If you’ve always wanted to be an aviator but felt grounded by your occupational skill in the military, the GI Bill can put you in the pilot’s seat.

Maybe you weren’t interested at the time, or you gave it a shot but didn’t qualify for flight school. That was then, this is now. With careful preparation and planning before or after transitioning, the G.I. Bill’s military benefits will pay for a vocational or degree program that can have you working for an airline, in private industry, or in a government slot. The choices include flying private jets, helos, cargo, and the big cattle carriers.

Educational paths to aviation careers

You may have heard of the G.I. Bill before, but here’s a refresher if you’re unfamiliar with what exactly it covers (and doesn’t cover). GI Bill benefits cover vocational flight training or a bachelor’s degree aviation program at select universities. Qualifications covered include obtaining ratings for rotary-wing, fixed-wing, B747- 400, dual engine, and flight engineer specializations. However, Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance benefits do not cover flight training.

Also, note: the GI Bill will not fund a private pilot’s license so you’ll have to earn that on your own dime. This can be a tricky stipulation, because possessing a private pilot’s license is required before you can access some of the VA’s flight training paths. Funding is reserved for those seeking an aviation career, and the exclusion seems to be a deterrent against those seeking to use benefits to fund aviation as a hobby (rather than as a profession).

Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) or Montgomery GI Bill (Chapter 30) paths to flight

More recent updates to the G.I. Bill require a little further digging to understand. Both the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty and the Post-9/11 GI Bill can assist you in reaching your goal of becoming a pilot, but the differences require research and a firm understanding of the process.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay for vocational flight training program, but only after you’re earned a private pilot’s license. Currently, depending on the license type chosen, a private pilot’s license can run between $4,000 and $10,000. Some private stand-alone airline school tuitions top out at close to $90,000.

An alternative to spending money out of pocket is using the GI Bill at a four-year university degree program such as Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which specializes in aviation education programs and has campuses in Florida and Arizona. As always, it’s essential to ascertain if the educational program you’re investigating is eligible to accept the GI Bill.

There are other considerations and requirements to investigate as well. Regardless of funding, you must possess a first-class medical certificate if you want to pursue an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certification to be an airline pilot, or a second-class medical certificate if you’re seeking a second-class privilege or commercial pilot career.

Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (Chapter 30)

The Montgomery GI Bill will reimburse you for flight training, but only for 60% of an approved flight school’s tuition up to the maximum number of hours approved for dual instruction for both flight and ground training.

Post-9/11 GI Bill

There are three types of flight training covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. As always, your Post 9/11 benefits are dependent on your time in service after September 10, 2001, and your remaining entitlement. After that, benefits are assessed according to the program and the type of school in which you plan to enroll.

Public University

A degree flight training program that consists of flight training at a public college or university is covered up to the full cost of in-state tuition. You may also be eligible to receive a monthly housing allowance and money for books and educational supplies.

Private University

A degree flight training program at a private college or university is covered up to the net cost of tuition and fees up to a yearly limit. You may also receive a housing allowance and money to help buy books and educational supplies. You can also apply for additional funds to cover tuition and fees above the yearly limit through the Yellow Ribbon Program.

Vocational Pilot School

At a vocational program at a stand-alone Part 141 pilot school, the GI Bill will pay for the net cost of training up to a yearly limit — depending on your level of eligibility. You won’t be eligible for a housing allowance or money to help buy books and supplies. Be advised that Part 141 schools can eat up to half of your benefits and end up without a degree and only a pilot’s certificate.  An important caveat is that if you are interested in attending a vocational flight school, it must be a FAA Part 141 certified school. Be certain of this distinction before you waste time and effort.

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