Fast Facts

The Federal Aviation Administration requires aircraft be repaired and approved for flight by mechanics who are “certificated.” FAA oversees the certification process of these mechanics and of repairmen who fix aircraft parts. We testified about federal data on this workforce as well as government and industry programs that support these workers.

One of FAA’s goals is to promote the development of a robust and diverse workforce, but it doesn’t collect or analyze certain data to measure progress toward its goal.

We previously recommended that FAA make better use of existing data to measure this progress.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Federal data provide some information on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-certificated aviation maintenance workforce, though certain data limitations exist. FAA maintains data on the number of individuals newly certificated each year, but less is known about how many certificated individuals exit the aviation industry each year and the extent of growing demand. A sufficient supply of certificated workers is critical for safety and to meet the growing demand for air travel. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data provide some information on pay and demand for aviation maintenance workers more broadly, but do not differentiate between FAA-certificated and non-certificated workers due to data collection challenges. Demographic data may also be useful for workforce analysis and planning. FAA data provide some demographic information on certificated mechanics and repairmen, such as age and sex, but the agency lacks data on race and ethnicity. According to GAO analysis of FAA data, the median age of the roughly 330,000 mechanics and repairmen FAA had certificated as of December 2018 was 54 years old and three percent were women.

Government agencies, educational institutions, and businesses coordinate to some extent in support of this workforce, but FAA does not routinely analyze, collect, or coordinate with other stakeholders on certain data related to workforce development. One of FAA's strategic objectives includes promoting the development of a robust, skilled aviation workforce, and the agency established a committee, in part, to explore ways to diversify this workforce; however, FAA is not currently positioned to understand whether its efforts are optimally targeted or effective. Without routinely analyzing its own data or leveraging others' data, FAA may not have certain information it needs to track or ensure progress toward its workforce development goals.

FAA has acknowledged that curriculum requirements for Aviation Maintenance Technician (AMT) schools and mechanic testing standards are outdated. Efforts to revise the decades-old curriculum requirements for AMT schools are ongoing and FAA officials told GAO that a final rule will be published some time toward the end of 2020. FAA officials indicated that the revised mechanic testing standards would likely be finalized after.

Why GAO Did This Study

FAA requires that only mechanics who are "certificated" by the FAA approve aircraft for return to service. Some stakeholders have expressed concern that retirements and attrition could adversely affect the capacity of this workforce to meet the growing demand for air travel, and that the mechanic curriculum is outdated.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included provisions for GAO to examine the aviation workforce. This testimony examines (1) what federal data reveal about the characteristics of the aviation maintenance workforce, (2) how selected federal agencies and other key stakeholders provide support and coordinate to develop the skills of this workforce, and (3) FAA's progress in updating the curriculum and testing standards for mechanics. GAO analyzed FAA and BLS data; reviewed relevant federal laws and regulations; and interviewed selected federal agency, industry, and AMT school officials.

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Recommendations

In its February 2020 report, GAO recommended that FAA use its existing data and coordinate with other federal agencies to identify and gather information to measure progress and target resources toward its goal of promoting a robust, qualified, and diverse aviation maintenance workforce. FAA agreed with the recommendation.

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