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Safety Concerns with Hiring Boom and Set Backs of the 1,500 Hour Rule

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According to an article from AOPA, written by Susan Carey, Jack Nicas, and Andy Pasztor, some regulators and industry experts worry about the safety  implications of having a smaller pool of applicants at a time when demand for pilots is rising. These experts and regulators worry that some smaller airlines could be forced to lower internal criteria and hire applicants with  questionable skills or spotty training records.

"It certainly will result in challenges to maintain quality," said John Marshall, an independent aviation-safety consultant who spent 26 years in the Air Force before overseeing Delta's safety. "Regional carriers will be creative and have to take shortcuts" to fill their cockpits, he said.

Congress's 2010 vote to require 1,500 hours of experience in August 2013 came in the wake of several regional-airline accidents, although none had been due to pilots having fewer than 1,500 hours. Ahead of the new 1,500-hour rule, the Regional Airline Association has been testing its first officers regularly in preparation for meeting the standards, said Scott Foose, the trade group's vice president of operations and safety. "Working collaboratively with the FAA, hundreds of first officers have already received their new certificates and the rest are on track to obtain theirs" states Foose.

While no one tracks overall attendance at the nation's 3,400 flight schools, FAA data show annual private and commercial pilot certificates, both required to become an airline pilot, are down 41% and 30%, respectively, in the past decade. The National Association of Flight Instructors, in a research paper published this year, said that "there is no feasible way...to continuously supply qualified pilots for the demand of air carriers."

Regional carriers now are racing to make sure their pilots have 1,500 hours by next summer, while also trying to bolster their ranks. But prospects with close to the required number of hours aren't numerous.
The FAA is trying to soften the blow. It has proposed a rule that would lower the requirement to 750 hours for military aviators and 1,000 hours for graduates of four-year aviation universities. But the exemption, if it goes through, may come too late, and it isn't expected to help most aviators in training anyway, because they come from other types of flight schools.

The 1,500-hour mandate "has only discouraged a future generation of prospective pilots to pursue this career, will try to get the 1,500 hours the fastest and cheapest way possible," said Mr. Cohen, from the regional airline group. The mandate applies to regularly scheduled passenger and cargo airlines flying jets and larger turboprops. Cargo airlines could also end up struggling to recruit sufficient pilots. Smaller planes, on-demand charters and business jets aren't covered by the new requirements.

The last big pilot shortage, in the 1960s, occurred because "everybody who was of a trainable age was in Vietnam," said Randy Babbitt, a former FAA administrator who was hired as a pilot in that era. Meanwhile, airlines were expanding as jets shortened trips and boosted traffic. Once the military pilots finished their tours, many joined airlines and the shortage problem receded.

Published on June 06, 2013

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