Faced once again with a pilot shortage as air travel ramps up in line with COVID-19 vaccinations, US regional airline executives have renewed their call for a relaxation of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) controversial 1,500-hour flight-training pilot qualification standard, saying it imposes unnecessary barriers to entry into the profession, reports Travel Weekly.

The Regional Airlines Association (RAA) wants the FAA to allow pilots to qualify with fewer hours in the air, replacing some of it with time in a flight simulator. "We all know you can get a very qualified pilot in far less time than it takes today," PSA Airlines president Dion Flannery told the RAA Leadership Conference in Washington DC on September 27-28, 2021.

However, an influential congressman told the conference the likelihood of the rule being changed was remote. “Having been there when we wrote the rule, I feel very obligated to it,” House Subcommittee on Aviation chairman Rick Larsen told a question-and-answer session at the conference.

But some regional carriers said they were already experiencing a re-emerging pilot shortage, which before the pandemic had forced many to reduce their schedules, while it had also contributed to industry bankruptcies and closures.

Introduced in 2013, the FAA rule requires first officers/co-pilots to hold an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate requiring 1,500 hours total time as a pilot. Previously, first officers were required to have only a commercial pilot certificate, which requires 250 hours of flight time. The rule also requires first officers to have an aircraft type rating, which involves additional training and testing specific to the aircraft they fly.

The regulations resulted in part from the crash of defunct Colgan Air (9L, Boston) Flight 9L 3407 in February 2009 near Buffalo that killed 49 people. The accident investigation concluded that both pilots failed to respond appropriately to warnings leading to a review of pilot experience requirements.

Speaking at the conference, Republic Airways Chief Executive Officer Bryan Bedford said he'd like to see a path for ATP certification that includes 300 hours of flight-school flying and another 300 hours of highly structured flying. He said the regional carriers weren't pushing for the US Congress to simply do away with the 1,500-hour rule, but want it to be liberalised through the creation of new training pathways that would have fewer flight-hour requirements.

Over the course of the two-day RAA conference, speakers and airline executives emphasised the importance of broadening pilot recruitment strategies and of increasing federal loan limits for aspiring pilots. "We have a shortage. We have a lack of diversity in the industry. And we've got a very expensive training path without funding in place," RAA Chief Executive Officer Faye Malarkey Black said.