Airline advocates are concerned that a proposal by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to drastically increase the number of flight hours for first officers could hurt hiring in the regional airline sector and damage the image of US regulators in the international community.
"We're concerned about quantity over quality," A4A senior vice president for safety, security and operations, Tom Hendricks, told legislators during a Senate aviation subcommittee hearing on 20 March. The hearing focused on FAA's implementation of congressional mandates from 2010, made in the wake of the Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 crash near Buffalo, New York, in February 2009.
Included in the law was a requirement that first officers earn an airline transport rating (ATP), which generally requires 1,500h of flight time, versus a commercial license, which requires a minimum of 250h. No changes were proposed for captains, who currently must have an ATP rating. The FAA, under the 2010 law, must finalise the first officer training requirements rule by August 2013.
"Hard-hour minima are not a substitute for the quality of a pilot's training and experience," said Hendricks. "Moreover, we need to avoid the unintended consequence of this rule becoming a significant barrier to recruiting airline pilots."
When asked later if the measure would hurt the industry, Hendricks said: "It has the potential to be very difficult for the regional industry."
The proposed rule allows for former military pilots or graduates of four-year baccalaureate aviation degree programs with 750h or 1000h, respectively, to qualify for a "restricted" ATP, allowing them to serve as first officers with US airlines only. Regarding the civilian pilots, Hendricks said the prospect of paying $200,000 for a degree, followed by having to spend more money for additional flight training to build up the needed hours may not be palatable.
Bill Voss, president and chief executive of the Flight Safety Foundation, cautioned that the first officer ATP requirement would be "a rule the rest of the world will be unable to follow" and that the restricted ATP would fall "outside of the framework of international standards".
"Since the close of World War II, the [US] has been a leader in the field of aviation, and the FAA has served as a model for regulatory authorities around the world," Voss said. "For the first time, the FAA will promulgate a rule that the rest of the world will have to uniformly dismiss."
Voss concluded that given the structure of the global airline industry and the demand for aviation professionals around the world, it would be "impossible for foreign regulators to follow the FAA's lead and implement an ATP requirement for the second-in-command of an air carrier".
Comments on the rule are due to the FAA by 30 April.