Huerta Stands Firm On First Officer Qualifications

 - May 13, 2014, 8:11 PM
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta (Photo: Gregory Polek)

U.S. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on Tuesday made his second appearance in three years at the annual Regional Airline Association Convention. This year, however, all the traditional niceties reserved for such a high-profile attendee soon gave way to some pointed questions about the FAA’s role in promulgating the most unpopular rule to take effect since the so-called One Level of Safety mandate in the late 1990s. As the featured speaker at Tuesday’s general session, Huerta spoke of the need for the FAA to ensure the integrity of the Congressional requirement for first officers to carry an Air Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate, leaving little doubt that the agency’s advertised partnership with the industry comes with limitations.

Although, he said, the legislation did give the FAA the authority to allow “some flexibility” in how prospective first officers meet the new ATP requirements, it didn’t give it the power to compromise the spirit of the regulation. “We broadened that flexibility as much as we could in an effort to address industry concerns,” explained Huerta. “But Congress’s intent was clear. They wanted to increase the qualification and experience requirements for pilots. We’re open to discussing ideas on strengthening the pilot pipeline, but industry must recognize that the FAA alone cannot solve this issue.”

In a pre-convention interview with AIN, RAA vice president Scott Foose dismissed charges that the shortage of pilots has resulted from the regionals’ low starting pay, and asserted that a pilot’s lifetime career earnings compare favorably with many professions requiring similar levels of education. The problem, he said, lies largely in the fact that regulators did not follow most of the recommendations of an FAA rulemaking committee he chaired that called for a multi-tiered system under which pilots could earn credits in lieu of flight time as they achieved certain educational and/or experience benchmarks. The committee identified 14 different academic training courses for which prospective pilots should earn credits against the 1,500-hour standard. The final rule adopted only three of the 14 recommended criteria. The RAA now wants the FAA to revisit those recommendations.

Huerta met with the RAA board on Tuesday morning and told AIN that he stressed to the members that the FAA took full advantage of the flexibility the law provided to consider military service and educational credit in lieu of flight hours. “It’s a conversation we will continue to have with industry as we look for [answers to] how do we deal with our long-term pilot requirements,” he said. During talks with the RAA, Huerta noted that the sides settled on a credit of up to 500 hours for some combination of educational and military experience. “There are some who feel that maybe we could have gone beyond that,” he conceded. “Our belief was that Congress was quite clear in its intent. They wanted an ATP; they wanted it to be an hours threshold; we believe we maximized the flexibility we had under the statute.”

Comments

samaritan's picture

There is no pilot shortage, just a pilot pay shortage. Pay regional airline pilots the same pay as Major airline pilots and many pilots who have left the airline industry due to low pay would return. Eliminate the pilot seniority system pay and pay all pilots the same regardless of seniority and more well qualified pilots would apply for regional airline pilot jobs. The passenger pays one ticket price and expects one level of safety on each leg of a trip, regardless of whether one leg is flown on a regional airline plane or major airline plane. I was a regional airline Captain paid 1/25 of the major Captain's pay but with the same level of responsibility. I could never figure out why a passenger would want me to be paid 1/25 of the major Captains's pay but expect me to keep them just as safe and alive and the major airline pilots who were making 4 times my pay. It would be a good idea to print the pilot pay percent of the total ticket price on each leg of the trip so passengers can compare which pilot is paid the most to keep the passenger safe and alive on each leg. If passenges knew they were paying one pilot $150,000 per year and paying another pilot $25,000 per year, which plane do you think a passenger would decide to fly on?

RandallBrink's picture

I agree completely with the points made by Samaratin. On the part of airline companies, particularly regional companies formed within the past twenty years, I am surprised that none of them have conceived a way to innovate in the realm of pilot development and remuneration. For instance, why has no new air carrier introduced a system that eliminates anachronistic constraints such as seniority and other useless and arbitrary policies? Much of the structural problems inherent in the pilot profession date from the 1960s or before.

The "thinking outside the box" that distinguishes exceptional, spectacularly successful enterprises in other industries is stifled in commercial aviation due to a long-standing acceptance of institutionalized mediocrity.

Bpfarrar's picture

There is a pilot shortage and the current starting salaries have little to do with it. if you don't agree then how do you explain 1} there has been no change in pilot salaries but in less than a year the regionals are not able to fill their classes, and 2} how do you expaln that Great Lakes, paying only $16 an hour, is having no problem hiring pilots with a 600 hour minimum.

I'm not saying the startng pay is not low and that it should't be increased but the pay has little to do with the shortage. Up until the law changed there were plenty of pilots willing to work for the low pay.  If those pilots had1500 hours they would take those jobs in a heart beat e.g. Great Lakes Airlines.

The sad part is that is going to affect all airlines and eventually the whole country. Pilots wll not advance because there wll not be anyone to replace them and service will be curtailed significantly.

 

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