New Rules for Pilots Could Mean Less Service for Small Cities

By Dennis M. Crowley | August 27, 2013 | 10:53pm EDT

In this Tuesday, July 2, 2013, file photo, an American Airlines jet passes the Washington Monument as it lands at Ronald Reagan National Airport, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

(— Federal Aviation Administration rules that went into effect on Aug. 1 requiring increased flying hours and training for regional airline pilots have some wondering if the regional airlines will be able to attract qualified candidates. There are concerns a lack of pilots in the near future might force regional airlines to cut back service to some cities.

Congress directed the Federal Aviation Administration to increase the minimum requirements for first officers, also known as co-pilots, under Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010.

The new rules come in response to a commuter-airline crash in Buffalo N.Y. in February of 2009. The

National Transportation Safety Board determined that the flight crew’s inability to respond properly to some systems on the plane contributed to the accident.  Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed into a home. All

49 people on board were killed, along with one person in the house.

Previously, pilots employed as first officers, or co-pilots, were required to have only a commercial pilot certificate, which requires a minimum of 250 hours of flight time.

The new rules require that first officers have between 750 and 1,500 hours of flight time, depending upon whether they have served in the military as pilots or have graduated from two- or four-year colleges or universities.  Pilots will also be required to have an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate.

The new rules also require that the first officers receive special training and testing on the type of aircraft that they fly. This is also known as a “type-rating.”

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) said the cost of obtaining flight-training will vary, depending upon location, weather and types of aircraft flown.  Aerosim Flight Academy in Sanford, Fla ., offers a professional-pilot program for $69,995.

Airline Pilot Central, a website that monitors pilot hiring and pay at U.S. airlines, said the starting pay at some regional carriers typically is around $20,000.

Current Federal Aviation Administration regulations require that pilots flying for scheduled U.S. airlines retire at age 65.

The Regional Airline Association (RAA) represents 27 of these regional carriers. RAA said regional carriers operate half of the nation’s scheduled flights with nearly 75 percent of U.S. airports relying on regional airlines exclusively.

“Regional airline training professionals have worked intensely preparing for these new standards, as an industry we are committed and ready,” said RAA President Roger Cohen. He said more than 8,000 regional airline pilots have already successfully completed training for their Air Transport Pilot (ATP) certificates.

RAA officials also cautioned some potential pilots might not pursue a career with the regional airlines because of the high cost of flight training and the low starting salaries.

“Highly structured training, airline standards and FAA approved curriculum produces excellent pilots. Unfortunately the goal posts have also been moved for future aviators,” said Cohen.  “As we’ve stated all along, the changes will impact the future supply of pilots and could imperil service to 500 communities across the U.S. which rely on regional airlines exclusively for their scheduled flights.  We are hopeful the FAA will take additional steps to help bring more highly-trained aviators into the cockpit and an airline career.”

RAA officials said it takes a while to obtain the necessary 1,500 hours to get hired with a regional airline.

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported the new regulations have forced Cheyenne-based regional carrier Great Lakes Airlines to drop 30 pilots who had not accumulated enough flight time. Airline officials said if the pilot shortage persists, the new law could result in flight cancellations.

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