US Department of Transportation (DOT) secretary Elaine Chao has called on a cross-section of aviation stakeholders to team up to tackle the ongoing dearth of qualified pilots, technicians and mechanics, saying that solving the aviation workforce shortage goes “beyond what government can do alone.”

Her remarks came during a Sept. 13 speech at the FAA Aviation Workforce Summit, held at Washington National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia.

“We want all stakeholders to be represented. Everyone has good ideas and we want to listen to them all,” Chao said. DOT is interested in collaborating with manufacturers, major and regional domestic carriers, international carriers, aviation mechanics, educators and government entities on combating the workforce shortage, she added.  

Citing passenger growth and industry-wide wage gains, Chao said, “This sector is booming, yet there are not enough aviation mechanics, logistics specialists, electronics technicians and pilots,” and that “aircraft mechanics are retiring faster than they can be replaced.”

Boeing forecasts show that 754,000 new aircraft technicians and 641,000 new pilots will be needed worldwide over the next two decades. That comes as passengers are expected to nearly double worldwide from 4 billion in 2017 to 7.8 billion during the same period, according to Chao.

“While the number of flights has increased, the number of pilots is beginning to decline,” she said. “The bottom line is that the average pool of pilots is shrinking precisely at a time when more pilots are needed due to increased travel demand.”

The secretary cited several existing programs aimed at increasing recruitment that could be expanded and used as models for future initiatives. One such program, Forces to Flyers, is a three-year research initiative founded by the DOT and its Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, which includes a component that provides military veterans with training to become commercial pilots.

Since agreements were signed with four flight schools in May 2018, 16 veterans have begun training for commercial pilot roles, Chao said, adding the department hopes to increase the numbers of participating veterans “as soon as additional funding is secured.” The program is open to all veterans, regardless of flying experience, she said.

Chao also mentioned FlyQuest, a non-profit program based in Huntsville, Alabama, which provides youth scholarships for students to pursue aviation coursework and flight experience. FlyQuest built a mobile aviation classroom that visits area public schools and is equipped with a DCX MAX Precision Simulator, which includes a full metal cockpit enclosure, modern avionics and a 225-degree visual system.

Ben Goldstein, Ben.Goldstein@aviationweek.com