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Looming Crisis in the Airline Industry: Airline Pilots & Aircraft Mechanics

By Ron Garriga
Embry Riddle Aeronautical University

The following is an excerpt of a speech given by Ron Garriga, Director of Campus Training and Business Development for Embry Riddle Aeronautical University on Aug. 9, 2018 to the Greater Miami Aviation Association, about the looming shortage or Airline Pilots and Aircraft Mechanics that is impacting the aviation industry now.

“We read the headline news:

  • Airlines struggle with global pilot shortage    
  • Regional airlines hurt by worsening pilot shortage.
  • Pilot-hungry airlines are raiding flight schools
  • Aging Baby Boomers retirement causing Aircraft Mechanics Shortage

What is quickly becoming a critical shortage of aviation maintenance technicians has caught the attention of the US Senate. 

What I have learned is that there are numerous initiatives among big corporate players that are actively making efforts with strategic campaigns and partnerships to promote the aviation industry.

The 2018 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook, a respected industry forecast of personnel demand, projects that 790,000 new civil aviation pilots, 754,000 new maintenance technicians, and 890,000 new cabin crew will be needed to fly and maintain the world fleet over the next 20 years. The forecast is inclusive of the commercial aviation, business aviation, and civil helicopter industries.

The demand will stem from a mix of fleet growth, retirements, and attrition. Meeting this extraordinary demand will require proactive planning and collaboration within the global aviation industry. As several hundred thousand pilots and technicians reach retirement age over the next decade, educational outreach and career pathway programs will be essential to inspiring and recruiting the next generation of personnel.  Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and other leading educational institutions are pleased to be a part of preparing this next generation for our industry.

The aviation industry will need to adopt innovative training solutions to enable optimum learning and knowledge retention. Immersive technologies, adaptive learning, schedule flexibility, and new teaching methods will be needed to effectively meet a wide range of learning styles. The growing diversity and mobility of aviation personnel will also require instructors to have cross-cultural, cross-generational, and multilingual skills to engage with tomorrow’s workforce.

This is really good news for our talented students who are here today that have high interest in being a part of this potential workforce. 

Airlines are developing college/career paths for their pipeline of pilots and maintainers. 

Many airlines are developing a Career Path Program to identify, select and develop the next generation of pilots and qualified workforce. These industry leading programs complement the traditional, existing paths to becoming a pilot and has three main areas of focus — college, company and community. This three-pronged approach will help them support future aviators as well as their current employees who have a passion for aviation and strong interest in becoming a pilot or staff member in the field of aviation.

ERAU has always been a huge supporter of the GMAA due to your loyal support in recognizing local talent in the field of aviation.  This relationship has provided many students to either continue their studies at our university or others or receive flight training.  The GMAA is a beacon in our industry and there are many grateful folks who recognize you as such. 

“Delta conducted several years of research to create a pilot outreach and pathway program that will inspire and attract the next generations of high-quality talent,” said Steve Dickson, Senior Vice President – Flight Operations. “As a global industry leader, we are taking a holistic approach to expanding the opportunities available to aspiring pilots. We listened to feedback from students, parents, faculty, administrators and Delta employees to help overcome barriers for potential pilot candidates such as career path uncertainty and the Certificated Flight Instructor shortage. We then rolled up our sleeves and developed the Propel program that will provide a defined, accelerated career path for these future aviators.”

During the next decade, Delta expects to hire more than 8,000 pilots to staff the thousands of daily flights it operates around the world as other pilots approach mandatory retirement age. The Propel program will supplement the airline’s current recruiting structure, which includes recruiting and hiring pilots currently flying in the airline, military and corporate sectors.  I learned that there are numerous airlines following suit on this initiative. 

Regardless of the path, any pilot participating in these various programs will meet all of the qualification requirements and testing aspects of their current pilot hiring model, which will be metered over the course of their development.

