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Shortage in aviation personnel brings changes to industry

Derek Swanson, News Editor

 As more people begin to travel by airplane than ever before, aviation workers are in high demand across the country. The industry is booming: an estimated 1.6 million new workers will be needed by 2037, according to a new report by Boeing, to keep up with the increase in air travel.


The Boeing report includes an outlook plan for pilots, technicians and cabin crew members. They predict that the region with the largest demand in the next 20 years will be the Asia-Pacific region, followed by North America and Europe.


There are multiple factors that lead into the expected shortage of aviation personnel, the first being the rising demand for air travel in the past 15 years. In a 2018 report by Statista, a site specializing in statistics within 600 industries, they claimed that air traffic passenger demand would increase six percent that year, followed by another six percent in 2019. Air travel is expected to maintain a positive trajectory through 2030. 


In an effort to meet the demand, many aviation programs nationwide have turned to recruiting younger workers. In recent years, Lewis University has formed a partnership with northern Illinois school district 214, which allows high school students to take classes through the aviation program and gain hands-on experience working at the Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling, Illinois.


“The first initial group we had in the program was 15 students and we have now grown to 168 students,” said R. Eric Jones, Co-Chair of aviation and transportation studies. “(To meet the demand), they have to try and recruit even as far down as the high school level.”


Students participating in the program have the opportunity to earn a year of FAA, or Federal Aviation Administration, certified credit hours towards a degree in aviation. Credits earned through the program also apply to the students’ high school graduation requirements, and these students will also be far more likely to be accepted into Lewis’ college level aviation programs.


While the increase in demand for consumer air travel is the leading reason behind the shortage of aviation personnel, another unavoidable factor is the looming mandatory retirement age for many current workers. A large amount of workers hail from the Vietnam era and are nearing 65, the FAA required retirement age for pilots. Air traffic control workers are required to retire at age 55.


Jones detailed the main reason he thinks air travel has increased in recent years. “It is a matter of perception of safety. You are far more likely to die driving to the airport than you are on the plane,” said Jones. He went on to explain what makes air travel so safe, saying, “If a doctor is working on one patient and makes a mistake, they could lose their life. If an aviation mechanic makes a mistake, that could cause 450 people to lose their lives.” Because of this, proper training is emphasized heavily in all aspects of aviation.


One potential hurdle for perspective pilots to overcome is the 1,500-hour training rule instituted by the FAA in 2013. The rule was intended to be a safety measure in response to the Colgan Air 3407 crash in 2009. While the rule has led to better training for pilots, the increase in flight hours has also turned away some who are worried about the cost of the programs. In addition to the cost of tuition at Lewis, aviation students are encouraged to budget $7,000 to $8,000 for aircraft rental and instruction training costs for every semester.


“Studying aviation is expensive, but the return on investment has never been higher,” said Jones. “People in our aviation programs are looking at very successful careers.”