Monday, February 26, 2024
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FAA rejects regional airline’s request to hire less experienced pilots

Federal officials have rejected a request by a regional airline facing a pilot shortage to hire co-pilots with half the minimum flight experience, saying it would reduce safety. Republic Airways has applied for permission to hire pilots with at least 750 flight hours if they complete the airline’s training program. But the Federal Aviation Administration said it was in the public interest to maintain the current standards, which generally require 1,500 flight hours for a co-pilot. Smaller carriers, called regional airlines, were once allowed to hire second pilots, called first officers, with as little as 250 hours of flight experience. But the minimum was raised after a Colgan Air plane flying for Continental Airlines crashed near Buffalo, New York in 2009, killing all 49 people on board and one on the ground.

While the minimum is 1,500 hours, pilots with military experience or a degree from an approved university program can qualify with less experience. Republic argued that its program, run by a wholly owned subsidiary, would be comparable to military flight training. “After fully considering the Republic’s petition for exemption and the public’s comments, the FAA has determined that the requested relief is not in the public interest and would adversely affect safety,” the FAA said. The FAA also stated that the Republic’s curriculum and training was not comparable to the military. Republic CEO Bryan Bedford said he was disappointed but not surprised by the FAA’s decision. He said the agency did not follow through on the airline’s request as it deserved. “Despite rhetoric to the contrary, our proposal would enhance safety by providing students with a highly structured, mission-focused training approach,” Bedford said in a statement. He said the Republic’s approach would increase the number of pilots and help counter shrinking air service in small and medium-sized communities. Republic and other regional carriers say the FAA needs to consider new standards for licensing pilots — in addition to counting their flight hours — because of the difficulty and cost of accumulating 1,500 hours in the air. Republic estimated the cost of flight training and tuition leading to a degree at a public university to be about $171,000, compared to $75,000 at its academy. But the FAA said it was “too simplistic” to think that granting the Republic’s request would solve the “perceived pilot shortage.” The nation’s largest pilot union disputes the notion that there is a shortage, saying there are enough qualified pilots if airlines do a better job of retaining pilots and if regional airlines increase pay and ease grueling work schedules. The union praised the FAA’s rejection of the Republic’s request. “This decision is a huge win for aviation safety and the flying public,” said Joe DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association. He vowed that the union would oppose “any further efforts that seek to avoid, undermine, weaken or abolish first officer qualification, experience and training requirements”. The FAA received nearly 100 comments on the Republic’s request, split between support and opposition. Republic uses smaller aircraft to operate mostly shorter routes for major airlines under the Delta Connection, American Eagle and United Express brands. The airline is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.



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