Times are Changing

A log book is used to record how many hours you've gained flying - but are the hour requirements for upward mobility in the job industry becoming too strict?

In the world of aviation, times are changing. More specifically, the time required for a pilot to operate as the copilot of a commercial airline is changing. There are several factors involved in these changes, and in this article I will give an overview of the history and reasoning behind the recent modifications to the hour requirements in the Federal Aviation Regulations.

I enjoy spending time researching current events in the aviation industry. Naturally I like knowing the issues affecting my generation. I believe that most people in my position have heard about the laws changing regarding hour requirements, but have not dug deep enough to truly understand what it means for us. Obtaining the job position of first officer in a commercial airline operating under Part 121 is a very important step in any successful piloting career. This achievement has become much harder to obtain, but change is yet again on the horizon.

Here is the breakdown:

On January 12, 2009, Colgan Air Flight 3407 experienced an aerodynamic stall and crashed into a house in Clerence Center, New York. All 49 people on board were killed, as well as one person in the house. The accident was determined by the NTSB to have been due to the pilot’s failure to respond properly to stall warnings. Further investigation found that the pilot had previously failed three checkrides. It was also found that both pilot and copilot were severely fatigued at the time of the accident due to long flight hours the day before.

The friends and families of victims of this disaster formed a legal group. They took immediate action against airline regulations in order to create a safer flight environment and avoid future tragedies. They successfully implemented the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010 in August. Amongst several regulations, they changed the crew rest requirements to provide more recovery time for busy pilots. The second huge change they implemented affected the hour requirements for flying commercially.

Prior to this disaster, pilots were able to obtain a commercial rating with only 250 hours, and immediately snag a job flying as first officer on an airline. From there they could gain hours and seniority with the airline that they were hired by fairly easily.

After the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010 was implemented, all crewmembers in in an aircraft operating under Part 121 were required to hold an ATP (Airline Transport Pilot) certificate. This particular certificate cannot be obtained until the pilot has 1,500 hours of flight time. So pilots on their way to achieving their commercial licenses had to gain 1,250 more hours of experience than those before them to fly in the airlines.

The requirements for other commercial aviation jobs did not change, such as flight instructor or agricultural positions. However, these high hour requirements force pilots to stick with these lower-paying jobs until they have their required flight time.

Due to concerns about a pilot shortage, special permissions were granted to pilots training under different circumstances for what is called a Restricted ATP. There are three tiers to these special considerations. Students with an associates or bachelors degree with 30+ aviation semester hours could apply for a R-ATP at 1250 hours. All baccalaureate university professional flight graduates with 60+ aviation hours could apply at only 1000 total hours. Most substantial of them all, any former military pilots could apply at 750 hours.

Several accredited flight universities are working on owning or successfully own authorization for the 1000 hour RATP. This saves students 500 flight hours from the previous regulation. The future of these special permissions looks bright, as they are now researching and considering allowing pilots in universities to obtain their RATP at 750 hours. The argument is that a Part 141 university truly devoted to proper training and rigorous testing of its pilots can be very near the same quality level as military training.

The change the airline industry is facing regarding hour requirements can be quite fascinating. I sincerely hope that a middle ground is reached, allowing for well-trained pilots to make the transition to a commercial airline with ease.