Flight school students tour a new CH-47F Chinook on Feb. 5, 2010, at Knox Army Heliport at Fort Rucker. The Army has temporarily stopped transferring officers into aviation from other branches amid uncertainty over the effects of sequestration. (Army)
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WHO GETS TO FLY
Standards for officers who have previously gone through the branch transfer process:
* Served in certain branches
* Served less than four years
* Scored at Selection Instrument for Flight Training
* Obtained a waiver from the Aviation Proponency office of the Army Aviation Center, Fort Rucker.
They also must:
* Be less than 33 years old
* Hold the rank of captain when the panel convenes
* Have scored at least a 40 on the Army’s new flight aptitude test.
* Hold a Regular Army appointment and be a member of the Army Competitive Category.
Amid uncertainty over whether sequestration will ground helicopter training at Fort Rucker, Ala., the Army has temporarily stopped transferring officers into aviation from other branches.
Aviation branch transfer panels have been suspended indefinitely, as of early April, because officials did not want more eligible student pilots until it was quite clear how many seats would be available at the Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker.
"With the possible cuts, one of the things we’re concerned about was a backlog of students at Fort Rucker if there was a cut to aviation training," said Chief Warrant Officer 5 John Koziol, an officer career policy integrator.
Though the suspension of branch transfer panels affects only a handful of soldiers directly, roughly 10 aspiring aviators for the year, it highlights the effects of the legislated federal budget cuts known as sequestration.
The sequester cuts that took effect in March will cost the Defense Department $46 billion through the end of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, officials have said.
Maj. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum, the school’s commander, has said the school stands to lose at least 500 seats. Army Secretary John McHugh, speaking at a joint press conference with Mangum at Fort Rucker in March, said he was hoping for Congress to create some flexibility.
"As the secretary said, there are a number of factors will play in how many people, both dollars and time available between now and end of the year," Mangum said. “So it’s probably going to be a little bit higher than 500. We’re still working those specific numbers based on dollars and time."
The in-depth analysis and planning that would determine sequestration’s precise impact on Army aviation training were still ongoing, Koziol said.
"That gave us some time to make sure if there was a significant cut and we weren’t able to train as many students, that we weren’t sending soldiers down there to wait around," he said.
The aviation branch transfer panel would meet twice annually, typically considering junior officers who applied to transfer out of their original branch and met the qualifications to become aviators.
The panel scheduled for April would have considered five officers, a small number in comparison with a typical class, made up of soldiers typically accessed through ROTC, Officer’s Candidate School and The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Those branch transfer applicants will be re-evaluated at a later date to be determined, Koziol said.
Before they were called off, the selection panels had been scheduled to meet in April and October to consider the applications of Regular Army officers who wanted to transfer to the aviation career branch.
The selected officers attend the Aviation Captains Career Course and flight training at Fort Rucker. Upon graduation from these courses, officers incur a six-year service obligation and are assigned to a combat aviation brigade.