In addition to the financial options currently available to students at flight training providers and our collegiate partners, airlines are exploring whether other potential financing opportunities might be available for employees and students.                           

The GMAA’s long-standing investments in the future of aviation professionals and the communities it serves worldwide is recognized and appreciated by many.  I am confident that the students you are recognizing today are very grateful and feel very fortunate.

Many airlines are partnering with various universities with accredited aviation programs to interview collegiate aviation students. Successful candidates will be provided a qualified job offer detailing a defined path and an accelerated timeline to become an employee or in many cases a pilot.   

Students with a qualified job offer will receive an advanced engagement opportunity that will immerse them in the airline culture on and off campus including a corporate mentor for the duration of their training and career.

ERAU is pleased to be a partner in this Propel Program. 

There are also internal career paths being provided to current airline employees that include a career transition opportunity and the support to pursue a pilot or aviation maintenance career. This program will allow our industry to continue to invest in its people, tapping into their passion for aviation and the strength of the airline culture.  This is encouraged by improved tuition assistance programs and/or continued professional education.

The path is a detailed plan and timeline.

Selected employees participating in this Career Path could:

  • Earn their remaining certificates and ratings at one of your leading flight training providers.
  • Build their time as a Certified Flight Instructor at the program where they trained

Airlines are leveraging current relationships with aviation organizations and establishing new ones to identify and support aspiring pilots and various workforce needs, including engagement with kindergarten through high school students.

Industry leaders and educational partners must work together to entice or pursue interest in our field as early as elementary school.  I have had the honor of overseeing an ERAU dual enrollment program in Okaloosa County Florida that is a model for this type of pipeline interest.  The team partners with local community leaders and visits elementary and middle schools to promote and recruit for the current programs at the high school level.  At this level, the high school student takes ERAU courses in the field of aviation, engineering and management. 

But, most important is the teaching of “soft skills”.  We emphasize the importance of time management, good hygiene, being respectful, appearance, and leadership.  I hear from industry leaders the difficult time they have in finding a workforce that can be authorized for a security clearance.  We share this information and the importance of keeping “their nose clean”.  They cannot have “dirty laundry” and be in the aviation industry.  Their reputation and integrity have a huge impact of them attaining their dreams of being a pilot or aviation maintainer.  Our next generation of our workforce needs to show responsibility. 

Airlines and aviation corporations will continue to teach students about aviation and familiarize them with career opportunities through their Community Outreach. Scholarships, consistent engagement and a robust mentoring program will help the aviation industry enhance the diversity of the candidate pool and support a more inclusive selection process.

Aviation Industry Corporate Foundations are continuing to prepare and support the future of our next generation of aviation professionals with grants totaling in the millions of dollars.

Airlines and Airline Corporate Foundations have immersive collegiate partnerships from coast-to-coast and ERAU is proud to be a part of these initiatives to enhance leadership development, higher education and aviation programs and facilities to encourage innovation in the aerospace industry.

As part of our commitment to educate future aviation professionals, ERAU has relationships with programs across the U.S. to help identify, mentor and source the next generation of Pilots, Aircraft Maintenance Technicians, and Engineers.   Through these partnerships, corporations offer tours, job shadows and career guidance for the schools as well as training opportunities for instructors. Where possible, many airlines donate serviceable parts, engines and airframes to give students even more real-world maintenance experience working with aircraft components. These partnerships complement the airline’s recruiting structure of working with the U.S. military and regional airlines.

Meanwhile, the number of pilots supplied by the military has dwindled. Much of this is due to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

In the 80s, roughly two thirds of airline pilots were ex-military. Recently, that percentage has dropped to less than one-third. The Navy predicts a 10% pilot shortage in 2020, while the Air Force predicts its own 1,000-pilot shortage by 2022.

This means many young aspiring aviators now have to pay for their own flight training.

In 2009, Congress changed the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots from 60 to 65. Many think, this didn’t solve the problem, but merely kicked the can down the road.

