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House votes to cap veterans' flight training benefits

Despite a plea from AOPA and other industry groups, the House passed H.R.5603, the Protections for Student Veterans Act, on November 16—a bill that caps flight training benefits for veterans.

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 15 other aviation associations sent a November 15 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) opposing the legislation because it would unfairly single out aviation unlike other degree programs at colleges and universities.

According to the groups, “It is unfair and discriminatory to single out for these funding caps veterans seeking employment in aviation. These caps deprive them of the ability to pursue collegiate flight training, a common path to a career as a commercial pilot.”

Without sufficient funding, veterans seeking to use their GI benefits to enter the aviation industry will incur significant personal debt or abandon their pursuit altogether. This comes at a time when Boeing Co. predicts considerable long-term demand for pilots, with a need for more than 600,000 in the next two decades.

Boeing says meeting the projected pilot and technician demand is “wholly dependent on industry’s investment in a steady pipeline of newly qualified personnel to replace those who have left or will soon exit” through retirement, layoffs and furloughs, and attrition.

In the letter, AOPA and the groups supported some of the positive changes for structuring veterans’ flight training benefits, writing, “We are encouraged that the amendment to HR 5603 does contain needed improvements for structuring veterans’ flight training benefits. This includes an accelerated payment provision to provide greater flexibility and a more efficient funding mechanism to help veterans complete their flight training. The bill also provides coverage for obtaining a private pilot license when it is incorporated into the requirements of a professional flight training program. Additionally, the section provides flexibility to public schools in allowing them to contract for flight training, which in turn makes aviation training more available to interested veterans.”

But despite the improvements, the groups believe a cap will ultimately deprive veterans of their ability to pursue flight training and a pathway to careers as commercial pilots. “We remain committed to working with Congress to ensure our nation delivers on its commitment to our veterans, who have honorably and unselfishly served our nation,” the groups wrote.

The original flight training bill, H.R.4874, was introduced by Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) on July 30. Cawthorn offered his bill as an amendment to H.R.5603, the Protections for Student Veterans Act, during a November 4 House Veterans Affairs Committee markup.

Along with AOPA, the Air Medical Operators Association, Airborne Public Safety Association, Airlines for America, Airports Council International – North America, Allied Pilots Association, American Association of Airport Executives, Association of Air Medical Services, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Helicopter Association International, National Air Carrier Association, National Air Transportation Association, National Association of State Aviation Officials, National Business Aviation Association, and Regional Airline Association 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, Training and Safety

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