UND has been awarded $2.5 million in a cooperative agreement from the Federal Aviation Administration to assist U.S. military veterans with paying for flight training and providing extra support to ensure a successful transition to the airline workforce.

The Vets 2 Wings program (V2W) was announced to UND aviation students on Oct. 4, in a visit by FAA administrators. Through V2W, veteran students who have already obtained a private pilot’s license can apply for funding assistance to cover the cost of advanced flight training. There are about 100 veteran aviation students at UND, and efforts are underway to recruit 40 current students into the program, as well as 15 new students.

Goals of the program are to provide a pathway for veterans to obtain the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certification needed for an aviation career as a pilot, and to address the national pilot shortage.

U.S. Senator John Hoeven, R-N.D., was instrumental in securing the V2W funding. Hoeven visited the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences to commemorate the veteran flight training program.

“Our nation is facing a severe pilot shortage, and we need a new generation of qualified pilots to help ensure continued access to safe and reliable air service, which is vital to our economy and quality of life,” said Hoeven. “It only makes sense to leverage our world-class flight school at UND and offer this opportunity to veterans. Through the funding we secured, we are establishing a pipeline from UND to commercial airlines to help meet the demand for new pilots, while better supporting veterans who want to pursue this career.”

According to the FAA, regional airlines are being seriously impacted by the pilot shortage. Between 2013 and 2016, the Regional Airline Association reported that more than 150 airports lost at least 20% of their departures, and 52 airports lost at least 50%. Nearly 30 airports lost 75% of their departures and 18 lost 100%.

“The FAA is working to create a robust pipeline of skilled and diverse aviation professionals,” said Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen. “We know we must think differently about recruiting the next generation, and that includes making programs available to reach this workforce where they are and in a format they will embrace.”

Alongside Elizabeth Bjerke, associate dean of UND Aerospace and principal investigator of the V2W program, administrators include: Jason Evans, assistant aviation professor and U.S. Air Force veteran; Shane Mendez, Aerospace Success Center coordinator and U.S. Navy veteran; Andrew Frelich, assistant director of veteran & military services and Army National Guard veteran; Laurie Baumgartner, finance manager and U.S. Army veteran; and Dick Shultz, director of flight operations.