Ensuring Safe Skies, Access to Essential Air Service, and a Robust Pilot Pipeline

By ALPA Staff

Some special-interest groups say that the only way to ensure that the United States has a robust supply of airline pilots is to cut corners and reduce the nation’s commitment to the highest safety standards in the world. This is a false choice invented by some airline managements to boost their bottom lines and avoid recognizing the contributions pilots make to the safe—and successful—operations of their companies.

Current airline staffing challenges and operational problems are the result of mismanagement and poor planning, not pilot availability. Instead of coming to the table to address the real issues and invest in a workforce that sustains future growth in a postpandemic economy, too many airlines just want to take the easy way out and lower training standards or arbitrarily change long-established aviation safety laws.

Today, as Congress continues its work toward a comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill, it’s critical that lawmakers not listen to the monied special interests and instead consider meaningful measures that will ensure the nation’s continued leadership in global aviation—and maintain its aviation safety gold standard.

Current data continues to make clear that the existing supply of highly trained airline pilots remains strong. So instead of introducing risk under the guise of producing pilots more quickly, ALPA continues to urge policy makers and industry stakeholders to focus on breaking down barriers, opening up opportunities to ensure a robust and qualified pipeline of aviators for years to come, and providing substantial air service support for those living in rural and underserved communities without lowering the bar on safety.

The following are ALPA-supported efforts (some within the current FAA reauthorization bill) that would meaningfully ensure a robust pilot pipeline, boost air service for small and rural communities, and maintain the safest skies in the world:

Yes, This Helps

  • Promote aviation careers at historically Black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions. FAA Reauthorization H.R. 3935, Section 868 encourages FAA partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions to promote aviation careers and to develop curricula related to aerospace, aviation, and air traffic control.
  • Expand Aviation Workforce Development grants (FAA Reauthorization H.R. 3935, Section 301). Workforce development grants support the education and recruitment of aviation workers, including future aviators.
  • Promote women in aviation careers by establishing a permanent Bessie Coleman Women in Aviation Advisory Committee (FAA Reauthorization H.R. 3935, Section 307). The Women in Aviation Advisory Committee will study, monitor, and advance opportunities for aviation careers for women.
  • Implement Youth Access to American Jobs in Aviation (FAA Reauthorization H.R. 3935, Section 869). The 2018 FAA reauthorization law established a task force to recommend actions to promote aviation careers and career pathways for young people. This year’s FAA reauthorization legislation follows up to ensure action on those recommendations.
  • Adopt the Flight Education Access Act (S. 1292/H.R. 2874) to provide federal financial aid for flight training. ALPA has long promoted changes to federal student loan programs to allow accredited flight training programs to be eligible for federal aid. The Flight Education Access Act expands financial aid options to students’ flight training.
  • Adopt the Aviation Workforce Development Act (S. 1561/H.R. 1818) to allow 529 plans to be used for flight training. The Aviation Workforce Development Act expands education savings plans to be used to cover the costs associated with flight training.
  • Adopt the Aviation Minority Workforce Development Act (S. 1163) and AIRWAYS Act (S. 1935) to establish Department of Transportation programs to increase racial and gender representation in aviation careers. These bills advance programs to promote aviation careers, including airline pilot, to those currently underrepresented in aviation fields.
  • Adopt the American Aviator Act (S. 748/H.R. 3128) to provide veterans with pilot training opportunities. The American Aviator Act establishes a grant program to provide assistance to eligible entities that provide pilot training activities and related education to support a pathway for veterans to become commercial aviators.
  • Prioritize, reform, and fund essential air service for small communities. Congress should make air service to small communities a national priority by providing adequate funding to the Essential Air Service program and ensuring that the program provides appropriate financial incentives for air carrier participation.

No, This Does Not

  • Raising the pilot retirement age (FAA Reauthorization H.R. 3935, Section 330).
  • Changing pilot training and qualification requirements.

This article was originally published in the September 2023 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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