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Aviation Workforce Challenges in the United States and the United Kingdom

The global aviation industry faces growing workforce challenges. Strong competition for workers, the changing nature of high-skill jobs, and a retiring generation all profoundly affect many countries’ modern economies. The problem is especially acute in the United States and the United Kingdom, the largest and third largest aviation markets in the world, respectively. Both countries need to attract new workers to fly and maintain aircraft, manage airports, control air traffic, build and run terminals, and conduct every other job related to advancing a safe, secure, and high-tech aviation industry. Unfortunately, pragmatic policy solutions that comprehensively address workforce challenges across all aviation subsectors are limited.

This report reviews workforce challenges across the critical sectors of the aviation industry in the US and the UK: professional pilots, air traffic controllers, aircraft maintenance and repair, airport workers, flight attendants, and aerospace manufacturing. It finds common themes that are important to understanding how to prepare the industry and its workforce for the future:

  • The aviation industry will face a number of workforce pipeline challenges as demand for air travel grows in the coming years. Though the outlook on worker availability varies depending on the specific occupation, the number of jobs in aviation is expected to grow.
  • The degree to which technology will replace jobs is unknown, but technology will change the nature of jobs across the entire aviation workforce. The industry must ensure that new and existing personnel are trained to utilize new technologies.
  • Workforce demographics are shifting, as a wave of current employees prepares to retire and the generations that replace them are more diverse. To fill future jobs, the industry will need to appeal to a broader demographic.
  • Following a number of challenges that resulted in cost cuts between roughly 2001 and 2009, the aviation industry has since begun to increase wages. The industry has used incentives, signing bonuses, and higher salaries to attract and retain workers.
  • The aviation industry is competing with itself, other professions, and other countries to retain workers. “Workforce bleed” to other industries, offshoring to other countries, and recruiting established personnel from other sectors (e.g. airlines hiring military pilots) are all manifestations of this competition.

Check out our two-page summary of the report.

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