The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration expects its new first officer qualification rule for commercial pilots that require, with certain exceptions, 1,500 hours of flight time and an air transport pilot certificate to appear in the government’s Federal Register on Monday. Precipitated in large part by the 2009 fatal crash of a Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 outside Buffalo, N.Y., the rule will take effect immediately upon publication, according to an agency official. The current rule allows pilots to serve as airline first officers after earning only a commercial pilot certificate, which requires just 250 flight hours.
The new rule’s publication coincides with the approach of an August 1 congressional deadline mandated by the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010. Although Congress originally set a deadline of Oct. 1, 2011, the FAA managed to delay implementation for nearly two years while an industry rulemaking committee formulated recommendations for exceptions.
As it reads now, the rule allows pilots with fewer than 1,500 hours of flight time or who have not reached the minimum age of 23 to obtain a “restricted privileges” ATP certificate, which, for example, exempts pilots with 750 hours of flying time in the military. Other exceptions allow for college graduates holding a bachelor’s degree to qualify with only 1,000 hours and aviation majors holding an associate’s degree with 1,250 hours. The new rule also lowers the minimum age to 21 for pilots who have accumulated 1,500 flight hours.
Despite the allowances designed to help mitigate the rule’s potential for contributing to a pilot shortage, the Regional Airline Association continues to voice concerns over the prospect. “Highly structured training, airline standards and FAA approved curriculum produces excellent pilots,” said RAA president Roger Cohen in a statement released last week. “Unfortunately the goal posts have also been moved for future aviators. As we’ve stated all along, the changes will impact the future supply of pilots and could imperil service to 500 communities across the U.S., which rely on regional airlines exclusively for their scheduled flights. We are hopeful the FAA will take additional steps to help bring more highly trained aviators into the cockpit and an airline career.”