Bill proposes more flight time for copilots

 - March 31, 2010, 6:55 AM

A manager’s amendment to the Senate’s FAA reauthorization bill includes a provision introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that calls on the agency to require that all airline copilots accumulate no fewer than 800 hours of flight time and experience flying under a variety of specific conditions, including adverse weather such as icing, before they transport passengers in revenue service. Schumer’s provision would mandate that the FAA introduce a new rule by
the end of next year. If it fails to do so, according to the language in the bill, copilots would need to earn an ATP certificate, which requires 1,500 hours of flight experience in specifically prescribed conditions.

Driven largely by pressure from the families of those who died in the Feb. 12, 2009, crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 outside Buffalo, N.Y., the campaign for increased minimum flight hours for Part 121 first officers has already resulted in a House bill passed in October that, in fact, calls for an ATP certificate. However, that bill does contain a caveat that allows the FAA to consider certain academic training hours “that may increase the level of safety above the minimum requirements” as practical flying hours toward an ATP certificate. The bill also requires the FAA to ensure that pilots receive training on stall and upset recovery, and that airlines provide remedial training for pilots.

According to Schumer’s provision, pilots would also have to demonstrate the ability to function effectively in a multi-pilot environment, in an air carrier operational environment and during high-altitude operations, and adhere to “the highest professionals standards.” The FAA Administrator would also have to dedicate a portion of the minimum 800 hours to flight training in difficult operating conditions.

Schumer originally introduced S.1744, the Enhancing Flight Crewmembers’ Training Act, in October, with the intention of attaching it to the FAA reauthorization bill now under debate on the Senate floor. However, last month Schumer announced that the Senate would include a version of that provision in the base FAA reauthorization bill, “vastly” improving the chances it would become law.