Efforts to Limit Federal Subsidies Paid to Helicopter Schools

Aviation officials never lose a chance to spread the illusion that airports are incredible generators of money. To be sure, money does tend to be spent around airports, but most often, that money is not being created but is instead in the form of a subsidy. A massive annual subsidy, to the tune of billions per year, mostly collected from airline passengers and then carefully allocated by FAA, with a maximized strategic political effect.

One way the airports are propped up is with money for flight instruction, especially via GI Bill subsidies for veterans who want to become pilots. Unfortunately, there have been many flight schools that see these veterans as a ripe opportunity to access federal money. And, the industry is top-heavy with qualified pilots, which not only drives down pay, but also places more pressure on pilots to bend rules and cut costs. Here is a PDF of an article from last March, looking at two helicopter flights schools in the Southwest.

This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

That’s the background, illustrating the need for federal officials to take action against waste, fraud and abuse. Four months after the article appeared in the LA Times, an almost completely unrelated legislative proposal was submitted to Congress. After spending more than four months waiting in the Committee on Veterans Affairs, the legislative report was moved to the floor of Congress. Needless to say, the helicopter industry is not happy with the cleanup efforts.

(click on image to view original article at AviationPros)

(click on image to view original article at AviationPros)

The main lobbyist for the helicopter industry, HAI, has issued a ‘Call for Action’. HAI’s claims were not validated in the HAI-link to the Legislative Report (e.g., there is no mention of the words ‘helicopter’ or ‘flight’ in the 27-page report). Nonetheless, HAI claims that there is a ‘Section 306’ with language calling for severe limits on how much GI Bill benefits a single student can apply each year.

In  other words, HAI claims the legislation seeks to end taxpayer subsidies for students who spend $200K to $500K in a single year of part-time helicopter training. So, like all active lobbyists, HAI is using the industry media outlets to gin up a campaign, aimed at re-enlisting the support of elected officials, so that the rich subsidies to a few aviation operators can continue.

One wonders: what fraction of a typical rich federal aviation subsidy has to be reinvested, as a campaign contribution or to buy the service of lobbyists, to keep the whole balloon from crashing?

There can be Many Winners With this Legislative Proposal

Waste can be reduced, but we also can improve local quality of life in communities near these helicopter flight schools. If Congress cuts helicopter training benefits, we will not have to endure as much low-level helicopter noise. And, helicopters are not just noisy; they guzzle a lot of gas while beating all that air, just to stay aloft. As the reality of climate change comes into focus, this form of aviation should become a ripe target for a quick extinction.


See also:
  • H.R.3106 – a Congressional webpage with summaries, actions, links to documents. Perhaps the ‘Section 306’ is a rider that has not yet been posted online?