Cantwell, Bipartisan Colleagues Push to Implement Aviation Workforce Training Programs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, joined 27 of her Senate colleagues in a bipartisan letter urging the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fully implement two aviation workforce grant programs that would invest in and expand the next generation of aircraft maintenance technicians and aircraft pilots. One of the programs was authored and originally introduced by Senator Cantwell to address the aviation maintenance industry skills gap by encouraging and facilitating collaboration between schools, government, labor and industry to recruit and train technical talent.

A number of schools across Washington state offer aviation maintenance programs, including Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, Edmonds College, Everett Community College, Renton Technical College, South Seattle College, and Spokane Community College.

“Given the broad, bipartisan support for the grant programs on Capitol Hill, and among schools, industry, and labor, we are disappointed that they are not yet operating. Understanding that establishing a workforce grant program is new to the Federal Aviation Administration, we urge you to initiate them before the end of the current fiscal year,” the senators wrote. “Due in particular to the increased pace of aviation sector retirements in recent months, when industry business conditions return to pre-pandemic levels, the need for pilots and technicians will be more acute than before.”

Senator Cantwell is a key supporter of the aviation sector in Washington state, which employs more than 136,000 people throughout the supply chain, and she has been a leader in developing programs to help train the next generation of aviation workers. In addition to introducing the original bipartisan aviation maintenance workforce legislation included in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Bill, Cantwell also introduced a bipartisan bill in May of 2018 to improve training programs and modernize the mandated curriculum at aviation maintenance technician schools. Senator Cantwell has pushed for appropriations funding for the two grant programs established in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Bill every year since the programs were first created.

Senator Cantwell was joined on the letter to DOT and FAA by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), John Boozman (R-AR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH),  Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Chris Coons (D-DE), John Hoeven (R-ND), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Angus King (I-ME), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ed Markey (D-MA), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), John Thune (R-SD), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The full text of the letter can be found HERE and below.

Dear Secretary Chao and Administrator Dickson:

Section 625 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-254) authorized two aviation workforce grant programs to facilitate the development of the next generation of aircraft pilots and maintenance technicians.  Congress fully funded the programs for fiscal year (FY) 2020 in the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-94). 

Given the broad, bipartisan support for the grant programs on Capitol Hill, and among schools, industry, and labor, we are disappointed that they are not yet operating. Understanding that establishing a workforce grant program is new to the Federal Aviation Administration, we urge you to initiate them before the end of the current fiscal year.

The grant program for pilot education will support the creation and delivery of curriculum designed to provide high school students with meaningful science, technology, engineering, math and aviation education.  This program has the potential to grow our nation’s pilot workforce by encouraging our nation’s youth to become the next generation of commercial, general aviation, drone or military pilots. 

The grant program for aviation technicians will address the well-documented maintenance industry skills gap by encouraging and facilitating collaboration between schools, government, labor and industry to recruit and train the technical talent America’s aerospace sector will require to keep the nation’s aircraft operating safely and efficiently.

The ongoing pandemic-related economic disruptions only heighten the urgency and need for these programs.  Due in particular to the increased pace of aviation sector retirements in recent months, when industry business conditions return to pre-pandemic levels, the need for pilots and technicians will be more acute than before.  By awarding grants now to encourage innovation in training and recruitment, the federal government can have a positive and lasting impact on the aviation workforce, as intended by Congress.

These important programs have been authorized for almost two years, and there is significant interest by stakeholders to establish them.  With the end of fiscal year fast approaching, we strongly encourage you to get both grant programs up and running in the coming weeks.

Sincerely,