In a new report, the Government Accountability Office describes devastating impacts to the air transportation sector workforce, and sets forth specific recommendations to support industry recovery.
In testimony before the House Subcommittee on Aviation, GAO Director, Physical Infrastructure Heather Krause cited Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that an estimated 122,600 jobs in the air transportation sector (over 23 percent) have been lost since peak employment levels of 516,900 in February 2020. (Numbers do not include activities in airport operations, manufacturing, or repair activities conducted outside an airline.)
"Airlines and airports sought to reduce their payroll expenses by, among other things, offering early retirement and voluntary separation programs, voluntary unpaid leave programs, freezing non-essential hiring, reducing executive and management compensation, and in some cases, involuntary furloughs and layoffs," said Krause. "For example, Delta Air Lines reported that 50,000 employees took unpaid leaves of absence and approximately 18,000 employees participated in its early retirement and voluntary separation programs from April 1 through December 31, 2020. American Airlines reported reducing its management and support staff team by approximately 5,100 positions (30 percent) and that more than 20,000 of its employees opted for an early retirement or long-term paid leave."
Krause cited similar workforce reductions for manufacturers and repair stations, mentioning "one large manufacturer of airplane engines" permanently reducing its global workforce by 25 percent.
The GAO report gives credence to a common concern that the pandemic has accelerated the long-anticipated shortage of key skill sets as aviation businesses reduce employment and skilled technicians migrate to other industries. Testimony made reference to the 2014 GAO report that warned of a coming shortage of aviation professionals as a result of retirements and a perception that fewer people are entering aviation professions, pre-COVID concerns that are likely to compound in a post-pandemic world.
GAO recommends targeted congressional assistance to support the highly skilled aviation workforce through worker retention incentives, aviation workforce retraining, and "efforts to strengthen the pipeline of new applicants for careers in aviation manufacturing and maintenance."
ATEC looks forward to working with Congress to identify new ways to support industry pipeline development efforts, and is spirited by the incredible innovations and ideas this community is proposing through a swarm of FAA grant program applications (due March 22!).
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.