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Public Statements

Letter to Michael Huerta, Acting Administrator Federal Aviation Administration; Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense U.S. Department of Defense; Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of the Veterans Administration U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security, called on key agencies to streamline the process qualifying veterans' face when obtaining the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification needed to work on civilian aircraft.
The demand for airplane mechanics emerged as a key theme during a series of aerospace job skills events that Cantwell held in October in Seattle, Spokane and Vancouver. In a letter sent today to the heads of the Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration, and the FAA, Cantwell outlined the need to reduce the obstacles veterans face when seeking to apply their military aerospace experience to the growing civilian aerospace industry.

"Washington state is home to Joint Base Lewis McChord, Fairchild Air Force Base, and to more than 600,000 veterans," Cantwell wrote in the letter sent today to the three agencies. "We should act now to help returning veterans get jobs and maintain the competitiveness of America's aerospace industry. To ease this transition, I am requesting that over the next 60 days your three agencies work together to identify those actions that will facilitate active duty, reservists, and veterans in obtaining their A&P licenses from the FAA in a more efficient and timely way, and report back to the Senate Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security. I see this as a win-win. It creates a great opportunity for Washington state's veterans and our growing aerospace industry."

Currently, veterans face difficulties in utilizing aerospace related skills learned in the military in obtaining certifications and licensing for civilian aerospace repair jobs. At a Senate Aviation Subcommittee field hearing Cantwell chaired in October, Washington aerospace leaders explained that aerospace companies seek workers trained in Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) on civilian aircraft. Individuals who obtain the FAA's Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) licenses can find it easier to land jobs at companies performing MRO services. In the letter sent today, Cantwell urged the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration to coordinate an effort with the FAA to help veterans with A&P related skills from military service achieve faster certification for work in civil aviation.

Washington, and the nation, needs more skilled aerospace workers due to a "perfect storm" of increased demand, impending retirements and new technology. A recent report from the Accenture/Washington Aerospace Partnership calls for an increase in efforts to get veterans trained for the civilian aviation workforce. The Washington State Council on Aerospace estimated that 21,000 new aerospace workers are needed in Washington over the next decade. Boeing's 20-year forecast found that the world's airlines need to add 460,000 pilots and 650,000 maintenance technicians in the next two decades. Of this total, North America is projected to need 82,800 pilots and 134,800 maintenance personnel.

Cantwell wrote: "Veterans who have spent years maintaining military aircraft may spend time and money taking classes to learn skills they have already mastered simply because current FARs [Federal Aviation Regulations] (Part 147) conflict with other agency guidance. We need to modify existing FAA regulations to make it quicker, easier, and less expensive for veterans to obtain critical FAA certifications."

On October 28th, Cantwell joined Spokane Community College (SCC) to announce a new veterans outreach program to connect veterans with jobs in Washington state. The program started at SCC will eventually be implemented at all 34 community and technical colleges to help connect veterans with aerospace jobs. SCC will hire a veterans coordinator by the end of 2011 who will work to standardize the process for awarding community college credit to veterans for military experience to help get them through aerospace training faster and into aerospace employment sooner.

On Monday, October 24th, Cantwell held a U.S. Aviation Subcommittee field hearing in Seattle on closing the aerospace job skills gap. Witness testimony is available here. Aviation leaders from across the state of Washington testified about strategies to develop a skilled aviation workforce and meet the needs of a rapidly growing industry.

Cantwell has long fought to make Washington state a 21st century hub for the commercial aviation industry. In February 2011, Cantwell played a key role in shepherding the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill through the Senate, which invests in 21st century technology for air travel, creating high-tech aviation jobs and improving efficiency for travel and trade. The FAA reauthorization bill would convert the nation's air traffic control system from the outdated, less efficient ground-based system to a more efficient satellite-based system. The GPS-based system, called NextGen, will allow aircraft to move more precisely into and out of airports, improving air safety and reducing flight delays that cost the nation's economy billions of dollars each year.

In 2003, the Senate passed Cantwell's amendment to the "Vision 100' FAA reauthorization bill creating the FAA's first advanced materials research center of excellence. She successfully fought to have the new center based at the University of Washington. The Center for Excellence for Advanced Materials for Transportation Aviation Structures (AMTAS) leads the industry's research of advanced aviation materials, such as composites and aluminum alloys, for use in civilian transport aircraft. Research conducted by AMTAS students and scientists helped prove to the FAA that use of structural composite materials in aircrafts is safe. Boeing incorporated ATMAS' findings into many of the new 787s' systems.

