The Aerospace Shortage – The Path to Success
As mentioned in previous blog postings, there is an aerospace shortage of qualified personnel, encompassing pilots, flight attendants, technicians, and those responsible for the dispatch, maintenance, and care of aerospace vehicles. Shortages ranging from the talent needed at SpaceX as well as the local fixed based operators flying Cessnas. This shortage, predicted by both Airbus and Boeing and validated by our lawmakers, is something that we need to address now as our window to make a difference is closing.
Overall, I’m a bit frustrated because we seem to be on this never-ending treadmill to address the key issues mentioned in my earlier writings on this topic. Seemingly piecemeal efforts by leaders in the industry to address this problem rather than a holistic multi-pronged approach, have caused unnecessary delay meaning if we start now, the soonest we will see progress is about five years from now. This shortage is a bit ironic because it’s one of the few topics our politicians can agree to, yet not resolve.
The previous posting discussed the Perfect Opportunity, it focused on three prongs: 1) aerospace education beginning the eighth grade, 2) high school internships and 3) filling some key gaps with our honorably discharged veterans. This post will discuss the overall path to success in filling the demand for our future aerospace professionals using personnel ‘already in place.’ Truthfully, neither of these approaches taken alone will “fix” the issue. To be honest, I don’t have a short-term answer because this problem has been festering for decades. What I do know is if we don’t start to address the issue, we will never fix it.
The last blog recommended three prongs that, once the momentum begins, will make a difference beginning in about five years. This blog will highlight five prongs; four through eight and is geared toward what we can do now. The solution to our shortage, the ultimate long-term solution needs to be the continued application of both. My proposal is a long-term marriage, not a surge of effort. Without the prongs in the previous writing, combined with OEM, government, local school board and parental support, we will continue to look like the Chevy Chase in the movie European Vacation where he drives in circles for hours around the roundabout in London. It’s time we put our blinker on and took the correct exit of education and cooperation so we can safely depart our aerospace traffic circle.
Prong 4. Increase Pay and Benefits.
- To keep our great aerospace community flying, we need to improve pay and benefits of all involved. Some airlines are beginning to improve pilot pay and benefits, but we also need to address the pay and benefits of flight attendants, technicians to include those who are not in the limelight, like ticket agents, operations personnel, and airline weather Yes, I know, paying the technicians, the ticket agents and the flight attendants more money will ultimately cause your ticket prices to go up, agreed. Even as I write this blog, I still pay more for airport parking than I do for a one way ticket to Dallas from Denver. I just checked the website for a one-way ticket from Denver to Newark two weeks from now, $66 with one stop or $144 nonstop; and we are debating paying technicians and flight attendants more money? Think about something else, “what makes you choose one airline over another?“ Price, convenience, reputation, service, etc,. Truth is, pilots are absolutely the key to our safety, but safety does not reside with one entity, it’s a team effort. So, lets treat everyone on that team with a bit more respect and pay them what they deserve. When making my choice of what airline to fly, price is a factor, but so is service. If the ticket agents and flight attendants are kind and respectful, I’ll bust my butt to fly that airline every time.
- Now, let’s change gears to address the problem with pay in the government sector. Do you ever wonder why we have problems getting qualified personnel working in the government? Have you seen the charts showing the gap between the junior government workers coming in and the top-heavy sector in the government who can retire? Why don’t we have a solid middle, a bench so to speak? Currently, 14% of all government workers are eligible to retire, and in five years that number will be over 30%. The FAA with 144,000 personnel pays an average salary of $129,000. The FAA administrator’s pay is $237,000, an administrator who has a $20B budget. So, I ask you, how in the world are we going to attract an administrator or even fix the shortage of air traffic controllers unless we pay more. Challenge me. Find any corporation anywhere with a $20B revenue stream that pays their CEO, CFO, COO, or any of their VPs less than $400,000 a year. I know, they are servants, they are supposed to not be focused on pay. I get it, I served 26 years in the army, trust me, I wasn’t focused on pay. But if we want to get qualified leaders to fix our issues, recalling the earlier discussion on prongs, we need to select people who may not have an extra $10M in the bank. We may need to adjust the salary so a qualified, previously vetted leader in industry can come in and comfortably take the helm.
Prong 5. Ease the requirements for loans. The average person who wants to learn to fly, without a military background, without aviation knowledge, will spend about $300,000 to be qualified to ‘apply’ for the right seat on a commercial airliner. Technician training is not much less. Not everybody has that money, at least those whom I associate with. Not to mention, that same person likely spent $200,000 to get a college education already and could be in debt. So, government-focused loans with low interest rate to pay back flight training is another prong that could be improvised. Think about it, do we really want a society of pilots who have $500,000 in debt after living in their parent’s basement eating tuna fish sandwiches while flying commuters, only to now get a job as a copilot of a jet making $200,000 per year and wonder why they can’t survive? The fact is, many of the pilots who are now making an honest wage began their career making $15.00/hr in the right seat of a trainer doing 100 take off and landings in the heat of Texas, Florida, and Arizona for years just to build time. We need to find a better way to help those who want to help our industry.
