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FAA Mulls Proposals for Pilot Qualifications

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Dec 21, 2003


An air-safety advisory group has lobbed a political hot potato into the lap of FAA chief Randy Babbitt: recommendations undercutting Congressionally-mandated experience requirements for new airline co-pilots.

The group of industry and labor experts concluded that 500 hours of actual flight time, rather than the 1,500-hour minimum recently endorsed by Congress, should be deemed adequate for some newly-hired first officers. The lower experience level, however, would apply only to prospective hires with strong academic credentials and success in enhanced ground-school or training courses focused on making them familiar with airline operations.
Raising minimum co-pilot qualifications -- without running afoul of Congress or drastically reducing the likely pool of future job applicants -- is among the most difficult and hotly-debated issue facing U.S. commercial aviation. Establishing specific flight-time requirements may be the most challenging part of that debate.

Current rules allow co-pilots to get behind the controls of airliners with as few as 190 hours of prior flying experience. Industry groups worry that raising that minimum requirement to a mandatory 1,500 hours , especially all at once, could lead to future pilot shortages without providing the intended boost in safety.

As a result, the advisory group compromised by proposing a flexible, sliding scale that would offer new co-pilots the chance to supplement their flight hours with a college degree, special jet-training courses and other proof of enhanced aeronautical knowledge.

The group also urged that before new co-pilots are allowed to fly passengers, the FAA should require each aviator to demonstrate proficiency in the specific aircraft type he or she will be assigned to fly. Such "type ratings," or licenses for specific models, currently aren't legally required for co-pilots. They are mandatory for all airline captains.
Details of the recommendations, which were delivered to the FAA late last month, haven't been reported before. The agency has declined to comment or release the report, pending high-level FAA deliberations.
But a copy of the 123-page document obtained by The Wall Street Journal emphasizes the importance of giving certain prospective co-pilots flight-time "credits" for academic and other relevant experience. The most credits, according to the report, would be earned "through completion of an accredited flight training program at a 4-year university of college." Under some circumstances, that could translate to airlines hiring co-pilots with a minimum of 500 hours flying experience.

The report also spells out required piloting skills for new hires, ranging from high-altitude aircraft handling to winter weather conditions to safely getting out of stalls or wake turbulence events. The report specifically mentions that new co-pilots need to demonstrate they understand and are able to cope with failures of computerized flight instruments and control systems.

The majority of the members of the advisory group agreed that such a system "ensures sufficient real-world operational experience" before co-pilots begin transporting passengers.

Some of the group's participants vigorously disagreed. The Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, which represents some 28,000 commercial pilots, filed a minority dissent stressing that a flat 1,500-hour minimum flight-time requirement for new co-pilots is essential.

The National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation, which represents the families of crash victims and survivors, was another member of the advisory group. It filed a separate, strongly-worded dissent emphasizing that the adjusted 500-hour minimum standard is inadequate. Educational credits, according to the dissent, "simply cannot replace or serve as a substitute for actual flight experience."

Still, people familiar with the details said the majority recommendations are likely to be embraced by the FAA because they have the backing of major industry associations and labor groups. The head of the FAA-created advisory group, for example, was Scott Foose, the top safety official at the Regional Airline Association, which represents most commuter carriers.
Commuter airlines would be affected the most by revised co-pilot qualification and training rules, since they typically hire less-experienced aviators than those who go to work for mainline national or international carriers. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Foose declined to comment.
The recommendations supported by most of the 20 members of the advisory group come in the wake of several high-profile airline incidents and accidents that highlighted lapses in co-pilot skills and judgment. The accidents include the Feb. 2009 crash of a Colgan Air turboprop near Buffalo, N.Y., that resulted in 50 fatalities.

Largely prompted by that accident, FAA safety experts, lawmakers, pilot unions, airline officials and pilot-training organizations have been mulling ways to upgrade the qualifications of new co-pilots. Earlier this year, overwhelming bipartisan support in the House and Senate produced legislation setting 1,500 hours of flight time as the minimum for new co-pilots.

But lawmakers also enacted a provision giving the FAA authority to devise alternate, more-flexible regulations to give newly-hired co-pilots credits for ground-training and certain types of course work.

Another controversial part of the advisory report deals with pay levels for co-pilots, particularly at regional carries. The final report urges the FAA to require all airlines to provide the agency with an annual report detailing flight hours, educational background and pay for co-pilots.

The recommendation follows congressional and public criticism that some co-pilots flying grueling schedules for regional carriers start with a base pay of around $20,000.

The Regional Airlines Association, among others, dissented and requested the FAA to hold off requiring public reports of "sensitive" data about co-pilot pay and benefits. The association stressed that such a requirement would be unfair because the FAA doesn't "track pay and benefits for any other air-carrier employee group."

The dissent also noted that such information would be "proprietary in nature," adding that the advisory group provided no connection between pay and safety.
None of you government fools knows what your doing. The current situation of two tier airline pilots is a direct result of outsourcing. The solution is a law that says if a 121 carrier sells a ticket, that airline is responsible to FLY that passenger to the destination. (barring reroutes due to cancellations or misconnects). This would ensure that the airline who sold the tickets also trained the pilots, wrenched the airplanes and guarentees that both are well within standard. Instead we have flying going to the lowest bidder which means that the ones getting the jobs are the places that scrimp the most on mx, training and labor (which is why the worst pilots work there, they can't go anywhere else and nobody wants to work for the worst of the worst.)

