Cantwell FAA Bill Revitalizes Aviation Workforce: More Air Traffic Controllers, Safety Inspectors, Pilots, Engineers, Manufacturers, & Repair Technicians

Bill includes top Cantwell priorities to boost staffing across all sectors of the aviation industry, from factory floors to control towers; WA at the center of a domestic aviation economy that encompasses 11 million jobs & $1.9 trillion in economic activity

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, following months of negotiations led by Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for five years.

"I think some people look at what's happened during COVID and say, everybody has workforce shortages,” Sen. Cantwell said on the Senate floor last week. “But when you have a workforce problem in aviation, it means you don't have the highest standards for safety.  That is why we have to pass this legislation.”

“Our bill gives the aviation workforce the tools and the platform they need. It's talking about machinists, about engineers, about mechanics, about pilots, about flight attendants, about baggage handlers, about maintenance workers, the people who are really part of the backbone of an aviation economy.”

Sen. Cantwell also spoke on the Senate floor yesterday after the legislation passed; watch that speech HERE.

The legislation prioritizes investments to increase staffing across all sectors of the aviation industry, including provisions that would:

  • Address Air Traffic Controller (ATC) Shortages: With a shortage of approximately 3,000 air traffic controllers nationwide, the bill requires that FAA implement improved staffing standards developed with the labor workforce to close staffing gaps. The bill also requires FAA to set maximum hiring targets to increase air traffic controller staffing.
  • Support Women in Aviation: Currently, less than 10% of licensed pilots are women and less than 3% are airline captains. The bill establishes a new Women in Aviation Advisory Committee at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), satisfying the Women in Aviation Advisory Board’s chief recommendation to focus on bringing more women into aviation careers and the entire industry.
  • Jumpstart Hiring for the FAA Safety Workforce: The bill requires the FAA to better leverage its direct hire authority to fill key safety positions related to aircraft certification and address gaps in FAA’s safety workforce.
  • Update FAA Staffing Model to Hire More Safety Inspectors: The bill requires FAA to update its aviation safety inspector model for a more accurate assessment of the number needed to perform safety oversight, and to use it to boost hiring of manufacturing safety inspectors, engineers, and technical specialists per year.
  • Build the Aviation Pipeline, Improve Workforce Recruitment and Education: The bill expands the Aviation Workforce Development Grant Program and increases funding to $60 million per year through FY 2028 to grow the aviation workforce pipeline through the education and recruitment of pilots, unmanned aircraft systems operators, maintenance technicians, aerospace engineers, and aircraft manufacturing technical workers. The newly established Aviation Manufacturing Program will help recruit and train the next generation of machinists represented by IAM as well as engineers and technicians represented by SPEEA.
  • Improve Access to Quality ATC Controller Training: The bill increases access to high quality advanced training with the deployment of more high-fidelity tower simulation systems in FAA air traffic control towers. These systems have been proven to help controllers prevent close calls and reduce the training backlog and time it takes for controllers to reach certification by 27%.
  • Improve FAA’s Aeromedical System and Approach to Mental Health: The legislation establishes the Aeromedical Innovation and Modernization Working Group to modernize FAA’s evaluation of and approach to mental health and other conditions. The bill also improves the FAA’s ability to issue special medical approvals to address backlogs and get healthy pilots safely back to work.
  • Streamline Job Pathways for Veterans: The bill streamlines the transition for military servicemembers to civil aviation maintenance careers by requiring the creation of a new military mechanic competency test, and increases FAA outreach and engagement on pathways to attain civilian mechanic certs. The aviation industry currently captures less than 10% of military aviation maintenance technicians.
  • Grow the Veteran Pilot Pool: The bill establishes a competitive grant program at DOT to enable eligible flight training schools to recruit and train veterans, who are not already military aviators, to become commercial pilots and certified flight instructors. By covering costs beyond existing veteran education benefits, the measure will help grow the supply of qualified pilots to provide air service to rural communities.
  • Improve Flight Attendant Self-Defense Training: The bill enhances basic and advanced self-defense training for flight attendants to better protect themselves and respond to unruly passenger incidents and other threats.

Among the provisions to support the aviation workforce, Sen. Cantwell’s landmark legislation also reauthorizes the FAA and NTSB for five years, strengthens consumer protections, boosts innovation and R&D, and improves aviation safety.

Full text of the bill is available HERE. A full breakdown of the bill’s components is HERE.

More information about the consumer protection provisions in the bill is HERE.

More information about the safety provisions in the bill is HERE.

More information about the innovation and research provisions in the bill is HERE.

Sen. Cantwell is a longtime proponent of working to strengthen the aviation and aerospace workforce in Washington state and nationwide. In March 2023, she held a hearing focused on strengthening the aviation workforce and highlighting the anticipated shortages in the industry over the next two decades: “We will need 128,000 pilots, 134,000 maintenance technicians and 173,000 crew members in North America alone,” she said.

Last month, Sen. Cantwell convened a roundtable at Kent-based aerospace company Blue Origin with stakeholders from across the industry including manufacturers, researchers, and aviation apprenticeship instructors to discuss the Biden Administration’s designation of Spokane as a national hub for aerospace material manufacturing; video of that roundtable is available HERE.

Sen. Cantwell first introduced the Senate FAA Reauthorization bill on June 12, 2023, along with Sens. Cruz, Duckworth and Moran, and the Committee passed the legislation with bipartisan support on February 8, 2024. The Committee held eight hearings to inform the bill’s drafting, including: Integrating new entrants into the National Airspace System on September 28, 2022, strengthening airline operations and consumer protections following the Southwest and holiday cancellations on February 9, 2023, modernizing the FAA’s NOTAM system following failures on February 15, 2023, overseeing aviation safety and the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act on March 8, 2023, strengthening the aviation workforce on March 16, 2023, enhancing consumer protections and connectivity in air transportation on March 23, 2023 and advancing the next generation aviation technologies on March 29, 2023, and addressing close calls to improve aviation safety on November 9, 2023.