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House bill clips veterans' wings

Veterans longing to pursue commercial pilot careers might find their wings clipped after a bill to cap their flight training benefits passed the House on May 21.

The Department of Veterans Affairs office is one of the many government agencies that have influence over general aviation. Photo by David Tulis.

AOPA and 13 other industry groups cosigned a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), strongly opposing H.B.1947.

“Working as a civilian commercial pilot is a rewarding career. However, it requires thorough, in-depth, and complex training. Without the aid of their promised veterans’ benefits, most veterans can ill afford such training. We believe that as a nation, we have an obligation to meet the needs of veterans. This is especially true when it comes to benefits promised them, including providing financial assistance for achieving their educational goals,” the groups wrote.

This isn’t the first time the legislation has come up in Congress. Last year, AOPA and eight other groups opposed similar language to cap benefits, which was ultimately blocked by the Senate.

According to the groups, the bill unfairly treats flight training programs differently from other degree programs at public colleges and universities by capping payments. Without sufficient funding, veterans seeking to use their GI benefits to enter the aviation industry will abandon their pursuit or bear significant personal debt.

In the past, a minority of flight schools have exploited loopholes in the system to artificially increase the cost of training. The solution is to fix the loopholes and provide better oversight rather than artificial caps. Meanwhile, the majority of schools have not taken advantage of the system.

Flight instructor and former U.S. Coast Guard veteran Ross Ellis wants to make sure flight degrees aren’t eliminated from veterans' GI benefits: “The VA pays for law school, nursing, medical, and other technical degrees, yet fights all schools across the nation are being punished, when a bad apple should have been punished and we all move on. Every veteran using their GI bill across the country is fighting unnecessary stress and uncertainty because this has been attacked over and over again. It makes it awful difficult for us to make educated decisions that affect our families, communities, and the industry when we are told one thing only to have it changed over and over again.”

Like many, Ellis agrees that there is a need for improved fiscal responsibility, but says the way in which flight programs are threatened is unintentionally punishing our veterans, the industry, and our communities, especially in the wake of a national pilot shortage.

Boeing predictions have shown a global need for some 790,000 new pilots over the next two decades, with more than 200,000 of those positions needing to be filled in the United States.

“Making it nearly unobtainable to complete a degree in a field that many veterans would excel in and help an industry that’s starving right now for good, reliable, disciplined people. An industry that serves every person in this country. An industry that is extremely dynamic and whose reach is worldwide. One that is very similar to the military they just left. Why are we making is so difficult to get the right people in these jobs?” Ellis asked.

AOPA and others will continue to educate members of Congress and work against the legislation.

Along with AOPA, the Air Medical Operators Association, Airlines for America, Airports Council International-North America, American Association of Airport Executives, Association of Air Medical Services, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Helicopter Association International, National Air Transportation Association, National Association of State Aviation Officials, National Business Aviation Association, Regional Airline Association, and Veteran Air Warriors signed the letter.

Amelia Walsh

Communications and Research Specialist
AOPA Comms and Research Specialist Amelia Walsh joined AOPA in 2017. Named after the famous aviatrix, she's a private pilot working on her instrument rating in a Colombia 350.
Topics: Advocacy, Pilot Regulation, Capitol Hill

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