Study Aerospace Engineering

Faced with the challenge of attracting engineering talent to the U.S. aerospace and defense industry, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) is spearheading a major drive to support development of a national aerospace policy to promote aerospace careers, accelerate basic research in future technologies, and lower barriers to trade for aerospace manufacturers.

According to the final report of the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry, a new policy is required because we face a major workforce crisis. As of December 2003, U.S. aerospace employment was listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at 574,000 workers--the lowest figure in at least 50 years. The industry has shed some 757,000 jobs – nearly 57 percent -- since its 1989 peak of 1.3 million. The commission found that the aerospace workforce is aging and that about 30 percent of people currently employed in the industry—the baby boom population--would be eligible to retire by 2008.

The demographics at the beginning of the curve have changed significantly too-- the percentage of workers aged 34 or younger dropped from 32 percent in 1992 to 18 percent in 2002. After considering the looming age gap in future workforce, the commission recommended that the federal government create an interagency task force to coordinate policy and establish a national strategy for investment in education and training for the next generation of aerospace workers. The task force would also propose ways to stabilize and increase the number of highly skilled jobs.

Growing recognition by the government that a declining aerospace workforce poses a direct threat to our nation’s economic health and national security will present new opportunities to the next generation of students who are currently in high school and college. AIA is working to ensure that federal investment in research and development – directly related to the health of the industry, and therefore, to employment--is increased. The association has also worked tirelessly to fight for trade policy that will stimulate growth in the U.S. industrial base and generate new technologies to provide employment for future generations.

As the aging workforce retires, jobs for engineering and technical students will open up. Programs such as the 7E7, the development of civilian use of UAV’s, the modernization of air traffic control, and new methods of securing air transport from terrorist activity will provide fascinating challenges for engineering and technical workers in the second century of flight.

Additionally, salaries for aerospace engineers should remain competitive, with pay and benefits remaining generally on par with other industries. The median salary in 2003 for aerospace engineers with five years experience was $65,757, while systems engineers earned $64,896. As for benefits, the survey found that aerospace companies are paying on average 70 percent of the cost of health benefits. However, some companies are trying to maintain an 80-20 split in favor of employees.

Both AIA and individual companies are working hard to insure that the U. S. aerospace industry remains a leading sector in the global economy and that its key engineering employment base maintains its high level of contribution and remains viable for years to come. A few companies have banded together or undertaken enterprise-wide programs to deal with these issues. In one example, Raytheon Aircraft, Cessna, Boeing and Bombardier’s Learjet, have formed the Kansas Technology Training Initiative in Wichita to encourage young people to pursue technical careers in airframe and powerplant disciplines. Boeing has implemented a multi-faceted recruiting ad campaign aimed, in part, at attracting applicants with critical and special skills. It’s entitled: “Don’t Let History Happen Without You.”

AIA has also made workforce issues one of its top priorities and is calling on all candidates in this year’s presidential election to endorse a federal plan for revitalizing the U.S. aerospace workforce and to sustain manufacturing jobs. AIA asserts there is a need to bolster U.S. manufacturing with federal programs to help employers with education and training, high health care and pension costs, increased tax incentives, and funding programs to sustain the aerospace and defense industrial base.

As part of its continuing effort to bolster the U. S. aerospace industry, AIA recently put forward its second five-year research and development plan that asks the Bush Administration to develop a vision for aeronautics similar to the one proposed earlier by the president for space exploration. Clayton M. Jones, chair of the association’s Board of Governors’ initiative on aerospace research and development and chairman, president and CEO of Rockwell Collins, presented the plan. “The most spectacular enhancements of life in the 21st century will be tied to discoveries made in research and development for aerospace,” he predicted.

This plan follows on the heels of AIA’s first five-year plan, which successfully sought and achieved significant funding increases for defense R&D. The new plan calls for continuation of DOD’s strong levels of research and developmnt funding, and seeks increases for NASA and the FAA over the next five years.

The AIA plan calls for the government to reverse declining funding for the FAA’s aeronautics research and development budgets and its facilities and equipment modernization budgets. In the Administration’s ’05 budget request, FAA funding for modernization has been reduced significantly. Aerospace industry companies have serious concerns about cutting funding for air traffic modernization just as air traffic is reaching saturation in some cities and flights are being cut back. AIA’s plan calls for an increase in FAA funding of $3.8 billion over the five years for civil aeronautics. Also, the association calls for increases of $34 billion over the next five years for NASA, and seeks to increase funding for NASA aeronautics next year to $1.7 billion---up from the current ’05 projection of $919 million---an 11 percent drop from 2004.

The President’s vision for space charts an essential course for space exploration and answers many of industry’s questions about the kind of technologies that will be needed in the future. Although AIA supports the president’s plan, which increases funding for exploration capabilities by $12 billion over the next five years, , the association believes the administration should be challenged to create a new human-rated space exploration vehicle by 2010, rather than the proposed 2014. AIA’s plan would eliminate a four-year gap that would take place with the current plan that calls for the retirement of the space shuttle in 2010 and a new manned vehicle by 2014 with the gap filled by maintenance of the International Space Station accomplished by Russian or French space vehicles.

The aerospace industry is also concerned that funds would be diverted within the NASA budget from aeronautics to the space program. The industry is asking that NASA maintain a continued balance between space and aeronautics budgets.

AIA’s plan also encourages public/private partnerships to develop the National Air Space (NAS) modernization plan for new technology in safety, ATM development and deployment, NAS transformation, propulsion and fuel systems, advanced materials structures, environmental impacts, and for rotorcraft.

The association’s five-year plan, covering 2004 to 2008, did not ask for increased funding for defense R&D (the ’05 budget projection for DoD calls for an increase to $69 billion for R&D funding), but sought a reallocation of funds to areas that are critical to the industry and have been under-funded in recent years: solid rocket motors, avionics, rotorcraft, propulsion systems, GPS modernization, and aircraft engine component improvements.

AIA also believes that barriers to international trade must be lowered. The U. S., Europe and Asia will continue to be aerospace competitors as well as partners, suppliers and customers to each other. The association encourages the support of mature, sustained, cooperative and rules-based defence and trade relationships to help foster the global pursuit of aerospace growth.

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