As part of AMTAS, Cantwell also helped land initial funding to help grow a training program in advanced aviation materials started in the late 90s at Edmonds Community College. Since then, several other training programs at the state level have spun off from these initial programs and are currently helping to produce the skilled aviation workforce of the future.

The complete text of the letter sent today follows.

The Honorable Michael Huerta
Acting Administrator
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue
Washington, DC, 20591

The Honorable Leon Panetta
Secretary of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1400

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of the Veterans Administration
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Administrator Huerta:

On October 24, 2011, I chaired a field hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security in Seattle entitled: The Aviation Workforce: Industry and Labor Perspectives on Training Needs and Challenges.

What became evident at the hearing is that more skilled workers will be needed in civil aviation-related manufacturing industries in Washington state and nationwide, due to a "perfect storm" of increased demand, impending retirements and new technology. One way we can attempt to fill this need more quickly is to ensure that those people at the end of their military service can transition to civilian aerospace careers as quickly as possible.

The Washington State Council on Aerospace estimates that some 21,000 new workers are needed over the next decade in the state. The need is not only for engineers and production workers, but also for those performing Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) on civil aircraft. According to The Boeing Company's current 20-year forecast "As the world commercial fleet expands to more than 39,500 airplanes over the next 20 years, the world's airlines will need to add 460,000 pilots and 650,000 maintenance technicians, both to fly and maintain the new airplanes and to replace current personnel who are due to retire during the period." Of this total, North America is projected to need 82,800 pilots and 134,800 maintenance personnel.

For pilots who are active duty service member, the path for transitioning from a military career to a civilian one flying aircraft is well defined. At the Aviation Subcommittee hearing, multiple aerospace leaders identified barriers that prevent a similarly well-defined path for active duty service members, reservists, and veterans who maintained military aircraft transitioning to careers at private sector firms performing MRO services for civil aircraft.

Paralleling the actions the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration are taking to create a continuum of health care for active duty service members and veterans, I see an opportunity for your three agencies to work together to reengineer the process by which current military, reservists, and returning veterans can be prepared to obtain the two licenses needed to work on aircraft -- the Airframe and the Powerplant (A&P) licenses -- from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in a more timely manner. This will permit these individuals to work at companies performing MRO services sooner (and at lower cost to them).

There is no question that the current Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) ensure individuals seeking permission to take the oral, written, and practical tests for the Airframe and / or Powerplant licenses receive comprehensive training that fosters the highest safety standards. These FARs, though, need to be updated to reflect changes in technology such as the increasing use of composite materials and also be structured in way for the FAA to accept a combination of education and work experience in a standardized manner. Veterans who have spent years maintaining military aircraft may spend time and money taking classes to learn skills they have already mastered simply because current FARs (Part 147) conflict with other agency guidance. We need to modify existing FAA regulations to make it quicker, easier, and less expensive for veterans to obtain critical FAA certifications.

There are also actions that the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration can take to make it easier for active military, reservists, and veterans seeking A&P licenses. For one, while the DD-214 form includes a description of a service member's education and military employment history, there is no standardized way of capturing what A&P related skills the active duty member, reservist, or veteran demonstrated competency in while in the service. This information would be helpful to FAA personnel who make the decision on whether to qualify the veteran to sit for their Airframe and / or Powerplant license. DOD and the VA need to work with the FAA to provide this information in a format that the FAA will acknowledge. Additionally, we encourage the DOD to publicize and promote to active duty members with MRO-related job descriptions the FAA approved correspondence school available to them. Passing these courses would enable those in active duty to sit for their A&P licenses upon separation from the military.

Washington state is home to Joint Base Lewis McChord, Fairchild Air Force Base, and to more than 600,000 veterans. Washington state is home to 153 aerospace companies. Our State's broader aerospace cluster is 650-companies strong. We should act now to help returning veterans get jobs and maintain the competitiveness of America's aerospace industry. To ease this transition, I am requesting that over the next 60 days your three agencies work together to identify those actions that will facilitate active duty, reservists, and veterans in obtaining their A&P licenses from the FAA in a more efficient and timely way, and report back to the Senate Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security. I see this as a win-win. It creates a great opportunity for Washington state's veterans and our growing aerospace industry."

I look forward to working with you closely to address these issues in an expeditious manner.

Sincerely,
Senator Maria Cantwell
Chairman
Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations,


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