Airline industry groups reiterate opposition to bill limiting GI Bill benefits for flight training at public schools

A consortium of airline industry groups voiced opposition on Wednesday to a House bill that would limit GI Bill benefits for veterans attending public flight schools, arguing that the measure would dissuade veterans from pursuing careers in commercial aviation.

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The bill, H.R. 4149, would cap available GI Benefits for public school flight training programs at the same level as private school programs. The cap for private schools was $22,805 in 2017.

The Regional Airline Association (RAA), the Cargo Airline Association (CAA), Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA), American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) and the National Air Carrier Association (NACA) were among a collection airline industry groups that voiced opposition to the bill in a letter to U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

“We appreciate that H.R. 4149 offers improvements for veterans in certain areas such as the allowance for accelerated payment schedules and the provision allowing aspiring pilots to use benefits to obtain a private pilot license when incorporated into the requirements of a professional flight training program,” the letter stated. “However, we are deeply concerned about language that would limit funding for flight training degree programs at public colleges and universities.”

A Department of Veterans Affairs budget request projects that H.R. 4149 would cost veterans $228.8 million in benefits over five years, or $45.8 million annually. Given that 1,700 veterans were enrolled in flight training programs costing $48.5 million in 2016, the letter continues, “the VA’s own analysis indicates that this change would dissuade virtually all veterans” from using GI Bill benefits to pursue flight training.

“Not only does H.R. 4149 stand to deprive veterans of their promised benefits on educational financial assistance, the cap on flight training is particularly concerning in the face of an acute and growing nationwide pilot shortage, which has already caused commercial air service cuts across the country,” the letter stated. “Further, the U.S. military is also dealing with its own pilot shortage, with the Air Force reporting deficits of close to 2,000 pilots. We are producing fewer pilots at present than are needed to serve our nation’s commercial, business, and military aviation sectors.”