On Monday, May 18, the Helicopter Association International (HAI) and six other aviation associations sent a strongly worded letter to the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee of Veterans Affairs, urging their committee to reject a bill (H.R. 476) that would impose a detrimentally low cap on Veterans Administration (VA) funding for college flight training degree programs for veterans.
H.R. 476 was introduced to close a loophole in the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. But as is often the case on Capitol Hill, the solution is an overreaction that imperils not just veterans in helicopter flight training degree programs, but all flight training degrees. It would impose a cap on funding of less than $21,000/year for a four-year degree program at a public institute of higher learning. That’s for both tuition and flight training fees.
The loophole permitted virtually unlimited VA funding of fees associated with courses taken at public colleges — including flight training fees. It was compounded by inadequate and uneven application of VA regulations intended to apply market pressures to keep prices in check. When some flight schools took what the VA considered undue advantage of the loophole, the agency went to Congress to complain and ask for a change in the law that would cap the VA’s expenditures.
The associations have been working for more than two months to explain the consequences of H.R. 476 to the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunities, but the subcommittee sent the bill on to the full committee with the cap still in place. The forwarded legislation does include a one-year grandfather clause for veterans already in programs, and the subcommittee is recommending that the full committee extend the grandfather clause to two-years.
The joint letter calls H.R. 476 discriminatory, because it singles out flight training degree programs, and imposes no caps on any other course of study at a public college.
The associations call on Congress not to vote on H.R. 476 and instead let the market forces regulation — known as the 85/15 rule because it requires that at least 15 percent of the students in any degree program not be receiving VA benefits — be given a chance to work, now that the VA has begun a more vigorous enforcement of the rule.
The associations also call on Congress to treat all degree programs equally, to encourage the use of flight simulators and discourage the use of higher-priced training aircraft such as turbine-powered helicopters, and to direct the Government Accountability Office to study best flight training practices with the intent of writing a new, data-driven law.
Joining HAI in signing the letter were the leaders of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO), and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA).
In addition to the leaders of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, the letter went to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the House and Senate Aviation subcommittees, as well as the co-chairs of both the House and Senate General Aviation caucuses.
Helicopter Association International is a professional trade association representing some 4,000 members around the globe in more than 70 nations. HAI’s members safely operate more than 5,000 helicopters approximately 2.5 million hours each year. HAI is dedicated to the promotion of the helicopter as a safe, effective method of commerce, and to the advancement of the international helicopter community.