A new Federal Aviation Administration rule that requires copilots on U.S. airlines to have additional training and flight experience is now in effect. The final rule, required by the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010, was published in the Federal Register on July 15, 2013.
Previously, first officers on scheduled airline flights were only required to hold a commercial pilot license. The commercial license requires a total of 250 hours flight time. Under the new rule, airline first officers are required to hold an airline transport pilot license. The ATP requires 1,500 hours of flight time. Pilots must be at least 23 years old to earn an ATP.
The rule also includes provision for some pilots to obtain a restricted ATP with fewer than 1,500 flight hours. To qualify for the restricted ATP, pilots must be at least 21 years old and must either be a military trained pilot or hold a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in an aviation major.
There are other requirements in the new rule as well. First officers in scheduled airline service must also hold a second class medical certificate. If the aircraft requires three or more pilots, the first officer must also have a type rating for the specific aircraft type to be flown and a first class medical certificate. Airline captains were previously required to hold an ATP, a type rating, and a first class medical certificate. A new requirement under the rule is that captains must have a minimum of 1,000 hours in air carrier operations.
The new rule was passed by Congress after the February 12, 2009 crash of Colgan Airlines/Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Buffalo, N.Y. The NTSB report faulted pilot training at the regional airline as a factor. The new rules also come in the wake of the July 6, 2013 crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco. Although the NTSB is still investigating the accident, early indications are that the crew training may have played a role in the accident according to Politico.
Kevin Kuhlman, professor of aviation and aerospace science at Metropolitan State University of Denver, is not sure that the rule change will be worthwhile. “It seems logical that more hours equals safety,” he argues in the Denver Post, “but the reality is that it is the quality of the training not the quantity that matters. That’s what the (Asiana Airlines) and Colgan accidents really show.”
Kuhlman also is concerned that the new requirements may lead some pilots to falsify their flight times. Pilot flight times are maintained largely by an honor system in which pilots log their flight hours in a personal log book. It is only when pilots are finally hired by commercial operators that their times are tracked by others. Even then, the company only keeps track of flight time earned by the pilot while at that particular company.
Another potential problem is that the more stringent requirements for an airline career may dissuade people from beginning an aviation career, especially after a decade of wage and benefit cuts for airline employees. When paired with looming retirements as hundreds of airline pilots reach age 65, the new rule may trigger a severe shortage of pilots qualified to fly airliners.
Originally published as National Aviation Examiner