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Newspaper Story On Lower Hiring Minimums

norskman2

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The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram ran a good story on why regionals are lowering their hiring minimums.

Regional airlines lower bar for pilots

By TREBOR BANSTETTER
Star-Telegram staff writer


If you've flown on a regional airline like American Eagle or Atlantic Southeast Airlines with any regularity, you may have noticed that the pilots seem a bit younger.
It's not your imagination. Regional carriers, which operate flights for major airlines like American, Delta and United, have been slashing their minimum hiring requirements in recent years as they grapple with a growing shortage of pilots. The carriers have reduced required flight hours for job applicants by as much as two-thirds, and in a few cases have hired pilots with the minimum experience required by the Federal Aviation Administration for a pilot's license.
Airline executives say recruiting less experienced pilots is necessary because the pool of applicants is shrinking while demand for pilots grows. And many have increased training for new hires and assigned them more time flying with veteran co-pilots.
Pilot union officials, while not citing specific incidents, say they're worried that the trend could make the skies less safe.
"The rush to push pilots through training and into the cockpits raises obvious safety concerns," said John Prater, a veteran Continental Airlines pilot and president of the Air Line Pilots Association.
Prater addressed the issue of less-experienced pilots in a recent speech at a forum on aviation safety and security.
"New pilots today are going straight into the [co-pilot's] seat, and moving into the [captain's] seat in a hurry," he said. "And they're doing it in airplanes that are great machines but can be unforgiving."
Airline executives counter that safety isn't an issue. They say they've augmented training for new hires and have increased the time junior pilots are monitored by veterans in the cockpit.
"Anyone who raises safety as an issue has some other agenda," said Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association. "The airlines are spending a boatload of money on training and recruiting."
And Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman for American Eagle, said the airline's new hires are competent and talented pilots.
"We have the best pilots out there," she said. "You can't just walk in from the street and say you want to be a pilot."
The issue has emerged as regional carriers account for an increasing portion of the country's airline traffic. Half the flights nationwide are operated by regional airlines, Cohen said.
Regional airlines include carriers like Pinnacle Airlines, which flies for Northwest; Atlantic Southeast, which transports passengers for Delta; and Republic Airways, which operates flights for United. The largest regional carrier is Fort Worth-based American Eagle, which flies for American Airlines; both are owned by AMR Corp.
Passengers book their flights through the larger carrier, and many don't realize that their flight is being operated by a different airline. The major carriers have substantially increased their use of regional airlines in part because their flight crews are paid less.
Traditionally, many pilots began their careers at lower-paying regional airlines with the hope of moving to a major carrier, and a bigger salary, in a few years. Most regional carriers used to require 1,500 total flight hours before an aspiring pilot could apply for a job. A portion of those hours -- usually about 500 -- had to be flown in a multiengine airplane; the rest could be in a single-engine aircraft like a small Cessna 172.
In the past, young pilots typically built up their hours by renting airplanes or by working as instructors for flight schools. Many would spend years adding to their flight hours before accumulating enough to apply as a commercial pilot.
But the pool of new pilots began to dry up several years ago. Regionals have been competing with fast-growing corporate aviation firms, discount airlines, cargo shippers and foreign airlines for talented young pilots. These rivals often have better pay and benefits and more stable work schedules.
The flow of pilots coming from the military has also slowed, said Paul Rice, a captain for United Airlines who is first vice president for the Air Line Pilots Association. And some young people who are interested in aviation are choosing other professions.
Cohen said pay cuts, airline bankruptcies and other industry problems have "taken a lot of the glamour out of being an airline pilot."
"There are just fewer young people who want to make a career out of this," he said.
For example, a starting pilot at Trans States, a regional airline that flies for American under the name American Connection, earns $22 a flight hour, with 74 hours guaranteed a month, according to AirlinePilotCentral.com, which tracks pilot salaries. That translates to an annual starting salary of $19,500. A pilot flying 1,000 hours a year -- the most allowed under federal rules -- would earn about $22,000.
Less experience necessary
The dearth of pilots has led airlines to lower hiring requirements in order to maintain flight schedules.
In just the past year, 14 of the 21 regional and commuter airlines tracked by the consulting firm Air Inc. have reduced the hours of experience a pilot must have at the controls of any type of airplane. Trans States briefly lowered its requirement to 250 total hours last summer before raising it to 500, said Kit Darby, the firm's president.
American Eagle has cut its minimum flight hours to 500.
"If you have just a few hundred hours and don't have any jet experience, you're looking at quite a learning hurdle," Rice said.
James Magee, an Eagle pilot and union spokesman, had 2,000 hours of flight time when he was hired in 1999.
"Our new pilots are exceptionally good pilots," Magee said. "But they're flying in very challenging environments, and there's really no replacement for experience."
Magee added that many regional airlines fly into smaller airports that often lack the sophisticated technology of major airports. Many of Eagle's destinations are in the Caribbean, so pilots also have to juggle the aviation requirements of different countries and deal with difficult tropical weather.
He said more experienced Eagle captains "are having to do a lot more teaching in the cockpit than they had to do in the past."
Airlines are aggressively recruiting on college campuses and offering signing bonuses to new hires who complete their training.
In Europe, some airlines hire aspiring pilots with no experience and train them in exchange for a commitment to spend a certain number of years flying for the carrier, Rice said. But there doesn't appear to be any indication that U.S. airlines will replicate that training method, which can be a costly way to acquire pilots.
Union leaders say improved compensation and benefits would help more than signing bonuses and lesser requirements for new hires.
"We have to offer them a career path, with pay and work rules, that is going to be attractive," Magee said.
Regardless, airlines and labor officials agree that the pilot shortage isn't likely to improve soon. Eagle has had to cut flights from its winter schedule because pilots aren't available to fly them.
"It's one of several reasons, but that does play into it," Eagle's Huguely said. "The pilots are crucial, and without them, the planes don't fly."
 

RadioClash

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Regional airlines lower bar for pilots

By TREBOR BANSTETTER
Star-Telegram staff writer


...increased training for new hires and assigned them more time flying with veteran co-pilots.

This has to be a typo...or am I missing something here?
 
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