ATEC and several allied organizations filed comments in response to the recent Federal Register notice regarding the FAA’s implementation of the new aviation workforce development grant program.
The program was created by Sec. 625 of the 2018 FAA reauthorization bill, which authorizes $5 million annually for grants of up to $500,000 for schools, governmental entities, aviation businesses and labor organizations that collaborate on projects to attract new technical talent to the aviation maintenance industry and train technicians. The same section of the FAA bill created a similar $5 million program to support pilot education.
On Sept. 8, the FAA published a Federal Register notice describing its plans to implement the maintenance grant program and inviting comment. The agency indicated at the time that it plans to publish a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) in November, after which time interested parties will be able to apply for grants.
The coalition's comments expressed concern over three issues in the FAA’s notice.
First, the FAA missed one of the key goals of the grant program, which is facilitate collaboration between schools, government, aviation companies and/or labor organizations. The law requires that grant applications be submitted jointly to encourage a collective approach to closing the skills gap. However, this fact is not clearly articulated in the FAA notice.
“One of the causes of the skills gap has been a misalignment between local industry needs and what students learn in school,” the comments said. “The program was designed to encourage industry and schools to work to together to identify necessary skills and design curricula to teach them, with government providing oversight to ensure the initiative properly served local needs. Because proposed initiatives must have buy-in from more than just the applicant, mandating collaboration will also act as a check to ensure government resources are spent effectively and that applications reflect a true consensus about local industry and community needs.”
Additionally, the law directs the FAA to engage with stakeholders in the program’s implementation. The notice, however, states that it and the related comment period satisfy the engagement requirement. The allies called for more expansive involvement by industry and academia through the creation of formal stakeholder body to help guide FAA’s activities in this area.
Finally, the industry comments urged the FAA to raise the amount of the grant allowable for administrative expenses from five to 10 percent. This is in line with the standard amount allowable for these expenses in other grant programs.
The comments were orchestrated by the Aeronautical Repair Station Association. Fellow signatories included the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Cargo Airline Association, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, the Experimental Aircraft Association, Helicopter Association International and the International Council of Air Shows.
In a letter to Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell and House Aviation Subcommittee Chair Rick Larsen, a group of Washington state-based schools and organizations called on Congress to support the Promoting Aviation Regulations for Technical Training (PARTT) 147 Act (S.3043/H.R.5427).
The Act, which was introduced in December and since garnered a long, bipartisan list of co-sponsors in both the House and the Senate, would direct the FAA to remove and replace the current part 147 with community-drafted language. If passed into law, the new, performance-based regulation would replace prescriptive and duplicative operational requirements and curriculum hour and subject area mandates that have long-awaited agency action.
"Seeing no regulatory relief in sight, the undersigned organizations acknowledge that the Act is intended to further escalate the issue after 12 years of pushing for a new rule to modernize aviation maintenance technician training," the coalition stated in its letter. "Promulgation of the Act’s performance-based regulation would give schools and employers the freedom to develop programs that better align with industry needs, and ensure individuals begin their careers equipped to hit the ground running."
Nine representatives of WA-based organizations signed on to the letter, including four college presidents overseeing part 147 programs at their respective institutions:
The Act is awaiting consideration by committees with jurisdiction over aviation issues in both the House and the Senate. Members of the community are encouraged to reach out to their own elected leaders to voice support for the bill. An online legislative toolkit is available to guide those efforts.
Today, the Federal Aviation Administration published details surrounding the long-awaited aviation maintenance grant program, an initiative created by Congress in the 2018 FAA reauthorization bill. Once implemented, applicants may apply for grants of up to $500,000; funds can be used to support projects aimed at increasing the number of individuals that choose aviation technical careers. Congress appropriated $5 million per year, through FY 2023.
Under the proposed guidance, funding can be used to establish new educational programs, purchase equipment, improve existing programs, establish scholarships or apprenticeships, support outreach initiatives, or to increase career opportunities in economically disadvantaged geographic areas.
While part 147 certificate holders are not specifically identified as an eligible applicant, any accredited institution of higher education, high school, or secondary school may apply. (ATEC believes the definition encompasses the entire part 147 community, please let us know if that does not hold true for your institution.)
While partnership with co-applicants are not required, the agency is encouraging collaborative submissions in an effort to satisfy congressional intent.
The notification and request for comment comes in advance of a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), which will publish at www.grants.gov around mid November and remain open for 60 days. Additional NOFOs would be published for each funded fiscal year thereafter.
The FAA reauthorization bill created a mirror program to expand the pilot workforce. Information on both the pilot and technician workforce grant programs is available at www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ang/grants/awd/.
On Aug. 31, House and Senate allies urged FAA and DOT leaders to rapidly implement the aviation maintenance and pilot workforce grant programs created by Sec. 625 of the 2018 FAA reauthorization law.
The Senate letter was led by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who were joined by Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Chris Coons (D-Del.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Angus King (I-Maine), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Dan Sullivan (R-Ark.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
The House letter was coordinated by Reps. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), who were joined by 34 of their colleagues, including T&I Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Garret Graves (R-La.)
"Given the broad, bipartisan support for the grant programs on Capitol Hill, and among schools, industry, and labor, we are disappointed that they are not yet operating," said the Senators in their letter to the Administration. "These important programs have been authorized for almost two years, and there is significant interest by stakeholders to establish them. With the end of fiscal year fast approaching, we strongly encourage you to get both grant programs up and running in the coming weeks."
Get an update from FAA officials on the status of the grant program at ATEC's annual conference, brought to you in an online format Sept. 14-18.
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.