Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the US House of Representatives to allow aspiring pilots and aircraft maintainers to obtain an expanded, qualified expense under 529 savings plans. 

The cost for individuals to gain licenses and certification for employment as pilots and maintenance personnel in the commercial aviation industry remains an expensive proposition. This at a time when shortages of qualified personnel to support current fleets of fixed-wing and rotary aircraft are increasing – a shortfall certain to be magnified with the introduction of eVTOLs and other next-generation aircraft into commercial service in the US within the next 2-5 years.

Under current the US tax code, 529 Plans are tax-advantaged investment accounts that permit parents or guardians to save for their child’s advanced education. Recently, the US Congress added apprenticeship programs in certain trades, but not most aviation programs, to be supported by an individual 529 plan. 

Enter US House Democrat Representatives Mike Collins (Georgia), Jimmy Panetta (California), Mike Kelly (Pennsylvania), and Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Steve Cohen (Tennessee), who introduced the Aviation Workforce Development Act. The legislation makes training at FAA-certified commercial pilot and aircraft maintenance technician schools a qualified expense for existing 529 Plans

The legislation gained four additional co-sponsors from across the political divide: Republican Representatives Drew Ferguson (Georgia); Lucy McBath, (Georgia), Julia Brownley (California) and Russell Fry (South Carolina).

A statement attributed to Rep. Collins on his office’s website noted, “The Aviation Workforce Development Act is a commonsense proposal to give Americans who want to pursue a career in aviation, on the ground or in the air, the same tools as those seeking four-year degrees with zero increased cost to taxpayers.”

When the legislation was introduced, 18 airlines, manufacturers, flight training education associations, and pilot and mechanic unions were listed as endorsers, three of which include: Aerospace Industries Association; Air Line Pilots Association; and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association.

This introduced legislation does not promise to be a final solution for breaking down the financial and other barriers for qualified, aspiring individuals to gain jobs as pilots and maintainers in the US commercial aviation sector. Rather, it will be another vehicle to help youth meet their career expectations in the expanding aviation industry. The legislation is now part of the often byzantine US fiscal year legislative process that will conceptually end with appropriated bills arriving on the President’s desk for signature this October 1.