AOPA's Baker, NBAA's Bolen See Progress on Drawing New Students

 - January 24, 2022, 12:17 PM

The aviation community is beginning to see the fruits of a major effort across multiple groups to attract new pilots and the industry has become “cool again,” NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association president and CEO Mark Baker agree.

Speaking on a webinar last week, Bolen and Baker underscored the need to press forward on building the workforce. Bolen noted that this was “very much a front-burner issue” before the pandemic and it eased briefly with the airline layoffs.

“But as the airlines are picking back up, once again “we're feeling a strong pinch in this area. And so I think that makes it very important that we do things to address the immediate need and the long-term need.” The business and general aviation community is strongly focused on that, he said.

Baker estimated that the industry needs to get back to 40,000 or 50,000 licenses issued a year—which was common in the 1980s. This year, the U.S. should see around 30,000 new licenses, he noted.

However, this represents a big jump from just a half-dozen years ago when the number had dwindled to about 17,000.

Baker is also encouraged by the response to AOPA’s High School Aviation STEM Curriculum program. “It is going really well,” he said, noting that more than 10,000 students in 450 classrooms in 44 states are participating. Many involve underrepresented groups, including young women (25 percent of the participants) and underprivileged students (40 percent).

Importantly, since AOPA started the program five years ago, “not one high school has dropped out.” The curriculum is drawing 30 students in a class and schools are coming back looking for second and third classes.

This appeal is coming as students are “hearing that there has never been a better time to make money in aviation” and that there are real opportunities.

“I think we're onto something good,” Bolen agreed. “There's a bit of a virtuous cycle that is going on here…There's been a lot of inspiration that has been given to youth.” Emerging technologies such as drones and advanced air mobility, along with commercial space launches, are generating excitement and capturing the imagination of a lot of youths, he said.

This underscores the need to focus on less traditional areas of aviation as well and push for diversity and inclusivity, Bolen added. “We need to attract the best and brightest wherever they are. And so the efforts that are being made to broaden the message, beyond the narrow subset that we have been focused on in the past, is something that I think is being embraced and we're finding tremendous results there.”