Diversity in Aviation and Aerospace Industry Receives Attention in House Hearing

Diversity in Aviation and Aerospace Industry Receives Attention in House Hearing

July 23, 2021  | Caroline Marete

On Tuesday, July 20, the Subcommittee on Aviation of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing entitled, “Bridging the Gap: Improving Diversity and Inclusion in the U.S. Aviation Workforce,”  to discuss issues of diversity and inclusion in the aviation and aerospace industry workforce. Various underrepresented groups were represented by the witnesses, including people of color, veterans, and women in aviation. The following witness testified:

  • Rebecca (Becky) Lutte, Associate Professor, University of Nebraska at Omaha Aviation Institute
  • Claudia Zapata-Cardone, Executive Director of Community Relations and Outreach, Latino Pilots Association [No written testimony available]
  • Icema D. Gibbs, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, JetBlue Airways
  • Joel Webley, Chairman, Board of Directors, Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals
  • Kyle J. Kaiser, President, VIPER Transitions

The hearing started with opening statements from the Subcommittee Chair Rep. Larsen (D-WA), Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), the ranking member of the Subcommittee, and Committee Chair Rep. DeFazio (D-OR). The leaders acknowledged the particular timeliness of the topic because of the significant impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the aviation and aerospace industry. In his opening statement, Larsen highlighted some of the recent initiatives aimed at increasing diversity in the aviation and aerospace industry. These initiatives include the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018 that includes provisions to increase recruitment of women and youth in aviation and aerospace careers, the FAA Women in Aviation Advisory Board established in 2020 that is tasked with exploring opportunities for education training, mentorship and recruitment of women to aviation careers, and the Aviation Workforce Development Grants announced in 2020.

Women in Aviation and Aerospace

Women are underrepresented in aviation and aerospace careers, especially in leadership positions, commercial pilots, and maintenance technicians. Currently, women represent approximately 5 percent of commercial pilots and 2.5 percent of aircraft technicians in the United States. According to Dr. Lutte, the numbers have not changed significantly over the years. In addition, women face barriers in pursuing careers in the aviation and aerospace industry. Difficulties in balancing the demands of aviation careers and family life, lack of mentorship, and the high costs of training are among the challenges that hinder entry and  career advancement for women in aviation and aerospace. To tackle these challenges, the panel suggested that industry stakeholders should deploy strategies for increasing participation of women in aviation and aerospace careers.

People of Color in Aviation

Zapata-Cardone shared her experience growing up with immigrant parents and her childhood dream of becoming an airline pilot. Through her personal career journey, Zapata-Cardone echoed the testimony of Dr. Lutte by highlighting the barriers women and minorities face when pursuing aviation and aerospace careers. Webley shed light on some of the programs undertaken by the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, including youth and professional programs that contribute to diversity in the aerospace industry. Gibbs expounded on the revamped JetBlue Airways recruitment program and the airline’s efforts to make the aviation community more inclusive and more equitable.

Transitioning Veterans into Aviation and Aerospace Careers

Kaiser explained some of the challenges many veterans face once they return from service. Among the challenges is finding well-paying jobs. The aviation and aerospace industry can provide opportunities for veterans as they transition from their military careers. To emphasize the importance of helping veterans transition into the right careers, Kaiser said, “Thank you for your service is not enough. We need to do more.”

Recommendations for Increasing Diversity and Inclusion

There are many benefits to increasing diversity and inclusion in aviation and aerospace workforce. According to Dr. Lutte, diverse representation of thoughts results in enhanced safety, innovation, and profitability. Furthermore, to meet workforce needs of the growing aviation and aerospace industry, the industry will need to tap into a diverse pool of talented professionals. During the hearing several recommendations were mentioned that can help to increase diversity and inclusion in the aviation and aerospace industry, including:

  • Increasing data collection to show the trends in representation of different groups in the aviation workforce. One way to increase representation of women and other minority groups is to increase transparency by improving data collection to measure and track the trends of diversity initiatives over time.
  • Advocating for family-friendly policies, especially for women.
  • Partnering with advocacy groups such as the Organization for Black Aerospace Professionals, Latino Pilots Association, and others to create awareness on aviation and aerospace career opportunities.
  • Increasing youth outreach programs and partnering with training institutions to attract young people into aviation and aerospace careers.
  • Increasing access to financial aid and developing policies to reduce the cost of training, especially for pilot training.
  • Create awareness on the negative aviation culture that promotes gender biases and sexual harassment, and actively initiate strategies to promote positive culture.
  • Creating mentorship and advancement programs to increase awareness on aviation and aerospace careers and identify top talent especially among minority groups.
  • Increasing industry partnerships to support transitioning veterans into the aviation and aerospace industry workforce.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has shone light on the challenges of diversity and inclusion in the aviation and aerospace industry, many problems existed even before the pandemic. A 2019 Eno report examining the workforce challenges in the U.S. and the U.K. identified common themes on workforce challenges, many of which were mentioned in the hearing. These include pipeline challenges as the number of jobs increases with the industry growth, shifting work demographics as current employees are retiring, and competition with other industries for qualified professionals, among others. Nevertheless, despite the myriad diversity challenges that face the industry, Dr. Lutte noted that in over 30 years in the industry, the recent efforts to improve diversity in aviation and aerospace industry are the most comprehensive efforts she has observed. Webley also noted that as of this year, at least 77 percent of companies have a diversity and inclusion strategy or intend to put one in place. Based on the overall discussion from this hearing, the industry can be said to be heading in the right direction.

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