A bipartisan bill that would create a pathway for veterans to become commercial airline pilots has been reintroduced in the U.S. Senate.
On March 10, Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) unveiled their American Aviator Act of 2023, which builds off of the Forces to Flyers research initiative—a three-year study conducted in response to the airline pilot shortage, and was begun in 2017.
One segment of Forces to Flyers research was the development of a flight training demonstration focused on providing accelerated flight training to veterans at vocational flight schools. The initiative resulted in 32 veterans earning a commercial pilot certificate with a multiengine rating, allowing them to begin careers as professional pilots.
The American Aviator Act establishes a similar pilot program. It allows the FAA to authorize competitive grants supporting flight-training services to veterans who are not already military pilots. It is intended to ease the financial burden and break down barriers that prevent veterans from pursuing careers in aviation.
“Every veteran makes tremendous sacrifices to serve our country, and we owe it to them to make sure that their service is honored and they are set up for success after completing their military service,” said Baldwin. “This legislation increases opportunities for veterans looking to pursue flight training and careers as commercial airline pilots, meeting a real need for qualified pilots and connecting our veterans to good-paying jobs as they return to civilian life.”
The American Aviator Act would allocate $5 million annually for the grant program for five years. Flight schools that have established pathways to employment with commercial air carriers are eligible for grants to recruit and enroll veterans for flight training.
According to the bill’s language, grant funding can be used for flight training services, tuition, books, and other training resources. Veterans participating in the program can obtain certificates and ratings beyond a private pilot certificate—including an instrument rating, multiengine rating, commercial pilot certificate, flight instructor certificate, or flight instructor-instrument certificate.
In addition to supporting veterans, the American Aviator Act would help tackle an industry-wide pilot shortage. According to global aerospace giant Boeing, 602,000 new pilots are needed over the next 20 years to keep up with the pace. Additionally, United Airlines anticipates that major U.S. air carriers will have a demand for 10,000 new pilots this year alone, while only 6,600 qualified candidates will be available.
Despite the lucrative paychecks, the cost and years of training are major hurdles for aspiring aviators.
“The American Aviator Act would provide a critical pathway for our nation’s veterans to enter the workforce and ensure we have a future supply of qualified pilots to serve communities across the country,” said Robert Binns, president and CEO at Air Wisconsin. “I thank Senator Baldwin for leading this important bipartisan legislation.”
Support for the American Aviator Act includes the Air Line Pilots Association, Regional Airlines Association, Air Wisconsin, and Fox Valley Technical College.