Prong 6. Increase the pilot’s retirement age from 65 to 67. Yes, I know there are disagreeing parties: many unions, some doctors, ICAO and probably some airlines. My intent is not to get in the middle but to find middle ground. My recommendation is to allow pilots to fly to 67 if the following conditions were met:
- Undergo a quarterly Class 1 aviation physical to include any additional medical checks the FAA physician may include.
- Require at least one of the pilots in the cockpit to be under 60 if the other pilot is over 65. (Freight carriers and private charters would be exempt.)
- Allow freight carriers and private charters to continue to have pilots fly up until they are 70.
I know this proposal will cause a lot of heartburn, but let’s not forget that the age was recently raised from 60 to 65, and we are doing okay. (Keep in mind the House of Representatives recently passed a bill for raising the pilot age to 67, the bill is now headed to the Senate). Another factor is our lifestyle. My dad, a WWII veteran, started smoking at 17, smoked four packs of Camel unfiltered cigarettes per day, and never worked out. My mom smoked two packs, and she never exercised. I thought they were old when they turned 50. Now we have Roy Jones Jr. professionally boxing at 50. So, given the lifestyle of most Americans, I know ”I don’t feel my age,” and truthfully, I’m not sure what that term means anymore. The fact is we are all living a much healthier lifestyle, and I know in the end we will live longer. Just working the numbers, two more years of flying with the pilot community that is now 65, means we could put a big dent into our shortage.
Prong 7. Let’s go back to go forward by giving our veterans a break! In previous blogs I covered the veterans’ aspect of allowing honorably discharged veterans the opportunity for flight training as was done in the ’70s and ’80s. We should expand this to include maintenance and flight attendant training. I would propose that if 90% of the flight training is paid for by the VA then all the maintenance and flight attendant training for honorably discharged veterans be paid for.
Prong 8. Federally invest in schools with states leading. I recently spoke to a wonderful lady who taught in the Oklahoma school district for 30 years. She held positions from teacher to administrator. She recently retired from the school district and now works for the state of Oklahoma in the education department getting approved curriculum for schools to teach aerospace at no additional cost to the school. She is my hero of the year! Someone who is passionate, loves her job, and even in what could be termed “her retirement years” continues to give back. Just think about how much better our nation would be with more people just like her. Now ask how we can institutionalize her work to expand throughout our country. Yes, we can hire people like her for every county in every state and maybe we should. But the government’s role is not to tell states what to do, it’s to bring states together in what they already do to unite and strengthen our collective capabilities as a nation. My thoughts follow:
- Let the states know our national shortfall and needs in the aerospace realm.
- Ask the states their thoughts and recommendations on what they can do to provide areas they can support our shortage. For example, Oklahoma has tremendous aerospace technician training. North Dakota, Arizona, Florida, and California have wonderful flight training schools.
- Ask the states what areas, with an infusion of government funding, could they better help the shortage.
- States don’t have extra money for aerospace training.
- The curriculum required by many states to graduate from high school is so packed that many students don’t have room or time for anything else. Not to mention, teachers are already working their butts off making little pay. So, if we expect our teachers to teach the already approved curriculum, we will need to pay them more!
As you can probably tell after reading the four blogs, my focus on aerospace training to alleviate our many shortages by implementing ‘prongs” is more than just aerospace; it’s about helping our youth have opportunity. We are addressing the ongoing chaos in this industry while instituting a plan to remedy the shortages, led by the states. There are over 300 communities in America that are no longer served by regional airlines. Mathematically, those same two pilots flying from Denver, CO to Dodge City, KS can be used to fly from Denver, Colorado to London, England; guess which flight generates more revenue? When the big airlines have shortages, they get their needed applicants from the regional airlines, causing the regional airlines to stop a needed service to many rural locations. And you know what, even if 90% of the population who we helped in the aerospace world by supporting their schools with curriculum, decided to get out of the aerospace world and become a doctor, lawyer, plumber, electrician, who cares? They will each have a much better K–12 education, college and or technical education, and become law-abiding, taxpaying, good citizens, raising great families, giving their kids the opportunity to make this country and this world a better place.
Some of you may believe that my prongs are nothing but far-fetched ideas. I’m sure I’ll hear the, “we’ve tried it that way before” song. I got it. But understand this, in all my recommendations, my common denominator is investment. Investment by paying those in the position more, investment in our veterans, investment in our schools, investment all metered by the leadership of our fifty states, and you want to argue about that? The truth is the devils in the details. Getting airline board members, union leaders, teachers, OEM’s, contractors, and the government in the same room to talk is harder than getting two recently divorced parents to say something positive about one another. But we must do just that. We need to find ways to find common ground to work together to fix it.
So, let’s work together to leave the Band-Aids in the metal Band-Aid box and institute a multi-pronged approach to get at the real problem.
I look forward to your thoughts and comments.