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Recap: The Advanced Air Mobility Workforce of the Future

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The finale of the U.S. DOT Volpe Center and Federal Aviation Administration’s seven-part thought leadership series, Up, Up and Away, Innovations in Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), wrapped up on February 15, 2024. Laurence Wildgoose, Assistant Administrator for Policy, International Affairs, and Environment, FAA, Robin Riedel, Partner, Aerospace and Defense, Travel, Transportation and Logistics, and Sustainability, McKinsey Center for Future Mobility, and Becky Lutte, PhD, Chair of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University College of Aviation Worldwide joined Anne Aylward, U.S. DOT Volpe Center Director, for the final program, which focused on the AAM and future aviation workforce

Over the course of the series, more than 20 federal officials, experts from the private sector, academia, and non-profit organizations considered AAM in the context of safety, global competitiveness, innovation, the environment, equity, international collaboration, and workforce requirements. Throughout the series, experts discussed how to move quickly to embrace new technologies while ensuring that the aviation system of the future is safer, more efficient, equitable, and sustainable.

In her opening remarks, Aylward thanked all those who contributed to the series and those who linked in from across the transportation enterprise. Attending the series were representatives from eight U.S. cabinet agencies, hundreds of state, regional, local, and tribal government agencies, academia, non-profit organizations, and the private sector.

Building the AAM Workforce of the Future

Throughout the series, leadership from DOT,  aircraft manufacturers, and experts in the field of autonomous flight spoke about the potential benefits and opportunities of this emerging technology. Several speakers touched on the need to safely integrate AAM into the existing airspace, and the progress that has been made to develop new concepts, validate aircraft, and streamline the regulatory process. For AAM to launch successfully in the coming decade, the future workforce will need to possess a unique set of skills.

Laurence Wildgoose spoke about the future AAM workforce and the broad skillsets that will be needed. “AAM is here, and the hard work is happening now,” remarked Wildgoose. “So, what does that mean for today’s FAA workforce? Well, it’s easy to talk about the unique skills that we need. We need engineers and scientists. We always need engineers and scientists at the FAA. But, we also need policy experts, communication practitioners, and even lawyers and more. The aviation sector needs people across the full range of skillsets,” concluded Wildgoose.

Community outreach and engagement will also play an important role in the safe and successful introduction of AAM technology, especially in urban and rural areas of the nation. “Our national engagement and regional administration team is leading the FAA’s efforts to build stronger relationships with local communities,” noted Wildgoose. “This kind of engagement is important now, but as AAM starts to integrate and operate in our national airspace system, it will be critical,” Wildgoose concluded.

A Well-Trained and Educated Workforce

If AAM products launch on the intended scale, jobs will be created including pilots, technicians, engineers, software engineers, and dispatchers. This will require highly trained and educated workers who are ready to solve the challenges presented by AAM as it enters the global transportation system.  Becky Lutte, PhD, Chair of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, spoke about the rapid pace of innovation and technological growth around AAM and the potential education, training, and new job opportunities that await.

From an education perspective, Lutte provided some background on the approach Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has taken to train and educate people entering the aviation workforce. “There are lots of different jobs and lots of ways to approach this, and we need to keep the options open so we can meet people where they are and fill the needs for the workforce,” Lutte said. “So, we have things like certificates. We are pro ed, so professional education allows us to draw a workforce from other industries, bringing into AAM and bridge that gap of knowledge they need to be successful in the industry,” concluded Lutte.

Lutte issued a call to action and encouraged participants to consider three important areas that will shape the AAM workforce of the future—workforce development, training and education, and research.

“So, if we want to build the workforce of the future, we’re going to need to work together,” said Lutte. “And, the call to action in these three areas included under workforce development is outreach. Do it, and think about how you’re doing it. You’ll rethink your approach. Think about sustaining the momentum. Think about the messaging. Think about the influencers, but with a focus on outreach. Clearly, a focus on the recruitment, retention, and advancement of the best possible talent from the widest possible pool, and what we need to do to make that happen,” concluded Lutte.

Shaping the Future of AAM

Many aviation experts agree the next several years will see exciting changes and new innovations across the industry. During his talk, Robin Riedel with the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility highlighted several “mega trends” the aviation sector will experience in the next 5 to 10 years. These trends include:

  1. Electrification of aircraft using advanced battery and charging technologies;
  2. Digitization of aircraft operations and services to improve customer experience;
  3. New ways of learning and training the next generation of aviation professionals;
  4. Sustainability and the shift away from traditional energy sources; and
  5. Shared mobility, which has the potential to reduce congestion and traffic wait times.

Whatever the future may look like, Riedel believes we have an excellent opportunity to shape the aviation workforce right now. “And so, given all the exciting things that are happening, I think it’s not only a topic of concern of how do we get the workforce of the future, but also a topic that is actually a great opportunity, because we can shape much with it,” noted Riedel.

According to Riedel and recent data from McKinsey, the AAM industry in particular has experienced significant momentum and change in recent years. The industry has seen $9 billion in investments from 2022 to 2023 alone, and 70 percent of the top 25 original equipment manufacturers and suppliers are actively investing in the future of AAM. The current order backlog for new AAM aircraft, including electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles, surveillance and delivery drones includes more than 21,300 aircraft worth an estimated $118 billion. From 2021 to 2022, the number of packages delivered by drone increased by more than 80 percent, and 1 million drone deliveries were made in 2023.

“This is an industry that’s having actual traction,” remarked Riedel. “I always hear people asking, ‘Well is this really real? Will we really have flying cars? Is this really something that’s on the horizon?’ The reality is that yes, it is,” commented Riedel.

“We have lots of test flying going on. We have billions of dollars in funding going into it, and so I think it’s pretty clear that over the next couple of years, this transition will start to happen. You know, we can debate how quickly it will ramp up, but I don’t think there is a question that this is the future,” concluded Riedel.

View the event recording for the full discussion.

Up Next

In spring 2024, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center will release a final report recapping the Up, Up, and Away thought leadership series.

*The views of the speakers may not represent the views of U.S. DOT.

About the U.S. DOT Volpe Center  

Celebrating more than 50 years of federal service to the nation, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s mission is to transform transportation for all.  

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