The Department of Veterans’ Affairs recently surveyed flight programs at 110 institutions of higher learning, focusing on contracts with commercial or vocational flight schools, excessive flight hour certifications, and Rule 85-15 violations. Approximately 60 schools had no violations, 10 were suspended from enrolling new veterans due to violations of the 85-15 rule, and approval was withdrawn for three programs that contracted with a flight school not approved by the State Approving Agency or the VA. Although the VA has not yet formally documented the results of the compliance surveys, it recently clarified that private pilot courses taken at vocational flight schools under contract with an IHL are not approved for benefits. An IHL may contract with another IHL that conducts an in-house, private pilot program, but not with a commercial vocational flight school.

If your institution has flight courses that are part of a degree program, veterans may utilize benefits for those courses, so long as those courses are not contracted through a vocational flight school. Although this is clearly covered by the federal regulations (38 C.F.R. § 21. 4263(d)), there remains some confusion as to why an IHL cannot contract with a flight school if the IHL obtains approval of the contract, per 38 C.F.R. § 21.4263(g). At this point, the VA has simply stated that IHLs may not “invoke the contract clause” to override this position.

Regarding certification of flight hours, the VA has yet to clarify precisely what hours are eligible for flight courses at an IHL. Typically, the FAA sets a range of hours required to demonstrate proficiency in a particular flight course, where some students require the minimum, some the maximum, and others fall somewhere in between.

Until recently, many schools had utilized the FAA minimum-maximum guidelines, certifying veteran students based on their individual hours within that range and receiving benefits for those hours. However, in its September 1, 2015, Compliance and Liaison Advisory 223-15-01, the VA mandated that any degree program at an IHL that involves training on an hourly basis must clearly state the specific number of hours required for training. Ranges such as the FAA minimum-maximum are not acceptable.

What This Means to You

As a result, IHLs have until November 1, 2015, to revise their catalogs and/or approval packages to indicate the required specific number of training (flight) hours a student must complete in order to fulfill the course’s educational objectives, along with all mandatory fees that will be charged for the training. Unfortunately, the VA has not provided IHLs with specific guidance as to how many hours are acceptable. Although traditional flight schools may be approved for VA benefits up to the FAA minimum, the VA has informally indicated that for IHLs with an in-house flight program, “something other than the FAA minimum” will be allowed. Until further details are available, things are somewhat up in the air.