Like the Fiscal Cliff, it’s time for Aviation to Stop Complaining and Begin to Implement Solutions to the Pilot Shortage!

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ARTICLE: Airlines Fear Pilot Shortage Amid New Federal Safety Rules

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The lamentations about the 1,500 hour minimum second-in-command pilot experience requirement are almost as loud and as foretelling of impending doom as the reports about the Fiscal Cliff. Both public policy forums are full of finger-pointing and lacking in persons offering possible solutions.

On August1, 2010, the President signed into law the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Act; pursuant to that legislation the FAA issued an ANPRM on February 8, 2010 and then an NPRM on February 29, 2012 all addressing the Congressionally mandated 1,500 hour restriction. While considering the ANRPM, the FAA commissioned a First Officer Qualification Aviation Rulemaking Committee.

All of these extraordinary regulatory actions have drawn a seemingly infinite number of criticisms of the rule. Also included in these explorations was the articulation of possible avenues for compliance (i.e. focused academic training and structured flight training).

The other element of the “crisis” is the Age 65 regulation which will, it is argued, cause many capable pilots to retire. The oddity here is that the FAR which compels the loss of ATP privileges was recently congressionally amended to extend the upper limit from 60 to 65.

The attached article quotes a number of industry spokespersons who criticize the 1,500 hour rule. That line of argument is akin to those who attack the Sequestration legislation as being bad policy—you may be intellectually right, but the point ignores the fact that it is highly unlikely that the House and Senate will or even can reverse the rule at issue.

What is absent from the reporting is what is being done to deal with this impending shortage. The ARC suggested a new academic approach. Are the aviation universities creating a curriculum that complies with the FAA’s new regulations and the press has not found the story among the ivory towers? Or is nothing happening there?

A cynical argument is made by Captain Sullenberger (the hero captain of U.S. Airways flight 1549 of the Hudson River landing), who now as a CBS aviation safety expert, says that the airline complaints are not real, that given the advance notice the carriers could have been ready to comply with the new standard.

The pilot internet boards are full of calls for the hiring of furloughed cockpit crew members. Others suggest that the answer is to attract new recruits with higher pay. The obvious reply from airline management to the increased crew salary is that the passengers would not be willing to pay for the more expensive, safer captains and second-in-commands.

The FAA has taken some action to facilitate the flow of military pilots to the civil sector. That may be but a marginal move towards a solution but it constitutes some action. Perhaps it is time for industry (P121 and 125 carriers, P91 operators, P147 schools, universities with flight training competence and the simulator manufacturers/operators) to stop whining and start implementing constructive solutions? What is clear is that Congress will not reverse its 1,500 hour decision and under such circumstances, neither will the FAA!

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