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FAA Pilot Summit

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
FAA Pilot Summit
Arlington, VA
Thursday, September 13, 2018

Thank you, Dan [Elwell] for that introduction.

I would like to recognize some special guests today.  Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson is with us today. 

Robert Isom, President of American Airlines is here.  I have to give a special shout out to my fellow Kentuckian, Dennis Sinnett.  He is the aviation coordinator at Eastern Kentucky University which has a 4-year degree program in aviation.  I want to recognize Tyler Duval, a former undersecretary of Transportation.  We have many other important representatives from the aviation sector with us as well.

Before I begin, let me assure you that the Administration is on full alert for the hurricanes.  Tuesday, before the hurricane hit land, cabinet secretaries and agency heads met with FEMA Director Brock Long and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in the situation room to coordinate our response in the potentially impacted areas. s many know, FEMA is not an operational agency-- it supports state and local governments, which have the lead.  Successful disaster response and recovery is one that’s locally executed, state managed, and federally supported.  FEMA has pre-positioned the Federal government’s assets to support the states in their response and recovery goals.  Emergency management and disaster response are most effective this way in helping people in these situations.

Just yesterday I was at an event that marked the 40th anniversary of airline deregulation—a seminal event that democratized air travel, giving consumers more access and choice.

As a result of this and other factors, domestic and foreign carriers serving the United States carried an all-time high of 965 million domestic and international passengers in 2017.  This was 3.4 percent more than the previous record high of 933.1 million reached in 2016.  The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that the numbers will continue increasing, especially as the economy continues to do so well.

Worldwide, air travel is expected to nearly double in less than 20 years from 4 billion passengers in 2017 to 7.8 billion passengers by 2036.

This unprecedented growth will bring with it many job opportunities in the aviation industry.  Since 2015, job growth in airlines has been double that of the overall U.S. economy.  And salaries rose 37 percent, or more than twice the average rate in the U.S. economy.

But there are not enough aviation mechanics, logisticians, electronic technicians, and pilots to work in this industry.   The Aviation Technician Education Council said in December that aircraft mechanics are retiring faster than they can be replaced.  Boeing forecasts that 754,000 new aircraft technicians will be needed over the next two decades.

We also see that while the number of flights has increased, the number of new pilots is beginning to decline.  I know the FAA acting Administrator, Dan Elwell, laid out all the numbers for you earlier.  The bottom line is that the available pool of pilots is shrinking, precisely at a time when more pilots are needed due to increased travel demands.  So, what can be done to increase the supply of pilots and other skilled personnel? 

This issue goes beyond what the government can do.  It is incumbent on all of us to find solutions. This summit was called to bring attention to this critical issue and convene stakeholders who are experts to create a path forward, so we can work together to address this critical issue comprehensively and collaboratively.

Today’s Aviation Workforce Symposium-- entitled Pipelines, Pathways and Partnerships—is inclusive so that all stakeholders are represented.  Manufacturers, major and regional domestic carriers, international carriers, aviation mechanics, educators, and government entities were all invited.  In addition, we have brought together the FAA, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Labor, and representatives from the U.S. Department of Defense.   

The Department of Transportation has several programs in place to help address these issues.  We support the Youth Employee STEM (YES) mentoring program to encourage youth to study science, technology, engineering and math.  Recently, I also announced a new, three-year initiative -- Forces to Flyers.  It includes a component that provides military veterans with the training they need to become commercial pilots.  Agreements were signed with four flight schools on May 16, 2018 and the first 16 veterans have begun training.  The Department hopes to increase the number of veterans in this demonstration project, once additional funding is processed.

Local communities are joining the effort, as well.  Here’s just one example:  George Davis, of Signature Flight Support at the Huntsville Alabama International Airport, has helped create a non-profit called FlyQuest. It provides young people with scholarships for aviation-oriented courses.  These courses can lead to careers as pilots, maintenance specialists, air traffic controllers, flight attendants or ground crew.  FlyQuest has even created a mobile aviation classroom to visit area schools.  It’s equipped with flight simulators, cutaway aircraft engines and other teaching tools to help students understand the skills needed for this field.

As you may know, as I am the former Secretary of Labor, workforce issues have always been important to me.  That’s why we’re all here today—to create a win for passengers, consumers, the workforce, and the aviation sector and our country by highlighting this issue and discussing and surfacing ways to address this critical need.

Thanks again for being here today.  We look forward to working with you, so our country can continue to remain a global leader in aviation.

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Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2018
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