No one questions the need to maintain the best safety record in U.S. airline history. But the timing of the FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaing (NPRM) to upgrade pilot qualifications couldn’t come at a worse time, especially for regional airlines already running a fine line between solvency and bankruptcy.
A result of the 2010 Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act, the proposed rule will require airlines to hire only first officers who possess an Airline Transport Pilot certificate that carries a 1,500-hour flight time requirement. Currently, airlines can hire first officers who possess a commercial certificate that requires only 250 hours of flight time. Airlines will also be required to type-rate every first officer on the aircraft they fly, a move expected to significantly increase airline-training costs. Additionally, the rule will demand that no airline upgrade a first officer to captain who does not possess at least 1,000 hours total time in airline service flying.
The new rule evolved after Continental Connection 3407, a Bombardier Q-400, crashed while on approach to Buffalo, N.Y., in early 2009, killing all 49 aboard. The accident investigation revealed serious training and qualification deficiencies with both the captain and the first officer.
Louis Smith, president of FltOps.com and a retired Northwest pilot, sees problems ahead. “Accommodations will be needed by both management and labor to make the 1,000 hour rule work,” he told AIN. “I don’t think the supply of pilots willing to take the offer at the regional airline sector is sufficient.”
The NPRM will be available for viewing for 60-days at the Federal Register’s public inspection board.