Five general aviation organizations, including AOPA, are asking the Senate to protect flight training benefits for veterans.
In a written statement submitted to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, the groups ask the Senate to make changes to pending legislation that would amend the Post-9/11 GI Bill by setting a funding cap for veterans enrolled in flight training as part of a college degree program. The cap is too low to cover the costs of flight training required for graduating veterans to be employable, the groups say.
“The Post-9/11 GI Bill was created to give veterans the education they need to pursue the career of their choice,” said Jim Coon. “Veterans who wish to pursue a career in aviation should have that opportunity. It’s a commitment we made as a nation and we have to honor it.”
In their statement submitted for a Sept. 16 hearing, the groups point to a Congressional Budget Office report that estimates 600 veterans would each lose approximately $30,000 in payments in the first year of the cap. The amount lost is expected to grow in each subsequent year.
The Senate legislation would set a cap of $20,240 per year for flight training—the same cap currently in place for all degree programs at private colleges and universities. But in their statement, the groups note that the actual costs of flight training needed to obtain commercial pilot, certificated flight instructor, and instrument instructor certificates—the minimum qualifications needed to obtain an entry-level job as a flight instructor—far exceed those caps. The problem, they note, is particularly serious for veterans pursuing careers as helicopter pilots because the fixed costs associated with helicopter maintenance and operations are high while the margins for flight schools are low, making it difficult or impossible to substantially cut the cost of training.
In their statement, the groups ask the Senate to allow market forces to determine the amount of funding available to veterans pursuing aviation careers. They also ask the Senate to direct the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study of the costs associated with obtaining flight qualifications needed to be employable and direct the Department of Veterans Affairs to uniformly enforce its own 85/15 rule. That rule was designed to hold prices down by requiring that no more than 85 percent of students enrolled in a flight training degree program have their education paid for with Veterans Administration (VA) funds, ensuring that the price sensitivity of the 15 percent of students who use private or alternate funding sources will hold training costs to market rates.
In addition to AOPA, the statement was signed by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Helicopter Association International, National Association of State Aviation Officials, and National Business Aviation Association.
Efforts to limit VA funds spent on flight training follow revelations that a small number of flight schools were charging excessive fees to veterans using their GI Bill benefits.
Earlier this year, House legislation to restrict the availability of funds for flight training was also opposed by aviation groups, including AOPA. The groups argued that the proposed limits were discriminatory because they applied only to flight training programs and not to other types of degree programs.