FILE - Delta Airlines Atlanta

A Delta Airlines plane at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

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(The Center Square) – Georgia lawmakers are examining ways to maximize the aerospace employment pipeline in the state.

Aerospace and aviation executives told a legislative panel Tuesday the state needs to increase awareness to attract students to careers in the billion-dollar industry.

"[Aviation] is very important to Georgia. It's very important to our citizens, our businesses, and I think we're going to continue to see aviation grow in the future," Rep. David Knight, R-Griffin, said during the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee hearing.

There are 800 aerospace companies in Georgia that employ 104,500 people. The industry accounts for 6.7% of the state's gross domestic product, a Georgia Centers of Innovation report said. It provides $68.2 billion in economic benefits for the state, officials said. As workers age out of the system, however, executives said they need to recruit a new generation of aerospace workers.

According to the Center of Innovation for Aerospace, five technical schools, one state university and one commercial school offer aerospace curriculum in Georgia.

"We have a pipeline that's not full," said Knight, chair of the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee.

Patrick Burns, vice president of flight operations and system chief pilot at Delta Airlines, said students and parents first need to understand what careers make up the aerospace industry. Delta Air Lines, the state's largest employer, is pushing to create more pathways from high school to technical schools to develop a future workforce.

The company has outreach programs for college students and existing employees that recruit pilots and maintenance and repair workers. Executives said the programs will fill 1,000 technical jobs in Georgia in the coming months, and recruit about 1,000 new pilots in the next year. At the same time, 4,800 pilots will retire by the end of 2030. 

Industry executives said the state should consider providing more funding for marketing for technical schools. Delta has contributed $50,000 each to five of the state's technical schools to support related programs.

Rep. Jodi Lott, R-Evans, recommended providing incentives for teachers to teach more science and other related subjects. Industry leaders said the aerospace companies should foster partnerships with schools to offer tours to peak interest in the various jobs among students, teachers, guidance counselors and parents.

Aircraft company Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. runs a similar outreach program in Georgia, but executives said the state needs to provide outreach on a larger scale.

Lawmakers and executives are optimistic the workforce could be stimulated as Atlanta Technical College seeks to regain its U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification.

The committee will continue talks about the industry Wednesday with officials from Savannah Technical College and Middle Georgia State University.

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