Just when it looked like pro pilot hopefuls would finally catch a break, reality set in once again – in a major way. Supply and demand, the hiring/firing cycle, up-and-down qualification minimums – those things we understand. What’s completely unacceptable is the government’s seemingly uncontrollable need to ensure the country’s airline industry remains in shambles. Though this isn’t the first time Uncle Sam has dealt the aviation world a major blow, it seems the government has finally taken it upon itself to decimate what’s left of the U.S. air transportation industry.
A Little History
We all know the 21st Century hasn’t been the kindest era to the airline industry. First came 9/11 and the unprecedented layoffs. Soon after, we saw invasive security checks and serious reductions in permissible liquid carry-ons. This was followed by a few notable oil crises and the barely gone Great Recession. Now, Sequestration threatens to significantly reduce the operational capacity of the national airspace system (NAS). As if we weren’t suffering enough, the feds also want to throw the 1500 Hour Rule in for good measure.
As many of you are well aware, the 1500 Hour Rule came to life following the tragic crash of Continental Flight 3407 in February 2009. In their grief, families & friends of the victims formed Families of Continental Flight 3407 to push for better pilot training and safety practices. Their lobbying was effective; because it quickly led to H.R. 5900: The Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010, better known as the 1500 Hour Rule.
In a nutshell, beginning in August, all Part 121 pilots will be required to hold an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate. What this means is that, for many pilots, 1500 total hours is the new minimum flight time before they’ll be eligible for the right seat of a regional, regardless of their aeronautical aptitude or the hiring needs within the industry. Additional specifics include the following:
· A minimum of 50 multi-engine hours to qualify for a multi-engine ATP rating
· Mandatory full-motion simulator (Level C or higher) training
· At least 1,000 hours as a first officer (FO) before becoming eligible to upgrade to captain
· Preferential advantages for military and collegiate fliers. The new legislation would create a “restricted ATP” program that permits graduates of 4-year, post-secondary aviation programs or the military to obtain their ATPs at as young as 21. Additionally, the flight time minimums would be reduced to:
¨ 1,000 total hours for college-trained pilots
¨ 750 hours for military pilots
Why it’s the Wrong Move
If you’re not familiar with the specifics of Continental Flight 3407, there’s absolutely nothing in the NTSB report to suggest that lack of sufficient flight time on the part of the FO contributed to the accident. In fact, the FO wasn’t even the flying pilot on this leg. Besides that, she had around 2,200 hours; well more than this supposed new regulation will require.
What you will find in the NTSB report is:
· The captain, who was the flying pilot, had about 3,263 total hours.
· The crew was using the autopilot in icing conditions, which can mask the indications of ice buildup and the associated reduction in lift/performance.
· Both pilots failed to adequately monitor the airspeed.
· The crew violated the Sterile Cockpit Rule.
· Both pilots had spent the previous night at the airport, as well as the entire day up to the 9:18pm departure of the accident flight.
· The captain had a history of checkride failures.
· The captain overrode both the stick shaker and the stick pusher; instead raising the plane’s nose and worsening the situation.
· The captain applied only 75% power in response to the stalled condition.
Where in the accident chain does the government think an ATP-since-date-of-hire-for-the-FO regulation would have prevented this tragedy from occurring?
Probable Consequences of the New Rule
I have no crystal ball, but I still predict a lot of bad things happening for the nation’s aviation industry.
· The 1500 Hour Rule will significantly diminish the regional airline hiring pool.
· Loads of Baby Boomers will turn 65 in the coming years, forcing them to retire from the airlines.
· Sim training facilities will become overwhelmed with customers, allowing them to raise their prices and thus drive the already expensive price of training even higher.
· The wait for an FAA inspector to conduct ATP checkrides will stretch to several months – even without the other delays that result from the Sequester.
· Facing a severe pilot shortage, the airlines will begin scheduling their crews for more flight duty; thereby increasing pilot fatigue and potentially contributing to more fatigue-related fatal accidents.
· Due to the need to substantially reduce the number of flights; because of the combined effects of the Sequester, the Age 65 Rule, and the 1500 Hour Rule; the price of commercial air travel will skyrocket.
· The airline passengers who can still afford to fly will be subject to frequent delays and unnecessary layovers; further reducing the benefits of air travel.
· Hard up for pilots, the regionals will lower their hiring standards. Whereas they could previously select from among competent and professional applicants, the airlines will now have to focus predominantly on total time, regardless of whether or not the applicant is otherwise qualified for the job.
· In hopes of avoiding the worst of the 1500 Hour Rule, more pilots will enroll in university flight programs solely for the 500-hour and 2-year advantages. These students will graduate with mountains of student loan debt they’ll never be able to pay off.
I see more unpleasant things coming, but I think you get the point.
On a Positive Note…
Not everything about the new legislation will be doom and gloom. There are actually a few positives for those regional hopefuls who meet the new requirements.
· You’ll be much more likely to get on with the carrier of your choice.
· Due to the Law of Supply and Demand, you’ll have leverage to negotiate a higher pay rate than you could otherwise get.
· Even if you’re a terror in the skies and have no business being in control of the lives of numerous air passengers, there’s a chance some companies will give you a shot because they’re short on options.
For better or worse, it looks like the 1500 Hour Rule will become reality in a matter of months. Hopefully the feds will come to their senses and repeal this piece of legislation, but I doubt that will happen before some serious damage is done. However, if you’re a competent and experienced pilot who holds an ATP, now might be just the break you need to quickly climb the airline career ladder. Good luck!