By GRANT BOYD
While a number — read all — industries contend they are the “best,” the general aviation industry undoubtedly takes the top spot with its level of support towards new and prospective members, through mentorship, educational initiatives, and other opportunities.
For the three years that I have been a member of this industry, I have felt an exceptionally high level of warmth and acceptance from others in the general aviation community. These individuals have more than gone out of their way to help me feel welcomed and find the niche that suits me best.
With all the attention I got, I began to wonder whether I was a special case or if the industry truly has this level of dedication to all of its newcomers.
I quickly realized that I am — thankfully — no luckier than the next person hoping to reach the sky.
I have seen countless others, both younger and older, taken under the “wing” of a more experienced professional. While aviation is an extremely competitive industry by nature, it does not show that in the level of mentorship (sometimes even from competitors) that people will experience when they are new to the industry.
According to Dave Franson, president of the Wichita Aero Club, the industry has been this way since its inception.
“Wilbur and Orville Wright could have made a decent living building and repairing bicycles, but the lure of the skies and the incredible potential for expanding their experiences and perspectives motivated them,” he says. “The aerospace industry and, specifically, business aviation, has been aggressive about recruiting, training and developing new leadership. That has fueled its growth and importance. Business aviation has, in turn, had a significant impact on the world economy and the conduct of international commerce.”
Franson notes that this excitement for newcomers is out of necessity, more than anything.
“The industry has no other choice — it won’t grow or prosper without fresh talent,” he explains. “It’s imperative that a new generation of leaders and workers replace those who are retiring. The potential for the aerospace industry is extraordinary, and the technology and capabilities of the industry have advanced at an impressive pace, but that advancement is fostered by the infusion of new ideas, fresh perspective, and the boundless energy of enthusiastic new participants.”
One of the many industry leaders who see the importance of younger aviation professionals and their “new ideas, fresh perspective, and boundless energy” is Lynn Nichols, president of Yingling Aviation, which provides FBO services, maintenance, aircraft sales, and much more at Wichita’s Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport (KICT).
“First, our industry is experiencing a shortage of good talent,” he says. “Yes, unemployment levels are at a low, but it is amplified by the fact baby boomers are retiring at an accelerated rate, and there is a need to back-fill those workers. The industry is, at every opportunity, trying to offset this shortage through automation, however the automation still needs workers to operate the machinery.”
The industry also uses intern programs that provide additional training for college and trade students, who then find employment in general aviation, he notes.
“And, don’t forget there is a shortage of pilots in our industry,” he says. “Clearly, there is a great opportunity for our young people to begin a career in aviation. Whether it is an A&P, sheet metal, avionics, electrical, engineering, composites or wanting to be a pilot — the industry welcomes you.”
“Our HR manager is always looking for someone wanting to start a career with our company,” he adds.
While general aviation businesses are working to entice new people into the fold, so are the industry’s advocacy groups, from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association‘s You Can Fly initiative to the National Business Aviation Association‘s Young Professionals in Business Aviation (YoPro) initiative.
Another industry organization, the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), is also “extremely active” in helping younger individuals get their foot in the door, according to Shannon Chambers, managing director of marketing and communications.
“NATA encourages and assists the next generation of aviation business professionals by offering scholarships through the National Air Transportation Foundation, specifically geared toward aviation-related degrees and career advancement in general aviation fields,” she notes. “Also, NATA’s college chapter and student memberships provide opportunities for young people to network with industry leaders, gain practical experience, and learn the latest trends in the field. Additionally, NATA welcomes students to experience policymaking at the ground level through invitations to association committee meetings and events.”
The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) is another organization helping to integrate college-aged and younger individuals into the industry, with a specific emphasis placed upon manufacturing and technical-oriented careers.
The organization has a daunting and extremely important challenge to tackle: Helping solve the impending — and by some accounts current — shortage of maintenance and manufacturing personnel.
According to the 2018 Global Fleet and MRO Market Assessment, the aviation maintenance industry will grow to record levels of $114 billion in 2028, up from $77.4 billion in 2018. The latest Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook Report (2017-2036) adds support to that, estimating 648,000 new maintenance technicians will be needed to support the world-wide fleet in the next 20 years. That tops the 637,000 commercial airline pilots that will be needed in the next two decades.
“There are a lot of great opportunities within the general aviation manufacturing industry for people college aged and younger,” says Sarah McCann, GAMA’s director of communications. “Many companies offer internships or co-ops, as do other general aviation industry associations, and even the Department of Transportation offers internships. Some companies even offer apprenticeships, which are a great way to achieve real-world, hands-on experience in the profession or industry in which you are interested.”
She also says that the organization is helping those pursuing an education in their quest to achieve industry success.
“GAMA supports students interested in pursuing a career in the aviation industry through a variety of ways, including through its Aviation Design Challenge, scholarships, promotion of internship opportunities with GAMA member companies, and partnerships that promote educational opportunities and competitions,” she reports.
The Biggest Potential to Inspire Tomorrow’s Leaders
While industry leaders and officials with GA’s alphabet groups are important in inspiring the next generation of aviation employees, they aren’t the end all and be all. They are only a portion of the solution.
The rest lies with regular people — like those reading this article — who have the biggest potential to inspire tomorrow’s leaders.
We need people willing to take time out of their days to answer questions from aspiring pilots and aviation professionals. We need people who work in the industry to selflessly share their knowledge to help grow general aviation to ensure that it not only survives, but thrives.
Without the selflessness of those in the industry, I may not be in this industry. For their help, I — and all of the other young dreamers who have felt the warmth of the industry — am extremely grateful for their efforts.