoting aviation workforce development was also raised by several members, with witnesses voicing strong support for government-industry-educational institution partnerships, particularly those with community colleges aimed at expanding America’s skilled trade workforce.

Among other topics discussed were the extension of bilateral certification agreements and the ongoing implementation of the Next-Gen program.

“As the aviation industry expands its international reach, and introduces new technologies and innovations, it is critical that the FAA certification and regulatory process adapt and respond.” Subcommittee chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), said in a statement. “The FAA must leverage the expertise of the private sector and fully utilize all the authorities it has been granted.”

To see everything that happened during the hearing, click here.

Stay tuned to ARSA as the House continues to work on improving the American aviation system. For more information on T&I’s continuing series of hearings, visit

7/28/14 - Challenges Heard at Aviation Subcommittee

July 28, 2017

On July 23, the House Aviation Subcommittee held a hearing titled “Domestic Aviation Manufacturing: Challenges and Opportunities” to discuss the various governmental issues plaguing the aviation industry.

The subcommittee heard testimony from the following witnesses from the government and industry:

Panel I

Panel II

The hearing focused on various issues affecting the aviation community. The first panel spotlighted the current state of FAA reforms from the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Margaret “Peggy” Gilligan faced strong criticism on the FAA’s slow implementation of certification process initiatives. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) discovered that the FAA has only completed one initiative, leaving 10 on schedule, 2 predicted not to meet a planned milestone, and one at risk of getting off track. Dr. Gerald Dillingham of GAO further concluded that only 5 of the 14 initiatives have even been acted on. Dillingham indicated the process to shift the culture of the FAA to a risk-based approach is indeed underway, a claim questioned by some subcommittee members including Congressman Bill Shuster (R-PA).

Representative Dina Titus (D-NV) also questioned Gilligan, inquiring about the timeline for the hot-button unmanned aircraft regulations. Gilligan informed the panel that the executive review is ongoing and the final product should be published by the end of the year. Titus stressed to Gilligan and the panel that she hoped the regulations would be uniformly enforced across the country. Many Representatives had earlier pointed out regional irregularity is a problem facing aviation members and that local FAA practices are incongruous across the country.

In the second panel, Joe Brown of Hartzell Propeller, Inc. emphasized the role of the United States in global aviation and voiced his own frustrations with the inconsistencies of the Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program. Brown was not alone in voicing his displeasures in the state of the industry, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) President and CEO Pete Bunce criticized the lack of predictability and large backlog of work within Flight Safety as well as waste caused by inefficiencies of Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreements (BASAs) with partnering countries.

UAS integration and FAA certification processes were not the only challenges addressed, the subcommittee also discussed the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, educational training for the workforce, bonus depreciation, and R&D tax credits. To catch up on the details and to view the entirety of the hearing, click here.

7/21/14 - Aviation Committee to Hold Manufacturing Hearing

July 21, 2014

On July 23 at 10 am, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Aviation Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled, ‘Domestic Aviation Manufacturing: Challenges and Opportunities.’ It will be broadcast online here.

Witnesses representing government and industry will include:

Panel I

  • Ms. Peggy Gilligan, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, Federal Aviation Administration
  • Dr. Gerald Dillingham, Director of Civil Aviation Issues, Government Accountability Office

Panel II

  • Ms. Marion Blakey, President and CEO, Aerospace Industries Association
  • Mr. Pete Bunce, President and CEO, General Aviation Manufacturers Association
  • Mr. Joe Brown, President, Hartzell Propeller Inc.
  • Mr. Dave Cox, Lead Administrator, Air Washington Project

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