U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema spoke to aviation stakeholders at Goodyear’s United Aviate Academy Friday where leaders sought solutions on how to bolster the aviation workforce and create more diversity within the field.
Friday’s hearing was initiated by Sinema to help find out the needs of the local aviation industry at Phoenix Goodyear Airport.
The senator, who is chair of the Senate Aviation Subcommittee, will examine aviation workforce development issues as well as opportunities to diversify the U.S. aviation workforce as the aviation industry recovers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group included Dana Donati, CEO of Aviate, a flight school of United Airlines; Anette Karlsson, chancellor of the Embry-Riddle Campus in Prescott; Greg Wilson, dean of Pima Community College; Jonathan Ornstein, CEO of Mesa Air Group; and Paul Ryder, national resource coordinator of Air Line Pilots Association International.
The hearing record will remain open until June 10. Other senators who are part of the aviation subcommittee will have four additional weeks to make comments on the record.
“The aviation workforce shortage is real,” Karlsson told the panel. “It has been projected that we will need about 130,000 new pilots, 132,000 new technicians by 2040 in North America alone. This represents a growing problem (because) aviation is a major driver of our economy.”
Attracting women to the aviation industry is critical to sustainability and profitability, Karlsson said.
About 2.6% of aviation maintenance technicians and 4.6% of airline transport pilots in the U.S. are women, she said.
“These statistics have not changed much in the last few decades,” Karlsson said.
Attracting building a strong pipeline of students will help garner more interest in aviation careers, Wilson said.
Karlsson suggested having grade-school teachers visit Embry-Riddle during summer could help get students excited. Panel members said students as young as fifth grade often make some career choice decisions.
Attracting new workers to the industry will help slow the velocity of attrition, Wilson said.
The aviation industry is expected to receive benefits of last year’s federal infrastructure bill.
Sinema, a Democrat, said part of the infrastructure bill was designed to enhance formula funding doled out as part of the annual budget, which is allocated to different states and different regions based on factors such as population, she said.
She said that money “is already flowing” to airports.
There is a second part of funding as part of the infrastructure bill —competitive grant funding, she said.
“The competitive grant funding — we have to develop, when I say we I mean administration, not (U.S.) Congress, they have develop kind of the rules of the road for those competitive grant programs,” Sinema said. “That development is happening right now. What I’m doing and our office in D.C. is doing is really pushing hard on the (U.S.) Department of Transportation and on Secretary (Pete) Buttigieg, in particular, to ensure they are moving quickly with the development of those competitive grant guidelines.”
“I’ve known Secretary Pete for a long time,” Sinema said. “He gave me his cell phone number — probably a mistake. Because I contact him pretty much weekly to talk to him about specific issues I want to get pushed faster. The development of those grant guidelines is one of those areas I’m working to get done faster. So some of the money is already flowing and some of the money will be coming once those guidelines are drafted.”
Last month, Sinema toured the Digital Building Components plant with labor leaders from groups such as the Arizona Carpenters, the International Union of Operating Engineers and DPR Construction.
Digital Building Components and SurePods, at 624 N. 44th Ave. in Phoenix, makes pre-fabricated exterior wall panels and bathroom pods that are installed in student housing, health care facilities and hotels.
The pods are essentially complete bathrooms that can be lifted into place rather than being installed by workers on mid- and high-rise buildings.
Sinema attended a private roundtable with the Arizona labor leaders to tout the benefits of last year’s infrastructure bill and to hear concerns over issues such as supply chain obstacles.
On Friday, Sinema said the federal government needs to move faster to help America be competitive on a globe scale.
“That’s what we need in order to remain globally competitive,” Sinema said.
“...I’ve been frustrated because sometimes the (Federal Aviation Administration) takes along time to deploy funds even after we appropriated them and created programs. I’m going to continue pushing that.”
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