ARSA, its members and allies successfully lobbied for an "historic victory" through this year's FAA reauthorization process. That victory included the authorization of a five-year pilot program that will provide annual grants of up to $500,000 to businesses or unions, schools and governmental entities that partner to pursue creative ways to recruit and retain new aviation maintenance technicians.
Getting the program authorized was a major achievement, but the policy work is far from complete. The Department of Transportation must now initiate it and Congress must appropriate the money necessary to provide the grants, which could be available by the end of 2019 if industry moves quickly to encourage action.
The association is already continuing its leadership of aviation-industry stakeholders to keep the process moving. To support the effort, maintenance professionals should act now in order to keep DOT and Congress on track and be ready to take advantage of grant money once it's available.
What Happened in FAA Reauthorization?
Recognizing a problem – a shortage of technical professionals – aviation industry leaders and a bipartisan group of lawmakers decided to act. Legislation to create an aviation maintenance workforce grant program was introduced in the Senate (S. 2506) on March 7, 2018 by Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Maria Cantwell (R-WA) and in the House (H.R. 5701) on May 8, 2018 by Representatives Sam Graves (R-MO), Dan Lipinski (D-IL), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Brenda Lawrence (D-MI).
The effort was endorsed by more than 30 leading industry organizations representing all segments of the industry, including maintainers, airlines, general aviation, manufacturers, and labor, as well as by the National League of Cities. Lobbyists for ARSA and allied organizations held dozens of meetings on Capitol Hill to build support for the workforce bill, which was ultimately rolled into a larger FAA reauthorization package signed by President Trump in October.
What Are the Details of the Aviation Maintenance Workforce Grant Program
Sec. 625 of the 2018 FAA reauthorization law (Public Law No: 115-254) creates the new DOT-administered grant program, which is designed to support a wide variety of aviation maintenance workforce development recruitment and training activities. Grants may be used to:
• Establish new educational programs that teach technical skills used in aviation maintenance, including purchasing equipment, or to improve existing such programs;
• Establish scholarships or apprenticeships for individuals pursuing employment in the aviation maintenance industry;
• Support outreach about careers in the aviation maintenance industry to primary, secondary, and post-secondary school students; or to communities underrepresented in the industry;
• Support educational opportunities related to aviation maintenance in economically disadvantaged geographic areas;
• Support transition to careers in aviation maintenance, including for members of the Armed Forces; or
• Otherwise enhance aviation maintenance technical education or the aviation maintenance industry workforce.
The program is authorized at $5 million for five years starting in 2019 and can provide grants of up to $500,000. The goal is to incentivize collaboration between key stakeholders and grant applications must be jointly submitted by business or union, school, and state or local governmental entity.
What Can You Do to Help?
The money isn’t ready to start flowing yet, so its incumbent on the industry to help move things forward and prepare to take advantage once all the pieces are in place.
1. Begin having conversations with other community stakeholders to lay the foundation for a joint application, thinking creatively about ways to use the federal money.
2. Contact the members of Congress who supported the program to thank them and urge them to work with DOT to initiate the program and with their colleagues in Congress to appropriate the necessary funds.
For resources to help – ARSA has done the legwork already – visit arsa.org/grant-program for updates and access to the association’s Workforce Legislative Action Center. Be sure to bookmark this page, as it will be used to share current information and provide further instructions for industry action as this grassroots advocacy effort develops.
As we wrap up the most successful year of U.S. legislative advocacy in the maintenance community’s history, it’s time to start looking and acting ahead. The industry saw through a long-term advocacy effort and helped pass a proactive FAA bill and must make good on building and utilizing the resources we fought so hard to earn.
Or, as I’ve become fond of saying: We won the war, now we’ve got to win the peace.
Christian A. Klein is the managing member of Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein, P.L.C. overseeing the firm’s policy advocacy practice. He represents trade associations as a registered federal lobbyist and provides strategic communications and legal counsel services to clients. He is executive vice president of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association and represents the American Concrete Pressure Pipe Association. Klein is a member of the University of Virginia’s adjunct faculty.