The FAA faced pressure from congress and industry stakeholders to get the ball rolling on modernizing outdated Part 147 curriculum during a hearing held by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Aviation. The hearing, which centered on efforts to boost aviation maintenance workforce, highlighted key areas for improvement such as curriculum, funding and targeting of a broader set of demographics.
During questioning by members of the congressional subcommittee, representatives from the FAA and the U.S. Government and Accountability Office noted that stakeholders all agree modernization is overdue for aging curriculum, but Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) pointed out that ongoing delays in FAA’s Part 147 rulemaking “vex us and the people we answer to.” Rep. Woodall (R-Ga.) went further, questioning the FAA’s continued role in mechanic certification due to its inability to keep curriculum regulations up to date with new technology compared to industry stakeholders speaking at the hearing, such as Gulfstream and Delta Air Lines.
“[The delay] tells me that, maybe, Gulfstream has a better shot at identifying the right skillsets for its mechanics than you do. As much as you care, you can’t possibly care more about Gulfstream safety than Gulfstream does,” said Woodall. “What is the value add of 60 years of government stumbling down the pavement on promulgating new training standards? Industry has to be moving faster than government is.”
In response, Kate Lang, FAA’s senior advisor for aviation workforce outreach, acknowledged the agency’s need to approach curriculum development going forward with better agility and real-time adaptability. Lang noted that FAA’s first order in this vein is issuing a rule on Part 147 regulations, which has been in the works since the original notice of proposed rulemaking published in 2015. She estimates that FAA will achieve this by October of this year, which is sooner than the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC) expected.
Under the proposed legislation, FAA would control the development of mechanic testing standards that would be evaluated continuously alongside technology changes in the industry. Part 147 schools would align curriculum with the mechanic standards, but the performance-based regulation would keep FAA out of actually determining what is being taught in classrooms.
Maguire points back to Woodall’s assertion about industry knowing better. “As he said, ‘Delta’s not going to hire an untrained mechanic to work on its airplanes.’ Well, neither is the FAA going to let an untrained mechanic have a certificate. So they still have a role to play, but there’s no reason why [FAA] should be dictating their curriculum requirements in such a nitty gritty fashion as it does now—and, quite frankly, in the proposed rule.”
The local New York/Queens area was represented at the hearings. Steven Jackson, principal at Aviation High School and Dr. Sharon DeVivo, President of Vaughn College were there to offer comments.
Mr. Jackson stated in his testimony that implementing changes to curriculum based on geographic needs could benefit AMT training and minimize financial strain. For example, Jackson points out that current curriculum could be beneficial for students in rural areas that need to perform maintenance on crop-duster type aircraft, but this training is obsolete for students in metropolitan areas that need to maintain modern, advanced aircraft.
Each of the hearing’s academic stakeholders agreed that one of the most important issues Congress should work on to address the workforce gap is increasing funding, both for the schools themselves and prospective students.
Dr. Sharon DeVivo said in her testimony that the average debt load for a student pursuing aviation maintenance is about $17,500 and that this presents a barrier to entry, particularly for underrepresented populations. DeVivo emphasized the need for additional federal education funding for students and the work that Vaughn College does to partner with students and families on affordability and career outcomes.
DeVivo and Jackson also insist that exposing younger students, such as those at elementary and middle school levels and for underserved populations such as minorities and women to aviation is another key factor in meeting future workforce needs.
“Fewer and fewer students are exposed to mechanical work—they do not work on their bikes, or tinker with their cars with their families. Our goods are becoming more and more digital and when they break, they are more easily replaced and repaired,” stated Jackson in his testimony. He adds that STEM coursework needs to provide more hands-on practical projects to expose students to the concept of learning and troubleshooting systems. Jackson also suggests that internship or apprenticeship opportunities should be expanded and incorporated into schools for students under the age of 18.
Kate Lang echoed these sentiments, stating that the FAA is convinced that “we’ve got to catch kids early.” She noted that the FAA is working with younger students through its STEM Aviation and Space Education program, including a pilot program with four schools in Dallas to create an aviation curriculum.
Simultaneously, additional efforts took place in Albany, NY where six Vaughn students and representatives from the HEOP and student affairs departments participated in the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities’ Student Aid Advocacy Day to advocate in person for continued funding of student aid programs like HEOP and TAP. Students were able to meet with legislators and staff to not only discuss the impact of student aid has on Vaughn but to educate them about the extensive programs the College offers them.