By Stan Bernstein and Tim Komberec
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS
The News article, “Senate panel votes to weaken Flight 3407 safety law,” is erroneous when it alleges regional airlines want to dilute the co-pilot requirements for commercial airlines. In fact, no one who represents the industry is proposing to lift the requirement that a pilot have 1,500 hours of experience – the number required to be awarded an airline transport pilot license. The proposals by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and other congressional legislators were in response to safety concerns raised by the industry and do not advocate weakening the 1,500-hour requirement.
Airline training and operational executives reported during the last two years of the World Airline Training conference a decline in pilot quality and a doubling of the wash-out rate. Both raise troubling safety concerns about the next-generation airline pilot. In response, airlines have increased their training programs from 10 to 15 sessions. Despite these challenges, regional airlines continue to succeed at producing professional pilots worthy of the title. Still, the underlying safety issues remain unaddressed.
Studies indicate the decline in pilot preparedness results from the unstructured flying these pilots do to build hours to meet the 1,500-hour requirement. Indeed, many are surprised there is no training between college/flight school and airline hiring. We have found these pilots lose the discipline and professionalism they learned in structured training arenas requiring extensive remedial training. Regional airlines have been reporting this change since 2014. It should be noted that both the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) rejected an hourly minimum as an appropriate metric for determining pilot quality.
We have also seen a large dropout rate among pilots because of the cost of college, training and building hours at a time when the industry will need more than 600,000 pilots by 2035. The industry is now experiencing a historic pilot shortage that has forced it to curtail service. In the immediate aftermath of the new rule, more than 86 communities lost 10 percent or more of their air service.
The pilot shortage now threatens an additional 200 communities, which constitute over $121 billion in economic activity and 1.1 million jobs. The average distance of these communities to a medium or large hub ranges between 125 and 200 miles. Major airlines and airports report service would actually expand were it not for the pilot shortage.
Equally important is the growth of online orders and the cargo lift provided by regional cargo carriers. That Amazon order you placed may not be able to be delivered to small communities nationwide because of the pilot shortage.
Thune’s proposals address the cost of pilot training as well as allow for a more structured way to build hours so that prospective pilots do not lose the skills, discipline and professionalism the NTSB deems so important. In fact, many of the industry proposals adopt the recommendations of the Aviation Rulemaking Committee, a federal body made up of all parties, including pilots, to determine how to further improve safety.
In 1994, the entire industry rejected the learn-from-the-accident method of aviation safety improvements in favor of the data-driven advances that have given us the safety record we have today. Regional airlines have also adopted this approach and are reporting safety data we think should be considered. Consequently, to suggest the regional airline industry is only interested in lowering requirements to increase profits is dead wrong. We have identified a safety issue and have been fighting to be heard over political hyperbole. Pilot training is complex and needs a thorough understanding of both sides of the issue.
Stan Bernstein is president of the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association. Tim Komberec is president of Empire Airlines.