US House of Representatives Jimmy Panetta, Mike Collins, Mike Kelly, and Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Steve Cohen introduced the Aviation Workforce Development Act, a bill to make training at FAA-certified commercial pilot and aircraft maintenance technician schools a qualified expense for existing 529 Plans. Representatives Drew Ferguson, Lucy McBath, Julia Brownley and Russell Fry also joined the effort as original co-sponsors.
529 Plans are tax advantaged investment accounts that are a tool for parents or guardians to save for their child's education. Initially, 529 Plan funds could only be used for degrees at four-year universities, but in recent years, Congress has added to the list of qualified expenses by including apprenticeship programs in certain trades, but not most aviation programs.
The aviation industry broadly agrees that something must be done to encourage more Americans to become pilots and mechanics, which is why the Aviation Workforce Development Act is endorsed by airlines, manufacturers, flight training education associations, and pilot and mechanic unions.
“The airline industry has been experiencing a shortage of pilots for years, and early retirements forced by the COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated that shortage,” said Representative Mike Kelly, Chair of the Ways & Means Subcommittee on Tax. “We must do everything we can to incentivize more Americans to become airline pilots. This Aviation Workforce Development Act does just that. By making training more affordable, not only can we hire more pilots, but we can also provide more flights – both domestically and internationally – to fully serve airports like Erie International Airport, which has lost critical air service in recent years due in part to the skilled labor shortage.”
The bill is endorsed by a wide range of aviation industry stakeholders. In letters of support, the National Air Carrier Association (NACA), Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), and Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) said:
NACA: "Despite average pay increasing by nearly 70%, fewer Americans are pursuing careers as airline pilots. The Aviation Workforce Development Act will help increase the pilot supply in the near- and long-term by providing financial incentives, specifically making education expenses at FAA-certified commercial pilot schools and mechanic schools a qualified expense for 529 Qualified Tuition Plans."
SWAPA: "Attracting new workers into the aviation career field is critical to the future of aviation. The Aviation Workforce Development Act will help in reducing the biggest barrier to entry, and that is cost. Flight training to become a commercial pilot at a private institution can easily exceed $100,000. This bill will make that goal more attainable..."
AMFA: "The aviation maintenance workforce is in sore need of new technicians. But for many, the cost of higher education is a significant challenge. By empowering students to use their 529 savings to pay for tuition and expenses at an aircraft maintenance school, the Aviation Workforce Development Act will help address the severe deficit of qualified aircraft maintenance technicians."