NAM Y HUH/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Federal Aviation Administration has rejected a regional airline’s offer to reduce the number of flight hours needed to become a commercial airline pilot.
Republic Airways, based in Indianapolis, had requested the reduction of flight hours for graduates of its flight school in order to address the shortage of pilots.
Republic applied to the FAA in April for an exemption from federal regulations requiring at least 1,500 flight hours for pilots to be certified as first officers in commercial airlines. Republic wanted graduates of its pilot training program, called Leadership in Flight Training (LIFT) Academy, to qualify with as little as half that number, 750 flight hours, the same as what is required of pilots coming out of military training.
Republic argued that its new pilot training program is similar in format and structure to that of the US military and is just as good.
But the FAA disagrees, saying in its decision written by Caitlin Locke, acting deputy executive director of the FAA’s Flight Standards Service, that “the data does not sufficiently support Republic’s assertion that (its ) program is sufficiently comparable to the training program of a branch military to justify a reduction in flight hours.
Before the 1,500-hour rule came into effect in 2012, airlines predicted it would lead to a shortage of pilots
The 1,500-hour rule came into effect in 2013 as one of many new safety rules passed in response to the Colgan Air plane crash that killed 50 people in Buffalo in February 2009, although the two pilots of this regional jet had hundreds of additional flight hours. experience above this threshold of 1500 hours.
And even before it took effect, airlines predicted it would lead to a shortage of pilots. Most other countries, including those in the EU, require a minimum of 250 flight hours for pilot certification, as the United States did before the Colgan accident.
At the time, critics of the increase in flight hours said the 1,500-hour level was arbitrary and not based on scientific data. Now regional airlines, including Republic, are blaming the 1,500-hour rule at least in part for what they say is a severe pilot shortage that has forced them and their major airline partners to cut service because that they cannot insure all their flights.
Pilot shortages were already looming in the commercial aviation industry before the pandemic, but were inadvertently exacerbated by the airlines themselves early in the pandemic. As demand for air travel has fallen by more than 90%, airlines have offered pilots and other employees generous early retirement offers and other incentives to leave, helping them cut payroll costs.
When air travel demand returned faster than expected, major carriers such as American, Delta and United filled their positions by hiring pilots away from their regional airline partners, including Republic, leaving regional airlines even more short-staffed.
Recruiting, hiring, and training new pilots has been hampered by the high cost and time it takes for potential pilots to become eligible for commercial airline certification. Flight school and the accumulation of the necessary 1,500 flight hours can take years and cost well over $100,000, and Republic argued that the high cost of obtaining the 1,500 flight hours discourages potential pilots who cannot afford it.
Largest pilots union applauds FAA’s denial of Republic’s request
Republic CEO Bryan Bedford said the proposal to reduce in-flight training hours would “improve safety by providing students with a highly structured, mission-specific approach to training” and “open the door to a rewarding career.” in aviation to all students who could not otherwise afford to participate.”
But airline pilot unions opposed the request, arguing that cutting pilot training hours would result in inexperienced pilots and compromise safety.
The FAA agrees, saying Republic’s new training program “would not be in the public interest or provide an equivalent level of safety” as the 1,500 hour flight training requirement currently does. .
The Air Line Pilots Association, the largest union for pilots, applauds the FAA’s denial of Republic’s request.
“This decision is a huge victory for aviation safety and for the flying public,” said ALPA President Captain Joe DePete. “The FAA’s findings confirm what we have always said about Republic’s request, which is that it is not in the public interest and would be detrimental to safety.”
Republic CEO Beford said in a statement that the airline was “disappointed — but not surprised” that federal regulators rejected the airline’s petition, saying the FAA was not giving it “review and the commitment she deserved.