FAA Grant Program Steers Students Toward Aviation Careers

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As part of its career-development program, the FAA announced yesterday (March 5) it will dispense $13.5 million to 32 schools and colleges nationwide “to attract and train students for careers as pilots and aviation maintenance technicians.” A dozen of those institutions will share $4.5 million from the agency’s Aircraft Pilots Aviation Workforce Development Grant program, earmarked for creating and delivering curriculums that help prepare high school students to become pilots, aerospace engineers and drone pilots. The funds can also go toward teachers’ professional development.

With an estimated 20,000 fewer people employed in the aviation maintenance field since the COVID pandemic, the FAA’s Aviation Maintenance Technical Workers Workforce Development program will grant the remaining $9 million to 20 schools, colleges and businesses to promote reloading that industry segment. According to the FAA announcement, “Recipients can use the funding to establish new educational programs; provide scholarships or apprenticeships; conduct outreach about careers in the aviation maintenance industry; and support educational opportunities related to aviation maintenance in economically disadvantaged areas.”

The FAA offers locations and details on grant recipients on this page of its website.

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

18 COMMENTS

  1. “20,000 fewer people employed in the aviation maintenance field since the COVID pandemic”

    THAT explains a LOT! I’ve been an FBO for nearly 50 years–we can’t find a mechanic to work in the trade–and we are not alone–NOBODY within a 75 mile radius, with 10 FBOs wants to do annuals. We offer a shop rent-free–no utilities cost–use my tools for free–NO FIXED COSTS except for your product liability insurance. Some mechanics say “No Part 135 airplanes–some say “we work on our own airplanes, but not for the general public”–some simply say “If I ever do an annual again, it will be too soon!” Two have retired, and one is a year away. A husband and wife–both A&Ps and IA’s said “we haven’t taken on a new customer in 4 years–we would like to SELL!”

    I fear for the future of our industry.

    • A&P Gain or Loss from 2013 through 2022: A Downward Trend

      Jim, I crunched numbers and came up with the following. Based on published FAA records/statistics, they reveal a concerning decline in the number of mechanic (A&P) certifications issued in the United States from 2013 to 2022.
      Here’s a simplified breakdown:

      • Overall decline: Since 2018, the number of certifications issued has been steadily dropping, with an average decrease of nearly 9% over the entire decade.
      • Significant drops: The steepest decline occurred between 2017 and 2018, with a nearly 18% decrease in certifications issued. Even in 2022, there was a more than 5% decrease compared to the previous year.
      • Limited increase: The only year with an increase was 2015, with a small bump of just over 1%.

      While I did not look for the exact reasons behind the A&P decline, I am speculating on the obvious potential factors affecting the profession, such as:

      • Economic factors: Downturns or slowdowns in the aerospace industry economy could impact the demand for mechanics, leading to fewer certifications. Less aircraft, less A&Ps.
      • Shifting industry trends, Regulations, Liabilities: It’s possible that FAA regulations and liabilities could be discouraging some individuals from pursuing A&P certifications,
      • Cost of training: The cost of mechanic training programs could be a barrier for potential candidates, limiting the number entering the field.
      • Low pay: Compared to other skilled professions, the average A&P salary might not be as attractive, particularly when considering the demanding nature of the work and potential for liability.

      It is a complex issue with no easy answers, I feel your pain.

      • RAF … with MY end of flying looming nearby when the IA goes away … I’d like to come visit and have you teach me how to write aviation poetry. That’ll be all that’s left 🙁 (sic)

    • Jim … I’ve been bringing up the subject of lack of maintenance people up at the annual EAA membership meeting year after year. I bring it up with the Government Advocacy team, too. I summer just 35 miles away from Oshkosh yet there is just one IA around to do annuals in the rural environs. I have adjusted MY thinking on how long I’ll continue to fly as being dependent on how long he will work … and HE is 80 !! I’ve thus far resisted getting my IA because I’m retired and have all I can do to keep up with things beyond my own airplane; I don’t want to start a business. WORSE yet, I don’t want to turn friends away.

      With the potential for MOSAIC to maybe reinvigorate things, certificated airplanes are STILL going to have to have an IA do an annual vs an A&P doing a condition inspection. Had the FAA rewrite nearly a decade ago included the ‘new’ Primary category that EAA tried to recommend … that would have been possible. I have another idea that’d slightly alleviate the problem but no one wants to hear it. So … here we are … not enough mechanics and the FAA still fanatically requiring airplanes flown recreationally to be treated like a B-747 🙁 . The FAA should incorporate the tenets of the Primary category into MOSAIC but it isn’t there.

