A reduction in how much FAA knowledge test contractor PSI reimburses third-party testing centers is not resulting in significantly reduced capacity for FAA knowledge tests--at least according to the agency.
Responding to a letter sent by an industry coalition, including ATEC, the agency said the data it has "does not indicate that changes imposed by PSI have created any obstructions to FAA airman certification." Among testing centers offering FAA Airman Knowledge Tests (AKTs) before 2023, 98% continue to do so, the agency added.
Testing capacity is key to ensuring prospective mechanics have a clear path to obtaining their airframe and powerplant licenses. PSI's fee changes, effective Jan. 1, 2023, and the resulting reduction in an already narrow profit margin for third-party testing centers, threatened to reduce available capacity.
While FAA's feedback is encouraging, the issue is far from settled. ATEC will continue to monitor the AKT testing process and push for improvements to ensure testing remains as accessible as possible for prospective certified mechanics.
Transportation leaders in Congress are queuing up a host of bills over the summer legislative session, including the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill set to expire Sept. 30.
ATEC has engaged with our industry allies and provided considerable input into the legislative text, and this month, both the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction released their respective proposed language.
On June 14 the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved its version, the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act (H.R. 3935), which will now go to the floor for a vote.
The Senate Commerce Committee has not passed its version of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023, but draft text was released in early June. A committee “markup” date—a key step required before the bill can advance to the Senate floor—has not been set.
Once passed through their respective bodies, the bills will go to Conference Committee to work out the differences before they are ultimately sent to the President. Thus, several steps remain before the language becomes law, and each present an opportunity to further influence national policy and support for aviation technical education.
All of ATEC’s legislative proposals are addressed in one or both versions of the bill, a testament to the council’s influence and the strong coalitions built in furtherance of workforce development initiatives. While final provisions were generally greeted with enthusiasm, ATEC will continue to push for refinements as the text progresses through the process.
Here is how each of the council’s legislative priorities are currently addressed:
ATEC members are encouraged to reach out to their respective congressional leaders to provide
necessary feedback and/or support for these initiatives as the FAA reauthorization bill makes its way through the respective committees and chambers.
While the rule has been in effect for months, the FAA's Part 147 update process officially wraps up June 13 with the publication of the final rule in the Federal Register, replacing the interim final rule issued last May.
Bureaucratic details common to rulemaking but having no effect on the regulation's contents or industry's compliance required publication of both an interim and final version. As expected, the final rule's text is unchanged from the interim version, which was issued with an additional industry comment period. The new performance-based regulation went into effect in September 2022. The council has covered its contents and their ramifications extensively here.
Among them: transition to a new Mechanic Airman Certification Standard (ACS) as the official testing standard for the mechanic test (written, oral, and practical). This happens on Aug. 1, and is the final piece in a years-long puzzle to revamp and improve Part 147. The revised ACS ensures newly trained mechanics are better prepared for current industry technology.
Other changes that the new rule brought include the FAA, for nationally accredited programs, now deferring to Department of Education accreditors in all areas concerning quality of education. This means the FAA no longer approves curriculums, methods of instructional delivery, how and where educational content is consumed, grading systems, testing schedules, or class sizes. For a deeper dive, check out ATEC's executive summary of the bill here.
A post-pandemic shortage of frontline workers, notably pilots and mechanics, has forced companies to shift business strategies. In many cases, wages are going up as a result.
Some research by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) underscores the gains that mechanics are making, at least in the big-airline world. At the beginning of 2023, 10 U.S. airlines had so-called "top-of-scale" hourly wages for mechanics of at least $50 per hour, with Southwest Airlines, whose mechanics are represented by AFMA, leading the way at nearly $59 per hour.
Of course, the top possible wage is only one part of a mechanic's contract. Another key metric is how long it takes to get there. The range for nine those top 10 carriers was eight years of service or less, with Southwest and Delta Air Lines offering the speediest paths to the top, at 5 and 6.5 years, respectively.
Add it up, and mechanics at these carriers can reasonably expect yearly annual wages of $100,000-120,000 within five to eight years. And that's before adding in often-available overtime.
Data from ATEC's most recent Pipeline Report suggest the bottom end of the wage scale is also moving in the right direction. A survey of aviation maintenance technician schools (AMTS) holding an FAA certificate used to compile some report data found an average starting hourly rate for certificated AMTS alumni at $25.49 per hour (or $53,019 annually), an increase of 12 percent over last year and nearly 20 percent over the past 2 years. "This steep increase in entry-level pay is further evidence of the growing demand for technical personnel," the council noted in the report.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports median pay for all aircraft mechanics and technicians—both certificated and non-certificated—at $31.52 per hour, or $65,562 annually (per 2022 data rates).
As the figures suggest, mechanic pay ranges widely. But the bottom-line trends show it is also going up across the board. While it means higher costs for operators and repair stations, this is ultimately good news. Well-paying careers help attract candidates, and aviation needs a steady pipeline of new mechanics.
Bipartisan efforts are underway on both the House and Senate sides of Capitol Hill to broaden the eligibility of 529 plans used to pay for college.
The plans--named for the federal tax code section that covers them--were originally set up to encourage families to save money to pay for degrees from four-year universities. But Congress has expanded the list of eligible expenses, covering many trade schools, for instance. Two recently introduced, identical bills would add aviation programs to the list.
Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) introduced the Aviation Workforce Development Act in the Senate, while Mike Collins (R-Ga.) backed an identically named bill in the House. The bills would permit 529 money to pay for certain pilot and aviation technician training not already eligible for the funds.
ATEC is among some 20 industry groups that have expressed support for the bills, as they fit into the broader strategy of helping encourage more candidates to consider aviation careers. The legislation would not change anything for most aviation maintenance schools, however, as the majority of them are accredited and therefore are eligible recipients of 529 funds.
“Families use 529 plans to save for their children’s future education. But we know that our next generation of workers need options beyond traditional four-year college degrees, such as apprenticeships, trade schools, and more," said Senator Cantwell. "By allowing 529 plans to cover FAA-certified commercial pilot and aviation maintenance courses, this bill helps remove cost barriers for students considering a career path in Washington state’s thriving aviation industry."
The council will continue to urge Congress to expand workforce development initiatives through these and other bills.
On May 31, in conjunction with Choose Aerospace, ATEC hosted an outreach event in Tulsa to discuss the latest initiatives to support the new part 147, learn how the implementation is going at A&P schools in the region, and how FAA-certificated programs can partner with emerging aviation maintenance high school programs to increase enrollment. Presentation slides can be found here.
Attendees included representatives from Gordon Cooper Technology Center, Metro Technology Center, Southwest Technology Center, Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology, and Tulsa Technology Center, which accounts for 5 of the 6 AMT schools in OK, as well as representatives from the FAA.
Thanks to American Airlines for hosting the event, and for providing an amazing tour of it's Tulsa maintenance base!
Stay tuned for updates on everything ATEC members need to know as well as ways that you can help the council and the AMTS community.