Following up on the VA’s recent audits of flight schools in an effort to reign in abuse of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for what can be very expensive flight training, the VA recently gave the unofficial word that effective Jan. 1, IHLs will not be able to certify private pilot courses that are part of a degree program at an IHL if the IHL contracts with a third party to provide the flight training. Further, effective June 1 the VA will no longer approve any private pilot programs that are not in-house at an IHL, as part of a degree-seeking program (this applies to all types of private pilot training: fixed-wing, rotary, dual engine, etc.). IHLs with flight programs must therefore truly “own” the program, with instructors being faculty who are actually employed by the institution. The IHL can lease equipment, but no part of the training may be conducted by anyone other than the IHL faculty. The VA made it very clear that private pilot training is simply not eligible for education benefits: VA provides flight training benefits for veterans who want to advance their pilot qualifications, and a private pilot’s license is required before the veteran starts the additional flight training.
So how did things get to this point? The situation appears to have become complicated because a veteran may use benefits to obtain a degree at an IHL, and if that degree program happens to require private pilot courses, then the VA views those private pilot courses as it does any another class that is required to obtain the degree-and so it’s covered. Apparently, as IHLs started contracting the flight training part of the degree out to commercial flight schools, a handful of bad actors took advantage of the ability to charge exorbitant amounts for flight training, knowing the government would pay, even if the student did not complete their degree program at the IHL. Add to that a lack of enforcement and abuse of the 85-15 rule, which attempts to keep costs in check by limiting the percentage of students enrolled in a particular program to 85 percent who are using veterans’ benefits. The VA caught on to situation and seems to have determined that once that private pilot training is taken out of the hands of the IHL, it’s no longer part and parcel of the degree program, and is therefore considered avocational training, which VA benefits never covered in the first place.
IHLs under contract with third parties for private pilot training should take this into account when planning for the future of those programs. Unless your school can afford to take on the flight instructors as faculty and purchase or lease the necessary equipment, this will affect your ability to continue offering these programs to veterans, unless the veteran is able and willing to pay out of pocket for the flight courses required for the degree.