      Frankly, sir, we are hosed! Even new A&P’s would have to wait several years to become IA’s and even then, the airlines will likely snap ’em up.

      This problem is FAR worse than anyone realizes in some places. What the FAA is doing isn’t even a band aid approach. Oh well … I had a good run …

      • Yes, as a regional issue it’s becoming more and more apparent. One of the local airport guys was flying hundreds of miles for annuals on his classic because nobody local had the experience nor knowledge level that made the owner comfortable. The last time he flew it over for an annual he left it and told the shop to sell it for him because he had enough of the hassle.

      • Larry S–“I have another idea that’d slightly alleviate the problem but no one wants to hear it.”

        I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR YOUR IDEA that you mentioned for alleviating the shortage of aviation maintenance worker–Bring it ON, and let the Great Minds of the AvWeb website discuss it.

        As the old military adage goes, “Run it up the flagpole, and see who SALUTES! (smile)

  2. Mark Phelps: A better title for the article would have been;

    “Soaring into the Future: FAA Invests $13.5 Million to Bolster Aviation Workforce”

    This is more concise, informative, and engaging than the original title.

  3. I am always aware of how happy I am that I built my own airplane, at one-year intervals even more so. For the most part, certified A/C sales numbers are rising year over year. But who will work on them? Hopefully this incentive will succeed but I think more needs to be done. It’s never too late.

  4. With car mechanics making $ 75+ and commission on parts, why become an airplane mechanic. Owners are hounding you for not getting the plane fixed “yesterday”, your more experienced colleagues tell you what you are doing wrong, too often in a critical tone, and your boss will blame you for whatever went wrong even if you didn’t work on that plane. Moreover, working for an airline or big maintenance operation is less stressful and pays more, even if non-unionized.

  5. This lack of trade skill labor is not just an aviation problem as anyone knows who needs a plumber in an emergency knows, or as a small auto repair shop owner knows trying to find an SAE certified mechanic employee. The problem is a lack of a future trade skill labor pipeline. I’m sure all of us remember shop class in grade school. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s and in middle school was tearing down lawn mower engines for repair. Just about every boy was in shop class regardless of academics. By high school those who still liked shop class and thought a trade would be for their future went on to what we called VOTECH or Vocational Technical School which was half their day spent at a technical college.

    However, by the 1990s, things changed with the 1994 School-to-Work Opportunities Act which was intended to promote a program for kids who were not college material. We all know not everyone is college material and that’s just a fact. However, the public and many politicians pushed back on it as a form of classism (and yes, racism too). The NEA (teacher’s union) didn’t help by pushing against it as being too budget expensive and even dangerous to kids. The final dagger to shop class though was standardized testing and pushing kids to the STEM related careers (means college pushing no matter the discipline of study). And we wonder why there is so much student debt these days with unemployed/underemployed college grads with useless non-STEM related degrees.

    So we are here by no overnight thing. We are only here now seeing the results of an entire generation never having been exposed to any trade skill as a potential career. And that cycle is continuing.

  6. COVID was a short-term gut punch to the aviation mx field but the pool of mechanics and technicians has been dwindling for over a decade. I would bet that the majority of the repairmen and A&Ps that I work with now and have worked with in the past, have one thing in common in their backgrounds – military service. Many aviation pros were introduced to and became proficient based early adulthood military training. Given the record low numbers of eligible volunteers entering the DoD now, it has to be negatively impacting civilian aviation job numbers.

  7. Talked to an old Mercedes mechanic. They can’t get qualified people at dealerships either.

    The question is whether we will all go broke before or after the government and voters realize that the so called “Ivy League Plus Schools” never have, nor ever will produce the needed people to better manage the American economy because it cannot be done.

    In the meantime, creating FAA jobs to dole out funds to try to fix a problem created by the FAA in the first place is not exactly a brilliant move.

    What would be brilliant would be if a manufacturer of modern engines started recruiting and training techs to work in flight schools and shops that service exclusively their own engines. Back them up with a support framework to keep them happy and in the family, and you have a recipe for long term growth.

  8. RAF–as usual, you “cut right to the chase”–you cite statistics–not just opinions. THANK YOU for your work in digging them up!

    Can you cite the source, so I can look up the raw data?

    “The Old Eric W” (above) asked “What would be brilliant would be if a manufacturer of modern engine started recruiting and training techs…..”

