Tennessee took a step forward in keeping flight training in the state affordable and accessible March 18 when the state Senate passed a bill that would exempt flight schools from new fees and other administrative burdens.
When the Tennessee Higher Education Commission announced new regulations and fees affecting Part 141 flight schools in 2012, the additional cost to flight schools—which would be passed on to customers—was enough to make potential students think twice about staying in the state for training. One flight school’s challenge to the commission’s authority was unsuccessful, and so AOPA worked to negotiate an exemption to state law that would relieve flight schools, and all aviation training already regulated by the FAA, of the burden. The companion bill is currently working its way through the state House.
Schools in Tennessee that want to train pilots eligible for Veterans Affairs benefits must be registered with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, which implemented new regulations that one flight school said cost it $15,000; another said it has paid nearly $6,000. When the regulations were first implemented, a Part 141 school challenged the commission’s authority to additionally regulate flight training; but the state’s attorney general confirmed the commission’s authority under Tennessee law, and so AOPA took another tack. AOPA submitted comments questioning the rationale for the commission’s initiative to further regulate flight training, and encouraged the commission to step back.
AOPA Regional Manager Bob Minter gathered information on the regulations’ negative impacts and the regulations already imposed on flight schools by the FAA. “As more of Tennessee’s aviation training businesses were being required to comply with the state regulations, we learned more about the burdensome application process and an initial fee structure that was placing these small businesses in jeopardy,” Minter said. “The added administrative and financial requirements were also clearly placing them at a competitive disadvantage with other aviation training organizations in the Southeast.”
He submitted the findings to the governor’s office, which then arranged a meeting between the commission and a group representing affected aviation training providers, flight instructors, and the Tennessee Aviation Association to iron out an agreement that would exempt aviation training from the commission’s oversight. The commission then joined with Minter in seeking sponsorship of the measure through the legislative process.