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'Vets 2 Wings' program seeks to bring more veterans into commercial aviation
Grand Forks Herald - 10/6/2022
Oct. 6—GRAND FORKS — UND President Andrew Armacost announced the launch of a new program called "Vets 2 Wings" during a reception Thursday morning at Robin Hall on the UND campus. The program seeks to increase the number of veterans entering aviation upon completing their military careers by providing grants for aviation colleges to assist in funding their flight training.
Armacost said "Vets 2 Wings" is a way to give back to veterans, while providing a conduit of talent for the commercial aviation industry.
"We see the commitment our veterans have made to our nation in profound ways, often risking their lives in service to the country," said Armacost. "By coming into the aviation program here at UND, what they're doing is committing to that life of service as aviators. This will undoubtedly bring more extraordinarily talented people into the profession."
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., stressed the importance of the program in alleviating the growing pilot shortage nationwide.
"Right now, we are 18,000 pilots short," said Hoeven. "So this also helps the traveling public, particularly in rural areas. You see how we've lost flights in rural America, one of the reasons why is this pilot shortage."
Hoeven has also co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-WI), called the "American Aviation Act." The bill, introduced in the Senate on April 7, 2022, will require the FAA to provide grants to accredited flight schools to assist veterans in paying for their instruction, according to Congress.gov.
Hoeven says there is a gap present between the educational assistance funds veterans currently have access to, and the cost of pilot training.
"Right now they can use the GI Bill, and the federal tuition assistance program," said Hoeven. "But that doesn't cover the full cost of getting a pilot's license. The idea with 'Vets 2 Wings' is that we cover that gap."
Elizabeth Bjerke, associate dean of the aerospace school, spoke of existing partnerships between the private sector and armed forces to recruit pilots, and of the opportunity to strengthen them through "Vets 2 Wings".
"One of the things we've learned throughout this process is our industry partners, Delta, United, Jetblue, American Airlines, they already have embedded veteran services within their airlines," said Bjerke. "We're going to be connecting our students to these entities, and really serving as that mentorship and pathway forward."
There are currently about 100 veterans enrolled in UND's aviation program, with efforts to recruit approximately 40 more veterans underway. If the American Aviation Act passes the House and is signed by the president, UND aerospace faculty are hopeful "Vets 2 Wings" can be expanded to other flight schools.
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