250 hours, 500 hours, 1000 or 1500 hours....doesn't make a difference if the training is solid. I've flown with 500 hour guys who were awesome right out of the box and 1500 hour newhires that scared the hell out of me. Take it from a regional captain, the hours aren't the problem.
Your last point is exactly what that proision of the law is aimed at. If you get quality training they will lower the minimum. I would much rather fly with someone with fewer hours of high quality training than someone who has been reinforcing the same bad happits for 1500 hours.
Your last point is exactly what that proision of the law is aimed at. If you get quality training they will lower the minimum. I would much rather fly with someone with fewer hours of high quality training than someone who has been reinforcing the same bad happits for 1500 hours.
I see Raoul's point, but unfortunately, I never had this experience but vice-versa at my regional. Many that we got from universities in the Midwest and were usually a pain to fly with. They had developed quite an attitude and e.g. it turned to be almost a sport to question everything to CA did, while the CAs were on their toes during their hand-flying phases. I am not blaming or discrediting the universities, but many graduates had not really impressed me.

The few higher-timed pilots we had hired were usually more relaxing to fly with.

The problem that might evolve from crediting flight time with quality training is that we will create another fence among us. Those who don't have the cash for quality training (and that might be labeled bad pilots) and the ones with $$$ for good training (buying their Chuck Yeager title).

I have instructed quite a bit and have not really seen a significant difference in pilot performance between a part 61 and part 141 tco. Students usually turn our average with a few highlights on both sides.

Just my $.02
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Who will decide how many hours are enough? How much influence will the RAA have in the decision? Who will enforce it? What will be the penalty for non-compliance?

As for the comment in a previous post, the majors will never take this seriously until they're held liable for any accident(s) by the regionals they contract with.
So..... what happens from here? If you visit some regional airline web sites, the listed minimun hiring requirements (flight hours) for pilots at some regional airline are a bit vague and differ from one regional carrier to the other.
I agree with 500 hours of actual flight time as well as accredited flight training program at a 4-year university of college.
I must say that the airlines with proven quality training departments make the difference in safety. Airlines who farm out their training are more of an issue than that of setting a minimum hours for hiring someone. I have flown with pleanty of quality low time guys but on the flip side even with a great training department more than a few very low time pilots should not have been on the line yet. Maybe a number like 750 WITH credit for education (and not just those high dollar schools). I am thinking that those with a few hundred hours of CFI time is a great education when compared to a CRJ systems course taken at a college
College doesn't make a pilot better. I have a 4 year degree, but it sure doesn't do a thing for my pilot skills. It did help after my 9/11 furlough by getting me employment outside aviation.

My perception of the the pilots who were hired with low times at the regionals from the "good" pilot colleges was that they could control the airplane very well from the very beginning, but they just didn't have the experience to know what they should be doing quite often and required a lot supervision (unfortunately most didn't realize all the little nudges that they were getting to keep them on track). I'm not blaming the schools- I noticed the same with the low time pilots who came from other environments also. I just don't think you can really substitute class time for actual experience. I guess they could spend hundreds of hours in the sim constantly going over the multitude of difficult situations and the required decision making, but I doubt that is in the training (too expensive). I guess I would suggest that one thing that may help would be to require a considerable amount of time (hundreds of hours) of the new pilot sitting in the jumpseat with specific training pilots who constantly explain most of their decisions so that the new pilot can see it and understand it before they are a required member of the the cockpit. Outside of that, I hope they don't cave and keep it at 1500 hours. I realize this doesn't really do everything required for safety, but it makes is harder for the regionals to keep their pay so low and helps raise the bar for everyone else.
The quality education isn't going to help....Just as I've flown with guys who have 300 vs 1500 hours.....I've flown with ERAU guys that stunk and bob's flight school people who were fine. (nothing against the ERAU guys of course, just an example)

I had 1200 hours when I was hired, did some time at Flight Safety, I do not have a college degree. I've been flyin the 145 for nearly 12 years now with a perfect record. So based on the new rules, I wouldn't fit the profile for a good candidate though I'd bet my chief pilot would have a different story to tell.
The quality training thats going to really matter is the training that your going to get on the equipment that your going to be flying AT the airline your going to flying it for. Thats the key. I'd say that honestly things were fine, but something....ANYTHING...had to change after the colgan crash. Its not enough to say that someone slipped through the cracks, Colgan should have paid attention but they were too busy filling seats to be concerned with WHO was filling the seats. This guy had a track record AT COLGAN but it didn't matter, just shove him through and get him on the line....we need the airplane moved. Like I said above, thats the attitude thats dangerous. With proper training, a 500 hour guy (even one that didn't come from ERAU) can be an asset and an excellent pilot. This isn't the first time in history that low time pilots have been hired.
The new hour change is stupid.....the amendment to the new hour rule is stupid. And it's aimed at the wrong problem....the real problem is outsourcing and the bidding wars it creates.

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