The National Academies

ACRP 06-04 [Completed]

Identifying and Evaluating Airport Workforce Requirements

  Project Data
Funds: $580,760
Research Agency: ICF Incorporated
Principal Investigator: Candace Cronin
Effective Date: 6/4/2015
Completion Date: 9/15/2017


Airports are vital assets to the local, regional, and national economies, requiring a well-trained and skilled workforce to provide necessary services; yet, many of the most experienced workers are eligible to retire in coming years. This trend toward increasing retirement of key personnel is compounding a situation where it may already be difficult to attract, hire, train, and retain a workforce with the skills required to meet the needs of a demanding and evolving industry. The fundamental problem was discussed in ACRP Synthesis 18: Aviation Workforce Development Practices, reporting, for example, that entry-level workforce is typically hired with little aviation-specific education or experience. The synthesis also indicated that coordinated workforce planning and development efforts that integrate best practices in recruitment, retention, on-the-job training, and succession planning rarely exist at airports. At best, airport workforce development is often performed primarily on an ad-hoc basis with a narrow focus that may only concentrate on a single human resource practice (e.g., training). What is often lacking is a comprehensive, sustainable workforce strategy that aligns existing and emerging business models with workforce development initiatives.  Whether it is a function of the number and diversity of airport types (nearly 400 primary airports, 2,500+ general aviation), operating authorities (state and local government, private operators), service providers (airside, landside, concessions), and other stakeholders (FAA, unions, private industry), or the overwhelming push to fill current job openings as quickly as possible, the industry's lack of attention to strategic long-term workforce planning and development is at odds with an increased focus on safety and enterprise risk management (ACRP Report 74: Application of Enterprise Risk Management at Airports).

To further complicate these workforce challenges, the current economic climate has placed significant financial constraints on airports, pressuring airport operators and service providers to reduce costs while attempting to redouble efforts to minimize risk exposure, ensure safety and security of passengers and employees, and improve the airport passenger experience. Additional challenges facing airports include the following:
  1. Recognizing that current research into airport workforce planning and development is somewhat narrow in scope, with significant gaps;
  2. Implementing Safety Management Systems (SMS), risk-based assessments, and the resulting changes to airport standard operations may require expanded training and development of employees, assessing proficiency of workers, and recruitment of employees with entirely new skill sets;
  3. Integrating new service-delivery demands as airline consolidations and evolving business models force airports to take over some of what were traditionally airline responsibilities;
  4. Understanding that emerging technologies such as NextGen could significantly impact airport capacity, planning, and operations, by creating additional airport service demands.
Research is needed to provide airport managers and stakeholders with practical information they can use to address short- and long-term issues affecting workforce readiness, retention, and development.


The objective of this research is to produce a guidebook to help (1) identify and evaluate current and future airport workforce requirements; (2) identify and evaluate existing education, training, and other workforce development resources; and (3) develop effective strategies to address future airport workforce requirements.

The proposed work plan encompassed the following:
  1. Concentrating on U.S. commercial-service airports, characterize current and anticipated airport industry workforce requirements, both quantitatively (numbers and demographics) and qualitatively (core competencies/skills), that affect and support airport operations. Include a review of available market research of labor pools as well as industry and government agency projections of capacity needs. Identify the mission-critical positions within the workforce that can significantly impact operations. Focus on a timeframe targeting 2020 to 2025;
  2. Addressing how anticipated and potential changes in key technical areas, changing business models, and demographic factors might affect future workforce requirements, as well as recruitment and retention initiatives;
  3. Reviewing sufficiency and effectiveness of current education, training and development, and recruitment programs as the means of attracting new employees into the industry, retaining existing employees, and preparing them for leadership positions; and
  4. Developing a practical guidebook that presents effective workforce planning and development strategies for airport professionals and other stakeholders. Include a review of leadership implications for a sustainable workforce strategy. Attention should be given to strategies that operate at the individual, team, and organization level; that target technical, professional, and management/executive level employees; and that can be employed by organizations of diverse sizes and financial positions, internally or through partnerships. .
STATUS: Phase I is published as Web Only Document 28; and Phase II is now complete and is available as Report No. 186, a Guidebook on Building Airport Workforce Capacity.

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