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Assessing, Building, and Retaining Workforce Capacity in the Aviation Industry


Workforce development in the aviation industry has historically been limited in scope and performed on an ad-hoc basis. Whether it is due to the number and diversity of airport types (e.g., 500+ commercial, 2,500+ general aviation)1, operating authorities (e.g., state and local government, private operators), service providers (e.g., airside, landside, concessions), and other stakeholders (e.g., FAA, unions), or the overwhelming push to fill current job openings as quickly as possible, the industry’s lack of focus on strategic long-term workforce planning and workforce development needs is at odds with its increasing focus on safety and enterprise risk management as described in ACRP Report 742. In ACRP Synthesis 183, airport operators and stakeholders noted that the entry-level workforce is typically hired with little aviation-specific education or experience. The study also found that coordinated workforce planning and development efforts that integrate best practices in recruitment, retention, on-the-job training, and succession planning rarely exist at airports. At best, the focus may be on a single human resource practice (e.g., training) without regard for a comprehensive strategic workforce planning program that aligns business processes and workforce development initiatives. To further complicate the workforce challenges for airports, the current economic climate has placed significant financial constraints on airport operators. At the same time that airport operators and service providers are trimming costs, they are redoubling efforts to minimize risk exposures and ensure safety and security of passengers and employees which undoubtedly will impact the workforce needs for airports. In fact, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has agreed for all Signatory States to the Chicago Convention to implement a State Safety Program (SSP), which requires aviation industry stakeholders to develop a Safety Management System (SMS). This concept fosters a risk-based approach concept for industry stakeholders, including airports. Given the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 139 does not currently account for a mandatory SMS program at airports and the subsequent implementation of a risk-based approach to certification, operations and safety surveillance activities, many airports have yet to consider the implications of it and other such safety and operational changes on the workforce. Each employee selected, trained, and developed by airports must play a critical role in achieving the airport’s mission and responding promptly to industry demands, regulatory changes, and safety needs. Thus, a misstep in workforce planning and development can be costly to the airports. The outcome of risk-based assessments and resulting changes to airport standard operations may involve a combination of workforce planning and development initiatives such as: expanded training and development of employees for their current roles; retraining for different roles as risks are prioritized; assessing proficiency of workers for vertical moves or determining transferability of skill sets for horizontal moves across airport jobs to maximize talent composition; and recruitment of employees with entirely new skill sets. In addition, many of the most experienced employees in the aviation industry will retire in coming years and the impact of the resultant capability gaps and institutional knowledge losses has yet to be quantified but is certain to be great. The sheer number of airports across the country (with over 5,100 public-use airports in the United States alone1), diversity of workforce demands across airport stakeholders, and diminishing labor pools with relevant talent further reiterate the need to quantify and characterize the state of the airport workforce. Whether due to funding constraints, risk management efforts, retirement of seasoned industry talent, new technologies, or variability in airport types, the absence of strategic processes for attracting, educating, and developing the future airport workforce leaves the aviation industry in a precarious position. Further, without an understanding of which jobs are most mission-critical, the positions at risk for greatest personnel losses, and leadership roles that lack viable successors, a major pillar of success in aviation, safety, could be at stake. Thus, the industry needs to take aggressive action to prepare for the challenges of dramatic workforce changes, growing demand for services, rapid technological development (e.g., NextGen ATC), and ballooning costs across the industry.


The objective of this research is to identify and evaluate current and future airport workforce capacity issues; evaluate existing education, training, and other workforce development resources; and develop effective strategies to meet future workforce capacity requirements.

Sponsoring Committee:AV020, Aviation System Planning
Research Period:12 - 24 months
Date Posted:12/12/2015
Date Modified:09/25/2016
Index Terms:Airport Cooperative Research Program, Aviation, Education and training, Labor force, Strategic planning, Risk management, Technological innovations,
Administration and Management

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