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Eighty Years After Earhart: Congress Moves to Motivate and Facilitate Women In Aviation

January 18, 2018

The aviation industry is in dire need of a future workforce. This industry is already suffering from a shortage of qualified individuals to work in all sectors of aviation. For instance, the Forbes article here states that the gap between supply and demand for aviation mechanics is projected to be at 9 percent by 2027.

The Government Accountability Office report (linked here) of the future availability of pilots states:

Evidence suggests that the supply pipeline is changing as fewer students enter and complete collegiate pilot-training programs and fewer military pilots are available than in the past. Additional pressure on pilot availability will come from (1) the projected number of mandatory age-related pilot retirements at mainline airlines over the next decade and beyond, (2) the increasing demand for regional airlines to address attrition needs, and (3) the reported lower number of potentially qualified pilots in the applicant pool for filling regional airlines’ first-officer jobs. If the predictions for future demand are realized and shortages continue to develop, airlines may have to make considerable operational adjustments to compensate for having an insufficient number of pilots.

This has not been lost on Congress. A bill was recently introduced in the Senate entitled “Promoting Women in the Aviation Workforce Act.” The focus of this bill is on women in aviation. Women historically are significantly under-represented in the aviation industry. The bill reports that while “Women make up over 50 percent of the national workforce… Women represent only 2 percent of airline mechanics, 4 percent of flight engineers, 5 percent of repairmen, 26 percent of air traffic controllers, 18 percent of flight dispatchers, and 6 percent of pilots.” The bill also reports that only “Twelve percent of students enrolled in AABI-accredited programs are women.” The AABI is a college accreditation given to non-engineering aviation programs at the associate, baccalaureate and graduate levels throughout the world, to ensure programs and future students are meeting the needs of the industry.

The bill encourages the aviation industry to explore all opportunities to encourage and support female students and aviators to pursue careers in aviation. The bill would mandate that the FAA establish the Women in Aviation Advisory Board to promote organizations and programs that are providing education, training, mentorship, outreach, and recruitment of women into the industry. The board would be composed of representatives from all major sections of the industry and would be responsible for developing plans for the administration to remove barriers facing women attempting to get into aviation and to coordinate industry stakeholders who support women pursuing careers in aviation. Senator Tammy Duckworth from Illinois and Senator Susan Collins from Maine, who presented the bill to the Senate, stated that the purpose of the board was to hold the industry accountable for providing training and related program directed at women. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Information on the bill can be found here.

Similarly, a recent bill entitled Women in Aerospace Education Act passed the House on December 19, 2017, by a vote of 409 to 17. The bill was co-sponsored by Representatives Elizabeth Esty, Marcy Kaptur, Barbara Comstock, Lamar Smith, Jacky Rosen, Ed Perlmutter, and Bill Foster. This bill amended the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002 to “strengthen the aerospace workforce pipeline by the promotion of Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program and National Aeronautics and Space Administration internship and fellowship opportunities to women.”

The bill would require NASA to prioritize the recruitment of qualified candidates who are women or are historically underrepresented “in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and computer science for internships and fellowships at NASA with relevance to the aerospace sector and related fields.” The bill passed the House and has been received by the Senate and referred to the Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Information on the bill can be found here.

Given the shortage of qualified individuals to work in the aviation industry, it is heartening to see these developments.