May 18, 2022

We’re currently dealing with a major pilot shortage in the United States, which has been particularly bad for regional airlines. During the pandemic many senior pilots at the major airlines accepted early retirement packages. With demand roaring back, lots of pilots from regional airlines have been able to land jobs at the major network airlines, leaving regional carriers without qualified pilots.

One of the biggest regional airline in the United States is now asking the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to lower the minimum number of hours required to become an airline pilot… is this a reasonable request?

Republic asks for exemption to 1,500-hour rule

Republic is an Indianapolis-based regional airline that operates nearly 220 Embraer E170/175 jets on behalf of American Eagle, Delta Connection, and United Express. You may have flown with Republic without even realizing it, given how the marketing of regional airlines works.

As it stands, the FAA requires pilots to have at least 1,500 flight hours before they can work at an airline. There are a couple of exceptions in place, including that former military pilots can get that requirement cut in half, to only 750 hours.

Republic has sound logic for this request — the airline runs its own pilot training academy, called LIFT (which stands for “Leadership In Flight Training”). The airline argues that:

  • The training pilots receive at LIFT is just as good as they’d get in the military, and arguably even better for the purposes of flying a commercial jet
  • This would help airlines deal with the pilot shortage, which is a problem right now
  • This would make becoming a pilot more economical, as it would make the cockpit more diverse, including for people who historically couldn’t afford to become pilots
Airline pilots currently need 1,500 flight hours

Should the 1,500-hour rule be eliminated?

The 1,500-rule is one of the highest requirements you’ll find anywhere in the world, as other countries will let pilots fly airliners with just a couple of hundred hours experience. However, arguably the US takes this requirement to the extreme.

First it’s worth considering the origin of this rule. In 2013 the requirement for new airline pilots was increased from 250 hours to 1,500 hours, which is a massive increase. This was done following the 2009 crash of Colgan Air flight 3407, which crashed primarily due to pilot error.

The catch is that both the captain and first officer on that flight had over 1,500 hours, so that wouldn’t have even been a factor there. While I can appreciate the logic of wanting to make requirements to become a pilot more stringent (250 hours was arguably too low), I’m not sure what exactly this was intended to address.

Republic’s request seems reasonable to me:

  • Lots of hours as such doesn’t make someone a good pilot, but rather it comes down to the training that they’ve received
  • If these flight academies have good programs and a rigorous process for certifying people to get into the cockpit of a jet with passengers, then I’m all for it, regardless of whether a pilot has 750 hours or 1,500 hours
  • If the FAA believes it’s safe for pilots from the military to fly with 750 hours, then there should be a similar pathway for civilians to do this, in my opinion
  • Becoming a pilot is expensive, and that excludes a lot of people who may potentially be interested in this as a career path; if becoming a pilot can be made more affordable without compromising safety, I’d consider that to be a great thing
Hopefully Republic can have a 750-hour exception granted

Bottom line

With a significant pilot shortage, Republic is asking the FAA to waive the 1,500-hour rule for hiring pilots. Republic has its own aviation academy, and it’s argued that after 750 hours, pilots would be more than qualified to get behind the controls of a regional jet.

To me this seems like a perfectly reasonable request, pilot shortage or not.

Do you think the FAA should lower the number of hours required for pilots under some circumstances?

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