By Vanni Gibertini
Republic Airways Requests Exemption From 1,500-Hour Rule To Address Pilots Shortage
The airline industry has been worrying for many years about a possible upcoming shortage of pilots to fly all the aircraft needed to cover the networks of all carriers. With all the “baby boomers” approaching their retirement age, it was feared that there would not be enough new pilots to replace the ones ending their careers, as training programs are becoming increasingly expensive and requirements to step onto the seniority ladder in the cockpit are getting stricter.
In the U.S., a new requirement imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2009 increased the minimum number of flight hours needed to be completed by would-be commercial pilots from 250 to 1,500 as a result of the findings from the investigation of the 2006 Comair crash just outside Buffalo.
This caused the training process to be much more time-consuming, increasing the time between the enrolment of candidates in a training program and the moment they can finally start earning money for the airlines.
In order to get some relief from this conundrum, U.S. regional carrier Republic Airways required an exemption from the FAA to allow their trainees to begin their careers in the cockpit after completing only 750 flight hours.
Republic Airways is an Indianapolis-based regional carrier operating services under Capacity Purchase Agreements for American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express. Its fleet is composed of 218 Embraer 170 and Embraer 175 aircraft each capable of carrying 76 passengers or less, as is generally required by pilot union regulations governing the scope of operations performed by regional carriers on behalf of major airlines.
The rationale behind the request lies in an exception that is already allowed for former military pilots wanting to transition to a career in commercial aviation: these pilots are allowed to start piloting commercial aircraft under a restricted airline transport pilot certificate (“R-ATP”) after completing only 750 hours of flying, due to the rigorous nature of the training they had to undergo during their experience in the military.
“Republic Airways training is designed to meet or exceed the safety of the military R-ATP”
“Republic Airways is seeking an exemption […], which allows current or former U.S. military pilots to apply for a restricted airline transport pilot certificate (“R-ATP”) with a total of 750 hours. Specifically, Republic is asking that pilots who graduate from the rigorous closed-loop training program outlined are granted the ability to also apply for the R-ATP […] The exemption would allow a safe and more diverse group of aviators to enter the industry by providing an additional opportunity for underserved communities and demographics,” writes the letter from Republic.
The airline claims the structure of the training, described in great detail in the filing, “is designed to meet or exceed the safety of the military R-ATP. In addition, this program will support aspiring aviators from underserved communities and diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in aviation.”
Republic Airways, as well as other regional carriers operating under the same model, have advised in recent weeks they will need to cancel hundreds of flights and terminate services to dozens of remote airports due to their inability to staff flights properly.
There are no other countries in the world that impose a similar level of flying experience for prospective commercial pilots. The rule has been loudly criticized by stakeholders in the aviation industry: Jonathan Ornstein, chief executive of Mesa Airlines, another regional carrier operating on behalf of the U.S. major airlines, is among the loudest critics of the 1,500-hour rule. On May 9, he called it an “ill-conceived, ill-advised and politically motivated” rule “that by most independent accounts [has] nothing to do with the enhancement of safety,” Flightglobal reported.
The rule is also considered largely ineffective at providing pilots meaningful experience in managing complex situations in multi-engine aircraft since most of the time those 1,500 hours are logged flying as instructors on single-engine piston aircraft. Other countries around the world have embraced radically different approaches such as the Multi-crew Pilot Licensing (MPL), allowing pilots to obtain their commercial licenses through a combination of simulator practices and flying hours exclusively in an environment where there are multiple individuals in a cockpit as it always happens on large commercial aircraft.