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.
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