BEND, OR -- Bend-based Leading Edge Aviation has been awarded a regional contract through the U.S. Department of Transportation, to provide flight training to veterans interested in becoming airline pilots.
Leading Edge Vice President Travis Warthen says the “Forces to Flyers” research initiative helps pay for vets to attend flight school without having to earn a college degree, "The GI bill that they get if they come directly to a flight school, it pays just over $13,000 a year towards flight training. What it costs to get all of the ratings they need to be employable, I think is around $80,000. So, they’re paying the difference between the $13k the GI bill pays and the full cost."
The initiative will evaluate whether removing barriers, like funding, allows more veterans to enter the pilot workforce, while also addressing a nationwide problem. "The Department of Transportation is looking at options to fill the pilot shortage, which is getting worse and worse every day," Warthen tells KBND News. "Alaska [Air], last summer, canceled a bunch of flights just because they didn’t have crews, and they’re hiring people. I mean, airlines are paying helicopter pilots to become airplane pilots. Everybody’s doing what they can to try and attract people to that job."
The estimated $1.8 million dollars in contracts were awarded to four flight schools across the country. Leading Edge, based at the Bend Airport, represents the Western Pacific/Northwest/Mountain/Alaskan Region. Each of the contract flight schools will choose 10 veterans to take part in an 18-month program. Warthen expects it will be a competitive selection process, given the number of calls he’s already received from potential students. He expects the program will be extended in two years, if they can show the initiative is successful in training vets to fly planes and address the pilot shortage.
for eligibility requirements and a list of the other regional flight schools awarded USDOT contracts for the "Forces to Flyers" program.