Last year, Kansas City International Airport reached 10 million passengers for the first time since 2011. These flyers rely on thousands of skilled professionals to ensure that their rides are safe, efficient, and enjoyable.
As passengers, we’ve come to expect that our global aviation system employs well-trained experts who know all of the latest technologies — from navigation systems to in-plane WiFi.
But a new forecast from Boeing is sobering: Over the next 20 years, global aviation will add 38,000 planes requiring 600,000 more technicians.
With many manufacturers and airlines already reporting shortages, we simply must build a stronger pipeline of skilled workers to these good-paying jobs.
For starters, we need to do all we can to inspire and empower young people who might be interested in working with planes. In this regard, Kansas City is leading the way.
For example, the Aircraft Electronics Association, a trade group based here, recently awarded $125,000 in scholarships. Similarly, Kansas City’s Aviation Institute of Maintenance hosts tours for high school groups and organizes career fairs for returning veterans. And schools like the University of Central Missouri are providing counseling and financial assistance for students who want to join this field.
Helping students discover this path to a good-paying (often six figures) job is part of the solution to this looming shortage. But that’s just step one.
The other crucial effort we must undertake is to ensure that the training these students receive incorporates the latest technologies in aviation.
We need to take the advice of experienced technicians like Sam Haycraft, who built his own aircraft maintenance company. He said, “Training standards need to reflect what technology is today, not what it was 40 or 50 years ago.”
In fact, on Wednesday and Thursday, here in Kansas City, Haycraft and a diverse group of aviation leaders will come together to tackle this issue. This will include experts from manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus, suppliers from fields like avionics, commercial airlines, regulators like the FAA, and other high-level volunteers.
Collectively, they understand that tomorrow’s technicians are more likely to carry laptops than toolboxes.
The group is working through ASTM International, one of the world’s largest standards development organizations. The goal of the ASTM Committee on Aerospace Personnel is to create a globally recognized set of training standards for an array of in-demand aerospace jobs: aircraft assembly workers, IT systems experts, repair station representatives, and more.
This model works. In fact, this collaborative approach has been in place for years with regards to setting safety and performance standards for aviation products such as planes and jet fuel.
As someone who has worked in the standards development community for decades, I can’t overstate the value of creating training standards in fields like aviation, an industry that is inherently global in nature.
After all, when an international traveler steps onto a jet, they place their trust and confidence in the millions of people who make global aviation work safely and seamlessly.
Let’s make sure that those passengers — from Kansas City to Kathmandu — can count on a strong supply of well-trained workers in the decades to come.
Katharine Morgan is executive vice president of ASTM International, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization that has developed global standards in a variety of industries since 1898.