    To add perspective to the problem (and opportunities!)–a comparatively small but outstanding aviation flight, mechanic, and avionics school here in the Midwest shared this with me:

    A major airline contacted them with a proposal, starting with “As you know, we hire a lot of your graduates–we’ve been very satisfied with their level of competency and their work ethic, and we would like to hire more. They are trained on jet engines, but we would like them up to speed right away on CURRENT jet engines–we would like to donate a modern jet engine to the school so they can be familiar with it. VERY GENEROUS–but it gets even BETTER!

    Though the FAA requires 18 months for either an airframe or powerplant rating (or 30 months for both), the school has a waiver for less calendar time. The airline asked the school “We would like the names of your top 10 in the first-year class.” (The school doesn’t normally give out the names–but the airline continued)–“We can’t HIRE them until they get their ratings, but here’s what we CAN do–their date of employment, seniority, and company benefits will start from this date–AND, we will pay the cost of their second year of schooling!”

    THAT is how hard it is to get good people–and may be an indicator of how competitive it is becoming to find qualified techs. It also addresses the cost of training employees.

  9. “Moreover, working for an airline or big maintenance operation is less stressful and pays more, even if non-unionized.”
    As a former airline mechanic, this statement seems more true today. Earlier in my career, it was the opposite!
    I teach at an A&P school (and love it), and I tell the “kids” often that they are in a great position because they can basically write their own ticket for their careers!

  10. J.R. is correct relative to military experience. I started out as a jet mechanic on F-100’s in Vietnam. I then worked to get my A & P/IA and a Bachelor Degree in Aerospace Management/Technology and a Commercial/ Instrument ticket . I retired several years ago after a long career with DOD on all of the Space Shuttles, B-1B, B-2, F-15 and the Gov’t rep on the NT-33A, NF-16 VISTA, NC-131 TIFS and the X-22A. I also did independent Annuals and ran a couple of FBO’s. If I was in the market for a job ( I’m NOT) I don’t think I would have any problem with over 50 years experience. But early years as an A & P were not high paying, my friend drove a beer truck and made more than me. But I’ve had a hell of a ride in aviation, priceless experience ! And the beer truck driver didn’t get to test-fly airplanes after I overhauled an engine !

  11. U.S. aviation industry – number of certified mechanics 2023-2022
    A&P Gain or Loss from 2013 through 2022: A Downward Trend

    Jim, as I mentioned before, based on published FAA records/statistics, (faa.gov/data_research/aviation_data_statistics/civil_airmen_statistics) and also using published data from Statista Research Department to December 1, 2013, (statista.com/statistics/918854/aviation-industry-number-of-mechanics-in-the-united-states/) I found that a decline in the number of mechanic (A&P) was evident. These statistics represents the number of certified mechanics in the aviation industry the United States from 2013 through 2023.

    In 2013, there were around 338,844 (baseline) aircraft mechanics in the United States from where fluctuations were calculated.

    This analysis examines the number of certified mechanics (A&P) in the U.S. aviation industry from 2013 to 2023. Data is based on published records from the FAA and corroborated by information from the Statista Research Department (as of December 1, 2013).

    A Downward Trend

    The data reveals a concerning trend: a decline in the number of A&P mechanics over the past decade. While there was a slight increase in 2014 and 2015, a significant drop occurred in 2016, and the downward trend continued through 2022.

    Here’s a table summarizing the number of certified mechanics and the year-over-year change:

    Here’s a breakdown by year:

    YEAR FAA GAIN OR (-) LOSS %
    2013 338,844 0.00 BASELINE
    2014 341,409 0.76%
    2015 342,528 1.09%
    2016 279,435 -17.53%
    2017 286,268 -15.52%
    2018 292,002 -13.82%
    2019 301,087 -11.14%
    2020 306,301 -9.60%
    2021 313,093 -7.60%
    2022 320,042 -5.55%

    As you can see, the decline accelerated after 2015, with a loss of over 59,000 mechanics between 2013 and 2022. This trend highlights a potential shortage of qualified personnel in the U.S. aviation industry, and further investigation into the causes and potential solutions would be nice to have.

  12. YEAR……….FAA STATS……..GAIN OR (-) LOSS %
    2013……….338,844…………0.00 BASELINE
    2014……….341,409……….. 0.76%
    2015……….342,528……….. 1.09%
    2016………. 279,435………. -17.53%
    2017………. 286,268………. -15.52%
    2018………. 292,002………. -13.82%
    2019………. 301,087………. -11.14%
    2020………. 306,301………. -9.60%
    2021………. 313,093………. -7.60%
    2022………. 320,042………. -5.55%

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