Aeronautical Repair Station Association – Keynote Remarks

Former Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen (April 1, 2022 – June 9, 2023)

Thanks, Sarah [MacLeod], and good morning, everyone.
You already know I was a line pilot. I’m rotor rated. I flew for the Army. 
And I know what you know – that a lot of the attention in this industry is centered on pilots and what’s happening on the flight deck. No secret here: it’s because pilots are out front and visible.
But let me say this: as a pilot, I know that the unsung heroes that keep the aircraft in the air, are the people in this very room. 
As a matter of fact, I can say that pilots are only as strong as the maintenance professionals who stand, not behind them, but alongside them. 
So let me start by thanking all of you — our aviation maintenance technicians, our repair stations, and our maintenance schools — for everything you do to uphold the strong safety culture we have in aviation, and for making this industry as safe as it can possibly be.
As many of you know, I recently issued a safety Call to Action to examine our system’s structure to ensure it fits the needs of today and the future. 

We have the safest aviation system in the world, but we can never take safety for granted or risk complacency. The incidents we’ve seen recently demand we take a closer look—and we must act now.

At yesterday’s Safety Summit, we gathered our community to do just that — to ask the hard questions:  Do we need to do something different? Are we missing something? What do we need to improve?

We’ve done deep dives before. That’s a fact. And we can—and will—do it again because safety is a mission that we can never declare accomplished.  On the contrary, safety is a mission that demands constant attention and constant improvement.   
The aviation maintenance industry has a unique perspective on the safety of our system, and we need your insight to better identify and pro-act on risks that may be lurking.
We have 72 repair stations that have voluntarily adopted Safety Management System programs to develop organizational best practices for safety risk management. 

To date, 19 of those stations have already been recognized by the FAA as having a fully-functioning SMS — and we are currently considering whether or not SMS will be required for this segment of the industry going forward.
We’ve asked the public to weigh in on this question by way of a recently published Notice of Proposed Rulemaking requiring SMS for commuter and on-demand operations, and air tour operators. We look forward to receiving feedback.
Our strong safety culture is something that we must pass on to the next generation of professionals in this field. 
Simply put, we need to attract new people to the aviation industry.
Scheduled flights are coming back to pre-COVID levels. That’s a good thing. But as you are aware, we also have 20,000 fewer AMTs than we did before the pandemic. 
And the demand for qualified AMTs is only increasing. We have to rebuild the pipeline.
On top of that, the jobs associated with our industry are changing too. As we incorporate new technologies and new concepts into our airspace system — unmanned aircraft, advanced air mobility concepts, commercial space transportation, etc. — we must also take into account that new skills will be required to operate and maintain aircraft of the future.
When you have a recruiting challenge as big as we do, we have to cast a broad net for applicants.
The FAA has learned a few things about what works. For one, we have to reach kids at early ages and inspire them in ways that will make them consider our industry as an option.  If we don’t generate early excitement, we’ll lose this generation to other industries.
My colleague Sean Torpey will discuss more about how we’re reaching kids early at the Young at Heart panel later this afternoon, and he’ll also discuss ways that we can all collaborate in this area.

Just as important at getting students’ attention is keeping them interested in high school and beyond — and I’m glad to report that we are doing our part at the FAA. 

We recently awarded $5 million in aviation maintenance technical worker workforce grants – that’s a mouthful! – to 11 organizations. These grants build on the $5 million we awarded previously, and will fund programs that generate interest and prepare students to pursue careers in aviation maintenance, and are one of the ways that the FAA is building its own pipeline of maintenance professionals.
Some of the programs these grants support focus on outreach to high school students from underrepresented communities. Others help military members and veterans transition into AMT careers. They all help attract future technicians to our industry — and that is good news.
We have also learned from experience that any program we develop is only as successful as our ability to attract attention to it. We need to be creative in order to reach this tech-savvy future AMT workforce that grew up online.  We need to seek them out in digital spaces such as social media and gaming platforms. 
We can learn from the success of the FAA’s recent air traffic controller hiring campaign. The “Level Up” campaign got the word out by having controllers share their stories during Instagram Live conversations, on Twitter, and on other interactive digital platforms.  

We actively sought out gamers who were likely to have some of the same skills required of controllers.  And we worked hard to attract applications from women, minorities, and individuals from underrepresented communities.  

These efforts resulted in 58,000 applicants, more than five times the number we expected, and from a much more diverse applicant pool. 
We want to see the same thing happen for AMTs, and we are eager to partner with you in creative ways to make it happen.
And we are looking for ways the FAA’s reauthorization can help us cast our net wider and in new directions to recruit the future workforce.
As the next generation comes in, their first experience of our safety culture will be during their training. I know this well, having been a training captain myself.
We have to continue to innovate training methods, so that we’re meeting industry standards, and engaging the highly-digitally-literate next generation workforce.   
This past September, an FAA interim rule went into effect requiring AMT schools to modernize training to meet the industry’s evolving needs. This rule provides flexibility to technical schools to develop and update their training content and course delivery options. 
And schools can increase access by providing training at additional locations, even outside of the United States. We’re getting positive feedback from you on the new rule.
We are also looking for ways the FAA and industry can collaborate on joint training. This will require we work together to define common performance outcomes and assessments — but from my personal experience, I know there is great benefit to opportunities that help the FAA and industry better understand each other’s perspectives. 
Again, I thank ARSA and everyone across the repair station community. Let’s continue to work together to strengthen training, improve workforce recruitment, and most importantly, to strengthen the safety culture.
As we do that, we’ll look back with pride on having made aviation better, and safer, for decades to come.