ULA Goes Before Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs

Testimony of Michael Mower, Chief Operating Officer of Upper Limit Aviation before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for the Hearing on Pending and Draft Legislation – September 16, 2015

Chairman Isakson, Ranking Member Blumenthal, and Distinguished Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to submit a written statement on the draft legislation related to VA education benefits for flight training that is the subject of this legislative hearing today.

Put simply, the draft bill before you today will slash veteran benefits for degree programs that include flight training at public colleges and universities.

This bill, as currently written, would cap the tuition for flight training at a number that is significantly below the actual cost to provide the training.

Although the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) consistently lists aviation as a high demand career, this proposal would essentially serve as a financial impediment for veterans seeking a career in the aviation industry while the U.S. faces of one of the worst pilot shortages in history.

The intent of this bill is to prevent schools from taking advantage of GI Bill reimbursements. However, it is ill-conceived and duplicative, since valid and effective rules and regulations already exist that curtail potential abusesby schools seeking to take advantage of student veterans and the taxpayers.

In the end, this legislation will destroy well-planned degree programs at public institutions of higher learning across the country that offer flight training to deserving veterans and will eliminate aviation careers for veterans in an industry that is in desperate need of well-trained pilots.

Pilot Shortages

Demand for pilots will increase at a rapid pace over the next several decades, as the United States is currently facing its worst pilot shortage since the 1960’s. [1]

As global economies expand and tens of thousands of new aircraft come online, the aviation industry will need to supply more than 500,000 new pilots by 2033. [2]

Nevertheless, total pilots holding Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certificates fell at a CAGR of 0.36% from 2004-2013 (see chart, “FAA Estimated Total Pilots”) [3]

In 1989, a total of 110,541 FAA flight tests were conducted in the United States, compared to only 42,440 FAA flight tests in 2014. [4]

Adding to the pilot shortage will be the aging U.S. pilot population, as pilots over the age of 50 years old currently hold approximately 42% of FAA pilot certificates (see chart, “FAA Certificates by Age”) [5]

Moreover, a study conducted by a subgroup of collegiate aviation researchers, including professors from Embry Riddle and 5 other universities [6], explains that a sharp increase is occurring in the training of foreign pilots in the United States.

Using data provided by the FAA’s certification branch, the study determined that in 2004 the ratio of U.S. citizens to foreign citizens training in the United States for their commercial pilot certificate was 4.80 to 1.00. In 2012, that ratio had dramatically declined to 1.19 U.S. pilots trained to every one foreign pilot trained (see chart, “US and Foreign Citizens Completing the Commercial Written”).

This fact is staggering because many of these foreign pilots will take jobs outside of the U.S., further intensifying the current pilot shortage.

The 85-15 and Two-Year Rules

The “85-15” and “Two-Year” Rules are valid exercises of Congress’ power intended to curtail abuses by schools seeking to capitalize on veterans and American taxpayers.

While the Two-Year Rule bars VA education dollars from going to institutions that have been open for less than two years, the 85-15 Rule prohibits VA education dollars from going to schools unless at least 15% of enrolled students are not using GI Bill funds to pay for the cost of their education at the school.

These rules have been in place for decades, and when enforced correctly and consistently by the VA, the rules effectively allow the open market to determine worthwhile and valuable programs – and program prices – for veterans.

This bill, which seeks to artificially and arbitrarily legislate a cap on flight training, is unnecessary and flies in the face of the longstanding and legitimate purposes of the 85-15 and Two-Year Rules.

Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Report

The sponsors of this legislation in the House of Representatives believed that imposing a cap on flight training education for veterans would generate sufficient savings to pay for other favored legislative initiatives. However, based on CBO’s subsequent score of the overall bill, those assumptions were grossly inaccurate and the assumed savings from rolling back this benefit fell short by nearly $150 million.

The same CBO cost estimate for the bill also recognized that aviation training necessarily has a high cost of delivery, stemming from the costs of aircraft, fuel, insurance, and rigorous FAA-imposed safety standards.

CBO itself determined that reasonable flight training costs averaged out to around $62,000 per year, per student. But the cap proposed by this draft is nearly one-third of the real cost for student veterans to receive this type of advanced professional aviation training.

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman, this bill as currently proposed will not only eliminate benefits and aviation career opportunities that were earned through honorable service by veterans, but it will also exacerbate one of the worst pilot shortages in the history of the United States.

The bill is also duplicative and unnecessary, as the 85-15 and Two-Year rules are already valid and effective tools for reigning in abusers within program of education.

There is simply no need for additional legislative action on this topic. The VA merely needs to consistently enforce the long-standing and valid statutes and regulations currently in place that already effectively deal with the issues and concerns that have been raised.

Thank you again for the opportunity to share our views with the Committee.

[1] Wall Street Journal

[2] Boeing Study

[3] FAA Airmen Certificate Statistics

[4] FAA Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) Program Under Watch

[5] FAA Airmen Certificate Statistics

[6] An Investigation of the United States Airline Pilot Labor Supply

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

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He Absolutely Loved Serving in the Air Force

One Man’s Story of Being Driven by Love

Growing up in a small town; Mike Mower quickly realized that he, perhaps more than most of his peers, had a deep love for his Country. As a young teenager, Mike knew he was going to dedicate himself to serving in the Military. Ultimately, Mike Mower joined the United States Air Force. He left home and was shipped off to Lackland Air Force Base for basic training. There, Mike quickly learned the Air Force Core Values: Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do. These weren’t just statements Mike needed to memorize as a new recruit. These core values would become a moral footprint that would carry him throughout his life. Mike knew, before he ever signed up for active duty, that he loved his Country. It wouldn’t take him long to realize that he absolutely loved serving in the Air Force.

