“U.S. taxpayers stuck with the tab as helicopter flight schools exploit GI Bill loophole” is a Los Angeles Times story (thanks Mike Aracic!) about the way the Veterans Administration funds flight schools. The journalist misses the corporate welfare angle that I’ve written about here for a few years. Flight schools affiliated with a standard college can collect 100% funding plus living stipends while independent flight schools can only tap into the VA for about 50 percent of the total cost. The veteran is therefore much better off training at a school affiliated with a university, thus resulting in the taxpayers paying 5-10X as much (add in the living stipend, tuition for the college on top of the flight hours, and much higher costs per flight hour). The story is about the waste of taxpayer dollars but it is missing the fact that it isn’t a waste from the perspective of the capitalists (some at “non-profit” universities) who have successfully lobbied to operate under rules that aren’t available to non-cronies.
Note that the college-affiliated/VA-funded Upper Limit school discussed in the article charges $ 600/hour for the Robinson R44. At East Coast Aero Club, operating at a much higher cost airport in a state with a much higher cost of living, we charge $ 329/hour, including fuel, for the same aircraft. Some of the veterans also fly around in circles in a Bell 205, the civilian Huey, with nine empty seats in the back. The companies that employ low-time helicopter graduates operate Robinson R22s and R44s, not Hueys, so there is no practical value to this training. It will be many years before the graduate gets into a helicopter like the Huey and that will be after a thorough operator-run training program (probably for a European-designed-and-built Airbus helicopter, whose rotor system spins in the opposite direction and therefore requires opposite pedal inputs; Bell got so fat from its own government contracts that they didn’t bother investing in new designs and has been steadily losing civilian market share to the Europeans).
[It is only fair to note that the total dollars involved in this program are negligible compared to the money spent by the federal and state governments on things such as health care, employee pensions, etc. Whether the VA flight school program continues in its present form or not won’t make any difference to U.S. prosperity.]
- February 2014 report from Heli-Expo explaining that a flight school could bill the Feds $ 10,000/year for instrument training in a Gulfstream if they wanted to
- April 2014 report from Sun n Fun talking about how “Startup flight schools are overtaking 50-year-old schools”