Sens. Scott, Cantwell Introduce Legislation To Expand Aviation Workforce, Lower Cost Barriers To Enter Pilot and Maintenance Careers

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) introduced the Aviation Workforce Development Act. This legislation extends eligible expenses for 529 plans, allowing them to be used to pay for FAA-certified flight and aviation maintenance programs.  As record numbers of air travelers visit South Carolina each year, the Aviation Workforce Development Act will open up more opportunities for young professionals to become an integral part of the state’s aviation workforce. 

U.S. Representative Mike Collins (R-Ga.) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Pilot and aviation maintenance jobs are in high demand and provide workers with high-quality, well-paying careers. Unfortunately, the extensive and expensive training they require has undermined Americans’ ability to tap into this vital industry. By giving parents flexibility with the hard-earned money they invest into 529 plans, this commonsense legislation provides a pathway to turn today’s students into tomorrow’s pilots. Affording our aviation sector the workforce necessary to sustain the tremendous growth South Carolina has enjoyed will ensure tourists continue to flock to our great state and will provide South Carolinians with reliable and efficient travel,” said Senator Scott.

“Families use 529 plans to save for their children’s future education. But we know that our next generation of workers need options beyond traditional four-year college degrees, such as apprenticeships, trade schools, and more. By allowing 529 plans to cover FAA-certified commercial pilot and aviation maintenance courses, this bill helps remove cost barriers for students considering a career path in Washington state’s thriving aviation industry,” said Senator Cantwell.

“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. Thank you, Senators Tim Scott and Maria Cantwell, for joining our effort to bolster the aviation industry with a steady supply of pilots and aircraft mechanics,” said Representative Mike Collins.

“CCAA fully supports the Aviation Workforce Development Act co-sponsored by Senator Tim Scott and Senator Cantwell. Pilots and those who enable planes to fly are undoubtedly the most important personnel in the aviation industry. This Act would allow FAA-certified flight schools and aviation maintenance schools to be a qualified expense for 529 education plans and this will ensure that these career paths become more accessible to a greater number of people. Aviation is in desperate need of additional pilots and those that maintain planes and this Act would move the needle forward on making these occupations a more realistic opportunity for men and women to choose,” said Elliott Summey, CEO and Executive Director of Charleston County Aviation Authority in Charleston, South Carolina.

“It is imperative to our nation’s aviation infrastructure that we increase the number of qualified pilots and aviation maintenance technicians. With serious shortages in both key areas, we must take action to encourage and support students who wish to pursue aviation careers.  The cost of education is clearly among the largest barriers for postsecondary students.  Allowing families to use 529 education savings accounts toward FAA-certified training programs would have an immediate and positive impact on students’ ability to succeed in these programs and access well-paying careers, all while addressing our transportation system’s critical workforce needs,” said Judi Olmstead, AAE and Director of Airports at Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR).

“The Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE) fully supports the Aviation Workforce Development Act. Providing a way for more individuals, especially those of diverse backgrounds, to have access to educational opportunities within the aviation industry is imperative. With the high costs of flight and aviation maintenance schools, passing and establishing this bill would remove a significant barrier for those interested in entering a career in aviation,” said Mike Gula, AAE and Executive Director of CAE.

“Quality air transportation and air service connectivity are key drivers of economic prosperity for the nation. Continued investment in infrastructure at facilities like Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP) will expand access, commerce and economic opportunity for the residents that depend on our airports to connect them with the world. A vital component of our infrastructure is the supply of qualified commercial pilots and aviation maintenance technicians.  The Boeing Company projects that 602,000 new pilots and 610,000 new maintenance technicians will be needed to fly and maintain the global commercial fleet over the next 20 years.  Meeting projected pilot and aircraft technician demand will be wholly dependent on the nation’s investment in a steady pipeline of newly qualified personnel to replace those who have left or will soon leave the industry through retirement and ongoing attrition. We whole-heartedly support efforts to expand access to these important careers, including expanding the popular 529 education savings programs to allow FAA-certified commercial flight and aviation maintenance programs to be qualified expenses,” said Dave Edwards, President and CEO of GSP Airport District.

“Our nations aviation infrastructure is critical, and hemorrhaging every day in great part due to the lack of qualified personnel in key technical areas of expertise. This legislation addresses that need, and we encourage its passage quickly; because the need is now!” said Lee Collins, CEO of the National Flight Training Alliance.

“Aviation maintenance workers are a critical component of the aerospace ecosystem. Allowing aspiring students interested in aviation careers to use their 529 plans for mechanic education programs will help grow our future workforce. Senator Scott and Senator Cantwell’s bill, the Aviation Workforce Development Act, is a step in the right direction to making aviation careers more accessible for students across the country,” said Eric Fanning, President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA).

“As the only craft-specific union representing aviation maintenance technicians, we applaud Senators Tim Scott and Maria Cantwell for introducing the Aviation Workforce Development Act. The aviation maintenance workforce is in sore need of new technicians, but the cost of higher education can be a significant challenge. By allowing students to use their 529 savings to pay for aircraft maintenance school, the Aviation Workforce Development Act will help address the severe deficit of qualified aircraft maintenance technicians,” said Bret Oestreich, National President of the American Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA).

The Aviation Workforce Development Act is endorsed by Airlines for America, National Air Carrier Association, Regional Airline Association, Cargo Airline Association, International Air Transport Association, Aerospace Industries Association, Aeronautical Repair Station Association, Flight School Association of North America, Air Line Pilots Association, Allied Pilots Association, Southwest Airlines Pilots Associations, Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots, Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, Aviation Technician Education Council, National Flight Training Association, Gulfstream Aerospace, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Atlas Air Worldwide, FedEx, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, United Airlines, Boeing, NetJets, Hawaiian Airlines, UPS, JetBlue Airways, National Business Aviation Association, and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. 


  • A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged account that can be used to pay for the qualified education expenses, including tuition, room and board, and other related expenses, of qualified beneficiaries to attend institutions of higher education, K-12 schools, and many trade and apprenticeship programs.
  • 529 plans generally do not include coverage of pilot or aviation maintenance programs unless they are an “eligible educational institution,” such as a college, university, trade school, or other post-secondary educational institution that is eligible to participate in a student aid program run by the Department of Education.
  • Meanwhile, according to Boeing’s Pilot and Technician Outlook, the 20-year outlook for aviation personnel includes 602,000 new pilots and 610,000 new maintenance technicians.
  • According to ATP, the nation’s largest flight school, it costs just over $96,000 a year to become a pilot with no previous experience and just over $75,000 if you start with a private pilot certificate.
  • This upfront cost is a major barrier to entry for pilots, copilots, and flight engineers, preventing access to a career field that the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook has in the top 20 paying occupations, with a median wage of $202,180 a year in 2021.