A takeoff in aviation legislation


A Piper Arrow PA-28-181 owned by the CWU aviation program parked just outside of the hangar at Bowers Airfield north of campus. The aviation program owns a total of 23 aircrafts.

Nick Tucker, Staff Reporter

State Representative of District 13 Tom Dent has introduced three aviation-related bills in an effort to address worker shortages and boost funding for airports.

“Our aviation industry is facing a critical pilot shortage. It is impacting technicians, instructors and other related aviation occupations as well,” Dent said to the Washington State House Republicans at the first reading of the bills on Jan. 22 at the state capitol in Olympia. “I am working to find a way to draw more of our young people into aviation careers. This would also grow our rural economic development as we improve our airports and increase employment in this industry.”

The first of these bills is House Bill 1455, which seeks to fund the training and employment of workers in the aviation industry including pilots, technicians, mechanics and flight instructors in Washington. One of the ways it would do this is through a loan forgiveness program which “provides for part of a student’s total loan amount to be forgiven if certain criteria are met.”

Those criteria include the student being employed full-time as a flight instructor, commercial pilot, airline transport pilot, avionics technician or maintenance technician. If those criteria are met, 20 percent of the student’s total loan amount will be forgiven with an additional 10 percent for every following year up to a maximum of 60 percent.

If passed, this bill could be a great help to CWU’s aviation students who have to make use of loans to cover the naturally high cost of aviation training. Helen Clumpner, an aviation student, has some concerns about the cost barriers impact on the program.

“We have students leave the program. One girl last year had to drop out due to the cost,”  Clumpner said.

According to Clumpner, the aviation program already has more applicants than slots for students, so the bill may not directly change the number of students in the program. However, she thinks the loan forgiveness program may lower the financial barrier for entry that the aviation industry has.

“I don’t think there’s that much of a problem with people leaving the industry as much as people bring discouraged from making their way to the airlines because of how much training costs,” Clumpner said. “I think people will be able to afford it because of this bill, take advantage of it, and make their way to the airlines to have a career.” Dent even mentioned CWU when he spoke to the Washington State House Republicans.

“There was a public hearing on House Bill 1455 on Wednesday [Jan. 30]. Alaska Air and Horizon, Central Washington University, Clover Park Technical College and the Washington Aviation Alliance all testified in strong support of the bill,” Dent said.

The next bill is House Bill 1456, which mostly regards the funding of  airports. The bill would direct the Department of Transportation to create a “Community Aviation Revitalization Board,” which would have broad powers, including the ability make direct loans to sponsors of airports so that they can make improvements to airports and promote the general aviation industry.

“The program is aimed at improving Washington’s smaller airports by funding needed capital and preservation projects. The bill would also establish a task force to oversee the program,” Dent said. “I believe we have an agreement to get this bill through the Legislature this year.”

The last bill, House Bill 1457, is far shorter than the first two and allocates revenue from aviation fuels taxes and retail sales taxes to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Aeronautics account which funds many important operations such as search and rescue, state airport improvements and the airport grants program.

Representative Dent is currently the only professional pilot in the legislature according to the Washington State House Republicans.

He became a professional pilot in 1976 and founded Tom Dent Aviation, which offered aerial application and flight instruction.

He sold his flying business in 2014 prior to being elected to the state House of Representatives but has remained active in the aviation industry, currently serving as commissioner of the Moses Lake Municipal Airport and formerly chairing the Association of Washington Business’ aviation committee. He has also sponsored multiple aviation-related bills such as House Bills 1018 and 2754.