Together, we must act to solve the shortage of pilots and maintenance technicians.

As the recovery continues from the pandemic that began in 2020, the aviation industry is poised for significant growth—but with a shortfall of key aviation workforce professionals, specifically pilots and maintenance technicians. The Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook 2023–2042 forecasts that 649,000 new pilots and 690,000 new maintenance technicians will be needed to fly and maintain the global commercial fleet over the next 20 years.

The commercial airline industry has responded to the worker shortage by offering significant signing bonuses, salary increases, and renegotiated contracts focused on work–life balance to recruit and retain talent. The vertical flight industry is in competition with the airlines for this scarce talent. In fact, the airlines have realized the value of rotorcraft pilots and maintenance technicians and have created transition programs specifically to recruit them.

Moreover, the vertical aviation industry is experiencing a wave of retirements as the Baby Boomers and even some Gen Xers age out of the workforce. Therefore, it’s vital that we in the vertical flight industry address the worker shortfall and outperform the competition from both legacy and regional airlines for vertical aviation professionals.

Developing Solutions

Historically, a key way to find vertical aviation professionals was to recruit service members leaving the military. But a US Defense Department official recently reported that the US Army, Navy, and Air Force were collectively experiencing their own shortfall of 41,000 recruits in the fiscal year ending September 2023.

As a leader in the vertical aviation industry, VAI understands the importance of developing solutions to address the talent shortage, which is why the association in October 2022 made workforce development one of its five strategic initiatives, with a vision of establishing a sustainable industry workforce pipeline such as that outlined in the graphic below.

Ultimately, the association can’t mandate changes to how our industry recruits and retains talent. Instead, VAI’s role is to bring the industry together to discuss, identify, and promote best practices that can be implemented by operators and maintenance facilities. To gain that industry input, the board also authorized the creation of the VAI Workforce Development Working Group to provide their perspective on actions the industry can take to address the shortage.

If you’re interested in joining the Workforce Development Working Group or you’re looking for ways to better recruit staff for your organization, please see “Call to Action,” below, for information on how you can be part of the workforce development solution.

Building a Path into Vertical Aviation

One factor making recruiting difficult is a lack of awareness among the public about vertical aviation careers and the absence of a clear path to employment. VAI has developed several initiatives to help.

In 2019, the association worked closely with the state of Utah to create the Utah Rotor Pathway Program (URPP). This was the first education program in the nation bringing together educators, rotorcraft professionals, and state government officials to prepare high school students for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers in rotary-wing aviation. In the URPP, students earn college credits and learn skills specific to vertical aviation while participating in technical classes and hands-on learning at the secondary-school level. The students are also connected to universities that offer paths to professional licensing.

The URPP program also connects rotorcraft industry professionals with high schools, flight schools, and universities to offer benefits such as mentoring, internships, and job interviews upon students’ completion of their rotary-wing programs.

Building on the success of the URPP, VAI has partnered with the University of North Dakota to roll out a Rotor Pathway Program in the state. Mark Schlaefli, owner–­operator of Black Hills Aerial Adventures and Yellowstone Helicopters and vice chair of VAI, is participating in the program as an eager industry partner.

“Part of our stated purpose as operators is to help develop the next generation of technicians and pilots who have an interest in vertical aviation,” says Schlaefli. “It is imperative that we as an industry help turn that interest into a passion. I was fortunate to have mentors throughout my journey, and we have a calling to give back and help a new generation of rotary-wing pilots find their place in vertical aviation.”

Taking Students to the Show

Other programs to raise awareness about vertical aviation careers occur each year at the association’s annual conference and trade show. While this year’s show is HAI HELI‑EXPO 2024, the show will be renamed VERTICON beginning with the 2025 edition. However, all activities described below as occurring at Expo are also planned to take place at VERTICON.

The Jeff Pino Foundation has partnered with VAI the past two years to coordinate attendance of high school students at the show. One of the organization’s missions is to mentor young people who aspire to careers in aviation. The foundation provides scholarships to students interested in aviation, and VAI plans to work with the group on vertical aviation–specific scholarships this year. The Jeff Pino Foundation and VAI will welcome to HAI HELI-EXPO 2024 students from Los Angeles, Cali­fornia–area institutions Canyon High School and Corona High School as well as the Bonita Unified School District. Members of the VAI Workforce Development Working Group will guide the students around the show floor to meet manufacturers and suppliers and learn about vertical aviation’s many distinct missions. In addition, students will visit exhibits from universities, flight schools, and A&P schools and become familiar with the many training programs available in the industry.

The annual VAI Helicopter Industry Career Fair enables those interested in vertical aviation to meet with human resources professionals from various industry companies and organizations to learn about careers and job opportunities in the field. The free event is also a great way for students to learn how to network and get in front of hiring officials.

VAI’s annual Mil2Civ Workshop provides military pilots and maintainers valuable information about how to make the transition to the civil helicopter industry. Veterans who have recently made the switch themselves offer tips on how to best position oneself for a civilian career after having served in the military, including writing an effective aviation resume and preparing for the interview.

Recruiting Industry Partners

Addressing the workforce shortage is an industry-wide issue, and to help address it VAI is committed to raising public awareness about the vertical aviation industry, its unique segments, and the paths to entry.

An essential part of that commitment entails highlighting other organizations aligned with this mission, such as the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), an auxiliary of the US Air Force, and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) Foundation. The CAP has created a rotary education camp to train cadets in the basics of rotary flight, manufacturing, and maintenance.

The AOPA Foundation, meanwhile, runs the You Can Fly high school aviation STEM curriculum, which is available in 46 US states and Washington, D.C., with more than 71,000 students served so far. The STEM curriculum features career pathways for pilots, both on board and remote. Students in the program learn the principles necessary to pass FAA knowledge tests.

Call to Action

Simple steps you can take to help increase the industry workforce.

There are several ways you can help drive interest in vertical aviation careers:

  • Visit your local high school, flight school, or A&P school to promote the industry and discuss jobs that exist locally.
  • Donate to the VAI Scholarships program, which provides approximately $30,000 annually in funds for current and aspiring pilots and aviation maintenance technicians. To make a contribution, contact [email protected].
  • Explore programs such as the US Department of Defense SkillBridge initiative, which offers active-duty service members the opportunity to gain valuable on-the-job work experience during their last 180 days of service.
  • Start a mentorship or apprenticeship program at your company.
  • Consider creating a pathway program in your state. Contact [email protected] for more information.
  • Volunteer to be a part of the VAI Workforce Development Working Group and help develop solutions for the industry.

For more information on ways to get involved, please contact Education@vertical​avi​.org.

Framework for Strategic Workforce Transformation

The VAI Workforce Development Working Group has developed a strategic action plan to build a sustainable workforce pipeline across all professions in our industry. The plan will address the needs of the pipeline’s full life cycle—from high school to those certificated and ready to enter the workforce.

VAI will work with our industry partners to create and/or expand existing programs, such as:

  • Industry mentorships
  • Pathway programs
  • Scholarships
  • International partnerships
  • Internships/apprenticeships
  • Equipment resources for schools
  • High school outreach.




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