Mike’s serving in the Air Force took him from his primary career field in Cryogenics to the prestigious United States Air Force Honor Guard. Mike was a Flight Sergeant in the Honor Guard responsible for the training of all subordinate Airmen under him. He himself was trained to the highest standards by the men and women who came before him at the Arlington Cemetery. You see, Mike not only loved his Country and serving in the Air Force, Mike had a brotherly love for all those he served with. To him, the Honor Guard was perhaps the most important mission he ever accepted. For someone motivated in life by love, honoring his fallen brothers and sisters was something Mike would not take lightly. This passion was not merely something he felt inside; it resonated outwardly in his performance. Mike was quickly recognized as the United States Air Force Airman of The Year. This tremendous accomplishment earned him a flight in an F-16 Fighter Jet. Although it would take nearly a decade to fully manifest itself; another love was silently and subtly engrained in his heart that day…a love for flying.

Mike’s Love for Country, Is Not the Only Love of His Life.

Shortly after finishing his initial training Mike found another love entering into his life; that of his future wife. Julie was from the same town and Mike was actually friends with her brother. Being friends with Julie’s brother, Mike and Julie would frequently cross paths. It wasn’t long before they both saw something very special in one another. Mike and Julie were married soon after and have two children together. Anyone who  has met Mike and Julie can quickly see that as a couple, there is something that radiates from them. They are not only Husband and Wife; they are best friends, loving parents and true IMG_1521_smpartners in everything that they do. As Mike drew a close to his Air Force career in 2002; he didn’t start his next chapter alone, Julie was right there by his side.

Together, Mike and Julie ran their own Research and Development Company for nearly 8 years. They found great success as entrepreneurs and even hold a few patents. The R&D Industry; like many other industries, saw a decline during the recession our Country is still facing to this day. It was at this moment, that the love Mike felt in an F-16 Fighting Falcon began to take flight. Mike made the decision to become a Helicopter Pilot and has not looked back since. Together, Mike and Julie have endured military deployments, the Terrible-2’s of two children, the stresses of running your own business and the pressures of pursuing a helicopter flight career. Love has been the key motivating factor which drove them down the roads they’ve traveled and love is their guiding sail leading them into tomorrow.

Mike Mower Today, After Serving in the Air Force

Today, Mike is the Chief Helicopter Flight Instructor for Upper Limit Aviation in Cedar City, Utah. Julie is still his best friend and partner. In fact, Julie also plays an integral role in the day to day operations of Upper Limit Aviation as their Human Resource Manager. By summer of 2014, Mike will be responsible for over 200 flight students, over 30 Flight Instructors and  roughly 10 office personnel. Early in life, Mike learned key core values from serving in the Air Force. As a small business owner, he learned quickly to empower people to do their jobs. Being a Chief Instructor Pilot has reinforced what he considers “non-negotiable” when it comes to core values. These core values stand out quickly when asking Mike what makes a good pilot:

Safety 1st, Quality and Attitude. It takes someone who understands that learning never stops. Just as important; you have to Love what you’re doing. Loving what you do and doing what you love is paramount. This profession is way too fast paced and task driven. If you don’t absolutely love flying, the stress and operational tempo of the job will get away from you.

A good pilot also needs to learn from their mistakes. This is a tuff environment and corrective action needs to be quick and decisive; people’s lives are at stake. However, we all make mistakes. You need to learn from them; correct the behavior or the action, pick your head up and drive on. Do not mope on past failures, learn from them. This is a huge pet peeve of mine.

At the end of the day it has to do with attitude, attitude and attitude. If I have a student or even an Instructor struggling academically or when it comes to flight proficiency; I can easily fix those issues if they have a positive attitude. I cannot however, fix a poor attitude. In my experience, this is often times what separates people. If you’re a good pilot with a positive attitude, I can develop you into a great pilot.

“Loving What You Do and Doing What You Love is Paramount”

This statement echoes a deeper level of profound truth than one may realize. Mike states that “Relationships are the #1 measure of success”. In any environment, not just an environment as complex as flying a helicopter, one should love what they do. Many people work jobs they do not enjoy so that they can provide for their family. This makes what Mike said so very important; attitude, attitude, attitude! If you are motivated by the love of your family; how can you not love providing for them? It may not be the intricate aspects of your job that you love; it is your family that you love. Working a hard job to provide for them is not burdensome, it is a joy. This is what Mike was trying to convey regarding the importance of having the right attitude and this is what Mike is looking for when he hires his instructors.

When looking to hire a new Flight Instructor, I look a little deeper into their attitude. I want to see their effort. Will this person take a personal interest in their students and will they want to see their students succeed? Those are two questions I am trying to get the answer to. They must take personal pride and ownership in order to be one of my instructors.

A really neat thing about my job as a Chief Instructor is the fact that most of my Instructors today were once my students. I take great pride in seeing my students progress from never having flown to teaching new students how to fly. I know that great instructors will put the effort in and take ownership of their work…and their work is their students.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.