Tuesday, 6 March 2012

New Airline Hiring Standards Likely To Worsen Pilot Shortage

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a long-overdue Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) last week that would require first officers to hold an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate, which requires 1,500 hours of pilot flight time except under limited circumstances. The proposed rule contains provisions included in the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010, signed into law by President Obama in August of that year.

Neither the Regional Airline Association (RAA) nor Airlines for America (A4A) would venture to comment on their respective positions beyond brief written statements emphasizing the need for further study of the proposed rule. Meanwhile, the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations—representing the Allied Pilots Association (American Airlines), Independent Pilots Association (UPS), Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, Teamsters Local 1224, and US Airline Pilots Association (US Airways)—applauded the NPRM.

Scheduled to take effect next year, the new rule could exacerbate an already alarming trend toward a shortage of pilots, particularly for regional airlines, most of whose minimum hiring requirements now fall well below the 1,500 hours needed for an ATP.

Under the present FAA rules, first officers can carry only a commercial pilot certificate, which requires 250 hours of flight time. The proposal also would require first officers to earn an aircraft type rating, which involves additional training and testing specific to the airplanes they fly.

However, the rule would allow pilots who hold an aviation degree or with military flying experience to obtain a “restricted privileges” ATP certificate, under which a first officer could serve with fewer than 1,500 hours. Under the proposal, former military pilots with 750 hours of flight time could apply for an ATP certificate with restricted privileges, while graduates of a four-year baccalaureate aviation degree program could earn an ATP with 1,000 hours of flight time, but only if they also obtained a commercial pilot certificate and instrument rating from a pilot school affiliated with the university or college.

The new rule would also require “enhanced” training requirements for an ATP certificate, including 50 hours of multi-engine flight experience and completion of a new FAA-approved training program. Finally, under the proposal, all U.S. airline captains must have accumulated at least 1,000 flight hours as a pilot in air carrier operations that require an ATP.

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