MIAMI – Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Stephen Dickson addressed students looking toward the future of the aerospace industry, encouraging those who always dreamed to be aviators to not give up on their dream.

“I am excited for you,” he said. “Be ready. There is a generational shift as aviators and others will not work past the current cycle, and that will create opportunities.”

Stephen Dickson. Photo: FAA

The most eventful years in Aviation

Emphasizing the value of adaptability and lifelong learning, Dickson outlined the FAA’s priorities as it looks toward the future, as well as the industry’s recovery from the COVID-19 public health emergency.

He predicts the next five years will prove to be the most eventful in aviation since the dawn of the Jet Engine Age.

Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 JA773J. Photo: Alvin Man

Flying is not work; it is a passion

Dickson’s CV is studded with important experiences: he graduated at the U.S. Air Force Academy as a fighter pilot and also flew for 27 years with Delta Airlines (DL) before becoming the country’s 18th FAA administrator.

“I love to fly,” he said. “It’s not like work. It’s a passion and nothing is better than being around airplanes.”

Despite starting his new job during unexpected turbulence, he could not have prepared to see a thriving industry suddenly experience a 95% decline in air traffic and the need to direct international flights to just 11 airports.

SpaceShipTwo in Flight. (Credits: Virgin Galactic)

Dickson believes in the essential resilience of aviation

One of his mentors, former Delta CEO Richard Anderson, managed the Delta-Northwest merger that created the world’s largest airline during the 2007 financial crisis.

Dickson sees the FAA as “45,000 new teammates who support the most dynamic, safe, diverse, and innovative aviation system in the world.”

Looking again more broadly at the industry, Dickson predicts that air transportation demand will return, but the full recovery could take two to four years, with leisure travel outpacing business travel.

Carriers that rely on business travel for most of their revenue could see an even slower recovery.

A Spirit A319 in the present-day branding adopted when they became a ULCC leisure oriented carrier. This A319 is seen at LAX where Spirit has entered the legacy airline fray with non-stop flights to Las Vegas, Chicago O’Hare, and Ft. Lauderdale. (Credits: Aero Icarus)

A new frontier in aviation

Besides Civil “conventional” aviation Dickson reminded as well that in the next years a new stage for aviation is going to begin.

In fact, the FAA is working with companies such as SpaceX, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, and Virgin Orbit for the beginning of the Space Privatejourney outlining the process and as well the safety requirements needed for this new era.

BOE American SpacePort

Spaceports and safety management

FAA is working out, as well, to setting up the terrain for the construction of 12 commercially licensed spaceports around the US.

“By next year, I anticipate we will handle one commercial space launch a week,” Dickson said.

To end his message, Dickson said that in all aspects of the industry, safety is a recurring theme. Safety management systems are moving to other certificate-holders beyond airlines, including manufacturers, helicopter air tours, and airports.