UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

UND, FAA program to help veterans dreaming of flight takes off

$2.5 million program will help veterans pay for flight lessons

Elizabeth Bjerke, associate dean of UND Aerospace, President Andy Armacost, Sen. John Hoeven and Robert Kraus, dean of UND Aerospace, speak about the Vets 2 Wings program on Thursday, Oct. 6. The program aims to help veterans pay for flight lessons. Photo by Arjun Jagada/UND

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.

Nick Lento, division manager with the Federal Aviation Administration, speaks to veterans at UND on Oct. 4. UND and the FAA have entered into a cooperative agreement to help veterans pay for flight lessons. Arjun Jagada/UND

U.S. Senator John Hoeven, R-N.D., was instrumental in securing the V2W funding. On Thursday, Oct. 6, 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.”

Significant need for pilots

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.”

UND President Andy Armacost, Sen. John Hoeven and Robert Kraus, dean of UND Aerospace, make their way to a media event announcing the Vets 2 Wings program. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today

UND President Andrew Armacost offered praise for V2W, saying it helps open the doors to a needed career for the nation’s veterans.

“We are pleased and proud to participate with the Federal Aviation Administration on this cooperative agreement for veteran students,” Armacost said. “Our veterans have truly earned these educational resources through their honorable service to our nation, and these funds will assist our dedicated students in realizing their dreams of becoming commercial pilots.”

Robert Kraus, dean of UND Aerospace, said he appreciates the opportunity the funding gives to support veteran students.

“This program provides a second wind to help our veteran students get across the finish line and into their second career of service — as professional aviators,” Kraus said.

Elizabeth Bjerke, associate dean of UND Aerospace and principal investigator of the V2W program said she is deeply grateful to Sen. Hoeven for working with the FAA to secure funding.

“It wouldn’t have been possible without his support and vision,” Bjerke said.

Veterans assisting veterans

Bjerke said she is proud of the administrative team she assembled to help her oversee the V2W program. She said she wanted to involve UND administrators who have served in the U.S. military, so veterans could participate in implementing a program specifically for veterans. Of the six-member team, four people are veterans.

Alongside Bjerke, those 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.

“It was great to be able to put together the right administrative research team to work with these students,” Bjerke said. “They also are going to be serving as mentors. I hope we can use this this program well to improve services for all our veteran students.”