New legislation could be clearing a path to a career in commercial flight for veterans.
Introduced by US senators Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and John Hoeven of North Dakota, the American Aviator Act would provide grant funding for flight-training to veterans who were not already trained as pilots through their military service.
Area veterans in La Crosse lauded the plan as another important program to aid veterans in their return to civilian life.
"I spent 20 years in the military, all on the ground," Freedom Honor Flight President Dave Larsen said. "Had this program been available when I got out of the military, I would’ve jumped on it in a minute."
It can cost up to $70,000 before being able to take to the skies as a commercial pilot. Colgan Air Services CEO and Vietnam Veteran Tim Colgan said he can see the interest level in aviation among the general public waning.
"It’s not like it was when I started out," Colgan said. "When I started out, there were just people knocking the doors down to get into aviation and you don’t see that much anymore."
Just five years ago, starting salaries in some cases were only just above $22,000 per year. Now many airlines offer $50,000 or more plus signing bonuses.
"I think it’s a great idea," Colgan said. "Right now there are so many careers out there for professional pilots and the wages have been increased tremendously."
What could be helpful hand in addressing the airline’s pilot shortage may also be an asset for service members making the transition into civilian life.
"You had to look and see what was available and what education was available and where you wanted to be in life," Larsen said.
"This provides [veterans] with a quality opportunity to make a good living and a long term living in a great job," Colgan said.
Details on just how much would be offered through grants are scarce, but items like tuition, books, equipment and any additional training were among a long list to be covered through the American Aviator Act.
The mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots is 65. A 2016 study by Boeing found that 42% of pilots will reach that age by 2026.