A 2016 report by Boeing shows that 42% of the pilots currently flying for the major airlines in the United States will reach their mandatory retirement age of 65 in the next 10 years.

Again, good news for our aspiring next generation of pilots.

Many of you in the room are aware of this statistic that in 2009, Congress changed the pilot experience of flight time requirements for the airlines.

Congress also changed the duty time rules in 2010 to mitigate pilot fatigue issues. This change meant airlines had to increase their pilot staffing by 5 to 8% in order to cover the same schedule. In other words, they need to hire even more qualified pilots.

The airlines will need to begin recruiting and training their own pilot candidates with the intent of recruiting the next generation of pilots.

Manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus are delivering more and more airplanes and plan to continue to do so over the next 20 years.

A shortage of aviation mechanics within the next decade threatens the projected expansion and modernization of the global airline fleet. Based on Oliver Wyman projections, the gap between the supply of mechanics and demand for them should develop in the United States by 2022 and reach a peak of 9 percent by 2027.

The shortage is, in part, a consequence of an aging global population. Between now and 2027, a record number of maintenance technicians will be eligible to retire as more baby boomers reach their sixties. For example, in the US, the median age of aviation mechanics is 51 years old, nine years older than the median age of the broader US workforce as calculated by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Where are the young mechanics?

And while there are plenty of millennials to step up and take their place, so far they are not. Oliver Wyman projections show that the number leaving the maintenance technician workforce will outpace the number preparing to enter it for most of the next decade. The aging of the mechanic workforce and rash of anticipated retirements could not come at a worse time for the industry, as it gears up to accommodate a larger, newer, and more technologically advanced fleet.

Within the next 10 years, 58 percent of the fleet will be comprised of planes designed and built after 2000. Mechanics moving forward will need the skill sets to work not only on the newest planes, but also on those that have been flying for 20 years — and these are not necessarily the same. This requirement further complicates the shortage; when supply and demand are tight, employers have to hope that the right mechanics with the right skill sets are in the right place at the right time when needed.

Our local ERAU area campuses are partnering with many of you in this room to ignite our next generation to become interested in aerospace and aviation.  We realize we must introduce this industry to our younger generation to keep the pipeline of quality workforce to a standard of quality above all other industries. 

ERAU will soon be introducing a FTIC campaign.  South Florida has been identified as a test pilot for this recruitment and incentive for first time in college family members that will be mentored for a path for success during their college experience and preparing them for a career in the aviation industry.

Scholarship winners it is time for you, our next generation to make a difference one flight at a time.  In making a difference you must instill the qualities of honesty, respect, integrity, perseverance and servant leadership. GMAA please continue your legacy in supporting this next generation of aviators and join us in the academia community to take them to “new heights”!

Thank you so much for allowing me this time with you today.”

Ron Garriga joined Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide in September 2008 as the Campus Director of the Eglin AFB and Hurlburt Field Campuses, and was instrumental in building the ERAU Crestview, Florida Campus.   Ron was recognized as the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide Staff Member of the Year during the 2013 University Latitude Awards.  In 2015, Ron was named Director of Campus Training & Professional Development, where he lead a team in the development and facilitation of an onboarding training program for all new hires in Asia, Europe and United States.  He continues to oversee the ERAU Okaloosa Aerospace Academy Dual Enrollment Program offered at Choctawhatchee High School, Crestview High School and Laurel Hill School in the state of Florida. He recently was promoted to the role of Associate Executive Director of US Campus Operations. Ron will oversee growth opportunities in the areas of business development, workforce development, and promote retention, affinity and persistence among all US campuses.

Ron received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern Mississippi with a Bachelor of Science in  Marketing and his graduate degree from Troy University with a Masters in Management.

Prior to ERAU, Ron was the President and CEO of Rob-Ron Enterprises, Inc. for 26 years.   

Ron is married to Robin Garriga of 33 years and has one daughter, Shelby.  In his spare time Ron enjoys being active in his community and church.



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