FAA says Republic Airways must stick to 1,500-hour rule for pilot training

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Student pilots line up for a landing at Republic Airways' Lift Academy.
Student pilots line up for a landing at Republic Airways' Lift Academy. Photo Credit: Robert Silk

The FAA has denied Republic Airways' request for an exception to the rule requiring pilots to log 1,500 hours of flight time before flying for a commercial airline.

Granting the exception, the FAA said, would compromise safety while setting a precedent that would result in other carriers making similar requests. 

Republic, a regional airline that operates American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express flights, argued that pilot trainees who complete a tailored Air Transport Pilot (ATP) training program at the carrier's Lift Academy should become eligible to be co-pilots for the airline after completing 750 hours in the cockpit. That figure is identical to the requirement for pilots who receive military training. 

Republic argued that the rigorous curriculum and structure of its proposed training program would exceed the safety standards of the military training program.

In issuing its denial of the petition, the FAA disputed Republic's claim, noting that military pilots are trained on mission-oriented maneuvers involving complex aircraft that are not typically available to civil flight training schools. 

Republic's petition in April coincided with an acute U.S. pilot shortage, which has led to rapid turnover at regional airlines as pilots are hired away by higher-paying mainline carriers. The shortage has also caused American, Delta and United to pull back on the regional routes that they operate in conjunction with carriers such as Republic.

A pilot shortage, said the FAA, should not be addressed by reducing training hours. Instead, the agency called on the airline to continue or expand recruitment efforts with subsidies, stipends and scholarships. 

The FAA's decision is a major victory for U.S. pilot unions, which have sharply opposed any whittling away of the 1,500-hour rule. But it likely comes as a disappointment to some regional airlines, which have long contended that tailored training programs are more useful than a rote requirement of 1,500 hours of flight time. 

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