When the FAA implemented more rigorous minimum standards (the “1,500-hour ATP” rule) for airline first officers last year, many in the industry expressed concern about a shortage of pilots meeting the requirement. Under the new regulation first officers must hold an ATP certificate, which requires 1,500 hours total time. Previously, first officers were required to have only a commercial pilot certificate, which requires just 250 hours of flight time. Commenting on the pilot shortage recently, the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association (RACCA) said the rule has had the effect of opening a gap between new commercial pilots and the current Part 121 minimum qualification “in an environment where opportunities to build flight time have significantly decreased because of the overall reduction of light airplane flying in the U.S.”
To help close that gap Greg Ungurait created online professional network Lazy-Eights to help aspiring airline transport pilots (ATPs) accrue the required hours more rapidly and for less money.
Ungurait has experienced first-hand the struggles ATP candidates face in trying to accumulate flight hours. He currently serves as a CRJ700 first officer for United Express, and has worked in Part 91 and Part 135 operations as well. Like many in the aviation industry, he sees a dearth of pilots, one that the new requirements will only exacerbate. “The pilot shortage at the regional level is real,” he told AIN. “I see flights cancelled every day because they can’t fill the pilot seats. In the current market, the first one to 1,500 hours will have interview offers from most, if not all, regional airlines.”
Network for Building Time
The network’s goals are to encourage owner pilots of GA aircraft (up to piston twins, as Ungurait doesn’t want to take away any paid pilot positions) to fly with local commercial pilots who are building time. To accomplish this, the heart of the Lazy-Eights program is a web dispatch board similar to those on contract pilot hiring boards, where aircraft owners post upcoming flights, ones for which they would otherwise not be hiring a contract pilot or certified flight instructor. For aircraft owners, the service is free and confidential. Through the open pilot clause on most insurance policies, they are free to select any pilot who meets minimum qualifications to fly their aircraft occasionally, with no requirement to list them on the policy as a named pilot, according to Ungurait.
By responding to those posted flights, registered time-building pilots can offer owners their services, simply for the flight time in which they are serving as safety pilot or pilot-in-command. As stated on the website, “All time-building members on Lazy-Eights are commercial contract pilots, offering their services for ‘hire.’ Though no money is exchanging hands, the FAA has, in the past, viewed flight time itself as compensation.”
For those pilots interested in applying, there is a monthly $9.95 membership fee, cancelable at any time, which Ungurait says will improve the quality and dedication of the pilot applicant pool, while simultaneously thwarting the access of Internet spamming programs. Pilot members must complete a résumé on the site, listing their aviation goals, current flight hours, education and work history. They can then send those résumés through the online system to the aircraft owners who have posted their location, aircraft make and model, and flight date at www.lazy-eights.com. The site also features a marketing center function where pilots can find aircraft registered in their local area on the FAA database. For a nominal amount, they can have Lazy-Eights dispatch a printed postcard directly to the aircraft’s owner’s registered address introducing them, with a summary of their experience and a link to their résumé and contact information.
Since the site went live, it has attracted more than 60 aircraft owners who have volunteered flights. According to Ungurait, who runs the network, its launch was delayed by more than a year while the FAA provided interpretations regarding the applicability of the system for private pilots. Currently only Part 91 pilots seeking their ATP certificates may participate.
The new flight-hour regulations stem in part from the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in February 2009 and address a Congressional mandate in the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 to ensure that both pilots and copilots in air carrier operations receive ATP certification.