(CNN) — Federal regulators have rejected an airline’s controversial request to halve commercial pilot hiring standards to address the global pilot shortage.
In April, regional airline Republic Airways asked the Federal Aviation Administration to allow graduates of Republic’s own LIFT Academy to become airline co-pilots with 750 hours of flight experience, not the typical 1,500 flight hours required for new pilots.
On Monday, the FAA said it rejected the Republic’s request after the agency “determined that the airline’s new training program does not provide the same level of safety as the regulation requiring 1,500 hours of flight experience before a pilot is allowed to work for an airline.”
Republic is a regional airline based in Indianapolis that says it operates 1,000 daily flights for American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express.
What Republic Airways wanted?
Republic claimed in its first request to the FAA that its internal training program was aligned with the rigor of military flight training. Therefore, the airline said, any FAA regulation allowing the hiring of military pilots by less experienced airlines should be extended to the Republic.
“Through its rigorous curriculum and structure, this program will exceed military R-ATP safety standards.” [training program]Republic argued, adding that the program would “provide a higher level of security.”
The curriculum includes classroom and flight time, mentorship, and frequent exams. Failing a test, Republic suggested, would put a student on the normal path to a 1,500-hour license.
Graduates who would have received a special pilot’s license under this program would have been fully licensed upon reaching 1,500 hours.
Republic argued that its program would increase diversity in the pilot ranks. Gaining the 1,500 hours usually involves college education, low-paid work, and renting planes to fly — an expense Republic says can cost anywhere from $170,000 to $220,000.
“The cost of a four-year course can be a significant barrier for some highly qualified students and make pilot training out of reach, especially those in socio-economically disadvantaged communities,” Republic’s proposal said.
The Regional Airline Association, which represents the Republic and its fellow airlines, had supported the Republic’s proposal. It said approval of the program would recognize “flight time is not the only part of developing a safe and qualified pilot.”
Faye Malarkey Black, CEO and president of the association issued the following statement Monday in response to the FAA’s decision:
“We are still reviewing the FAA’s decision. It is the mission of all airlines to have robust safety programs in place and continuously improve flight training.
The first focus should be safety. Expanding structured training pathways would improve access for people who today do not have access to a pilot career.”
Union opposes plan
The Air Line Pilots Association, the largest pilots’ association, had strongly opposed the Republic’s program.
“This decision is a huge victory for aviation safety and for the flying public,” ALPA President Joe DePete said in a response Monday afternoon.
“The FAA’s findings confirm what we’ve been saying all along about the Republic’s request — that it’s not in the public interest and would negatively affect security.
In addition, in its official petition rejection, the FAA reaffirmed its support for the legal requirements in place to facilitate pilot qualification – the aviation safety law that has reduced aviation fatalities by 99.8 percent since its implementation. of it.”
The US requirement for 1,500 hours is much higher than the entry level in many other countries. The Department of Transportation’s inspector general wrote in a report earlier this year that 18 of the 29 countries it assessed require first officers only 240 hours.
The United States once had a lower copilot requirement — 250 hours — but lawmakers raised the bar after the 2009 Colgan Air crash that killed 50 people. Investigators said the commuter plane pilots did not properly recognize the plane and responded a few miles outside Buffalo-Niagara International Airport.
Opponents of reducing first officer hours include Sully Sullenberger, the retired airline captain who famously landed a US Airways jet on New York’s Hudson River.
“There is no shortcut to experience. There is no shortcut to safety. The standards are the standards because they are needed,” he told a congressional panel in 2015.