The current pilot shortage has posed a significant challenge to the aviation industry worldwide. Flight cancellations, route reductions, and higher ticket prices are being experienced by the public and these concerns are receiving significant attention. The private sector has responded by implementing several short-term strategies, which include offering signing bonuses, enhancing training programs, fostering collaborations with flight schools, and expanding recruitment efforts. While these initiatives have helped to alleviate the immediate impact of the shortage, a comprehensive national long-term strategy is necessary to address the root causes and further sustain the industry’s growth.
To tackle the workforce shortage effectively, a collective proactive approach is required. Solutions must focus on promoting aviation careers to younger generations and efforts should be done to reduce barriers to entry. It is also crucial to showcase the wide range of opportunities beyond piloting, which includes but is not limited to careers in airport management, aircraft mechanics, unmanned aircraft operations, and airport engineering/planning. Scholarships and educational programs can also help make aviation training more affordable and accessible. Additionally, finding ways to streamline regulatory requirements without compromising safety would also help to encourage aspiring aviators to join the profession.
Aviation education has been a priority to the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission (NDAC) and we are proud of our collaborative efforts with the North Dakota Aviation Association (NDAA) to significantly grow aviation education initiatives throughout the state, over the last decade. The NDAC has provided funding to assist with multiple educational programming events, such as the Bismarck Aviation Career Day, which draws in over 900 fifth graders to learn about aviation careers. The Commission also supports internships at commercial service airports and funds educational programming at aviation museums. Furthermore, the Flight Training Assistance Program helps to provide transportation costs of flight instructors to rural airports.
The NDAC has also played a pivotal role in developing aviation-related programming for high school students. The Kindred High School is one example of a recent recipient of grant funding, which will assist with starting up a new aviation program. Presently, seven different cities throughout the state provide aviation-specific high school coursework. Additionally, all North Dakota students have an opportunity to access aviation curriculum through the state’s distance education program. Overall, these efforts have been very successful, as we have seen tremendous growth in the number of aviation students at both the high school and collegiate levels.
This past biennium, a partnership was also formed between NDAC, NDAA, and the University of North Dakota to receive a federal workforce development grant. This has allowed for new professional development opportunities for our high school teachers and to further promote aviation curriculum within the school systems.
Efforts have also been successful to develop one-time and endowed scholarship funds for students pursuing a career in aviation. An annual Aviation Career Expo, which occurs each October and alternates between the Fargo and Minot Aviation Museums, has also been very successful. This event has been drawing approximately 150 high school students from all over North Dakota, who are specifically interested in aviation careers.
North Dakota’s proactive initiatives can serve as an inspiration for other states and regions that are also facing workforce shortages. A national-level effort is imperative to tackle the issue and ensure a sustainable supply of skilled aviation professionals. Our office will continue to collaborate with industry groups and organizations as we facilitate the exchange of ideas and best practices with the goal of promoting effective strategies nationwide.
We deeply appreciate the contributions of all the dedicated volunteers and prwofessionals who have worked to actively promote aviation careers. We also wholeheartedly encourage each one of you to explore opportunities to give back to the industry. Together, let us continue fostering a passion for aviation and work to inspire the next generation to explore the different career fields that aviation has to offer.