FAA to Increase Co-Pilot Training

Interesting article from the Wall Street Journal by Andy Pasztor.

“The Federal Aviation Administration is about to propose a minimum experience requirement for airline co-pilots that is substantially higher than current mandates but considerably below the level sought by Congress, according to industry officials and others familiar with the details.

Proponents of the change say the proposed requirement of at least 700 or so flight hours of experience for nearly all co–pilots—rather than the 1,500 hours sought by lawmakers to boost airline safety—is essential to avoid future pilot shortages.

Expected as early as next month, the FAA proposal would pave the way for one of the biggest shifts in commercial-pilot training in decades. It would come at a time when reduced hiring of former military aviators and the looming retirement of thousands of older pilots threaten to create an industry-wide pilot shortage.

Raising co-pilot qualifications—without running afoul of congressional wishes or drastically reducing the likely pool of job applicants—is among the most difficult issues facing U.S. airlines and regulators.

The push for revised aviator qualifications stems from the high-profile crash of a turboprop plane near Buffalo, N.Y., in February 2009. The Colgan Air accident killed 50 people and prompted a debate over pilot training and the safety of such regional carriers.

The FAA’s plan, which follows in broad outline the recommendations of an industry-labor group, would require most co-pilots to have at least 700 or so hours of experience flying smaller aircraft before they would be permitted to fly airliners, according to people familiar with the proposal. That compares with as little as 250 hours under existing FAA rules.

The goal is to improve the knowledge and caliber of newly hired co-pilots, partly by giving extra flight-time credits to civilian job-seekers who graduate from four-year academic institutions or other advanced-training programs in which they study such things as aeronautics and airmanship.

Pilots leaving the military to join an airline could be eligible for even larger flight-time credits or possibly special exemptions, said people familiar with the details. By comparison, most others would need at least 1,500 hours of actual flight time to be an airline co-pilot, these people said.

The increased flight-hours proposal is one of four safety initiatives the FAA is expected to release this year. Others include revamping rules intended to combat pilot fatigue; proposals to encourage mentoring of new pilots; and a broader rewrite of training practices affecting both commuter airlines and mainline carriers. All were prompted by the 2009 Colgan Air crash.”

Posted on in Aviation News, Flight Training