New FAA Bill Boosts Workforce Grants, ACS Development

A five-year FAA reauthorization bill includes several programs that will expand the aviation maintenance workforce pipeline and benefit part 147 schools directly.


The aviation maintenance and pilot workforce grant programs launched in 2018 become both bigger and broader thanks to language in the bill (Sec. 440). Annual funding for each program jumps from $5 to $20 million. A new, third grant program focused on developing engineers and other manufacturing workers also receives $20 million per year.


Expansion of who can apply for grants means that all part 147 certificate holders are now eligible, regardless of whether they are considering an institution of higher learning. Nonprofit organizations are eligible as well. The maximum grant award in any single year will increase to $1 million per recipient.


The law calls for 20% of grant funding to support eligible projects in low-income communities as part of the newly created Willa Brown Aviation Education Program. Language in the bill also sets aside 2% of the funds "to provide technical assistance to eligible applicants," which should help fund administrative aspects and a more consistent funding timeline.


The changes go into effect Oct. 1, 2024, and will cover four fiscal years, through Sept. 30, 2027. On Oct. 1, 2027, the grant efforts officially become the Cooperative Aviation Recruitment, Enrichment, and Employment Readiness (CAREER) Program. Administration will shift from the FAA to the Transportation Dept.


Lawmakers also addressed several aspects of another ATEC priority: workforce training.

The law directs the FAA to use the Airman Certification System Working Group to review and, if necessary, update the Airman Certification Standards (ACS) to ensure they align with current industry trends (Sec. 406). Lawmakers do not set a deadline but urge the FAA to address and resulting recommendations "in a timely and efficient manner."


It also orders the FAA to establish a new working group "to assess and evaluate the appropriateness" of permitting high school students that complete an approved curriculum to take the general portion of the mechanic exam (Sec. 405). While the bill falls short of ATEC's request for a rulemaking directive, the council is hopeful the working group's recommendations will lead to expansion of the general knowledge test eligibility to high school applicants, especially those coming out of Choose Aerospace programs.


Lawmakers were more definitive in the effort to streamline transitions for military maintenance technicians to civilian jobs. The law gives the FAA 18 months to issue a draft rule that, once finalized, would create a competency test that addresses gaps between military and FAA standards (Sec. 426). In parallel, the agency would develop a "relevant" ACS designed to qualify military technicians for civilian ratings. The law also orders the FAA to consider whether a Joint Services Aviation Maintenance Technician Certification Council certificate of eligibility satisfies any part 65 oral or written exam requirements.


The bill, signed into law May 17, earmarks FAA and NTSB funding and establishes additional priorities through fiscal year 2028, which ends Sept. 30, 2028. Annual funding outlined in the bill will be approved through yearly appropriations bills.


ATEC will keep members updated on all relevant developments outlined in the 1,100-page law. For an insider look and deep-dive into these and more policy initiatives, join us in September at the annual Washington Fly-in. See more details below.