Opening remarks, as prepared, of Subcommittee on Aviation Ranking Member Garret Graves (R-LA) from today’s hearing entitled, “Bridging the Gap: Improving Diversity and Inclusion in the U.S. Aviation Workforce”:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this hearing today, and I thank all the witnesses for joining us today.
Mr. Chairman, you can look at the statistics and it is crystal clear that we can make significant improvements in diversity. I believe the number of pilots that are women in the United States comprises about 7 percent and for flight engineers, it is even lower than that at 4.3 percent. We can make improvements in diversifying and better including communities of color in aviation professions, including flight mechanics, pilots, engineers, and others.
But Mr. Chairman, I think we need to take a step back and look at the huge shortages in our workforce across the United States. The aviation industry is certainly no exception to that. We have stepped in, like with the payroll support program, trying to ensure that we addressed issues when we saw extraordinary pandemic-related drops in commercial passenger travel. Obviously, it is impossible to maintain a workforce with those drops in numbers. I know when I flew to Washington, DC yesterday, DCA Reagan National Airport was probably the busiest I have seen since the pandemic. Recently in Atlanta, I was there and only two businesses in the entire concourse were open due to workforce shortages.
I think some of the statistics are clear that states that stepped in early and cut off the supplemental unemployment assistance have seen an increase in employment. We have to work to make sure that all industries have a workforce pipeline, especially the aviation industry. There is no doubt, with the surge back in travel, that there have been some extraordinary challenges in meeting the passenger demands.
In the aviation industry, there were workforce shortages before COVID-19, due to increasing retirements, fewer folks joining the workforce, and air travel demand growing. Whether aerospace, unmanned aircraft systems, or other technologies, there remains a surge in demand for aviation and aerospace workforce.
In the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, as the Chairman noted, we did create grant programs and task forces to improve employment levels and workforce diversity. I am very proud that my home state and our district in Louisiana – right on the campus of the Baton Rouge Airport – are opening the Helix Aviation Academy, which is going to start its first 6th grade class this year, which will then go on to the 7th and 8th grade as well. We are trying to play our role at home in trying to meet the future demands of the workforce.
Mr. Chairman, I think it is important that we inform people about the opportunities that are there. There have been studies showing there are misconceptions about the future of careers and opportunities there. We have to do a better job of informing the public through some of the programs we created with the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act and the workforce training programs, to ensure the public and students understand the huge opportunities out there.
It is important because the United States expects to remain the global leader in aerospace and aviation, and if we have workforce shortages, we are not going to be able to maintain that edge and have the professionals and expertise we have had in the past.
We also need to develop a workforce for new and emerging careers, including drone pilots, cybersecurity professionals, and commercial space transportation engineers.
We need to partner with labor, industry, and academia to address these issues which will be critical to ensuring that we maintain our leadership.
Mr. Chairman, I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today.
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