The Senate transportation committee moved its version of the FAA reauthorization bill forward on Thursday, and it includes a provision that would make it easier for pilots to receive a license to fly a commercial airliner.
The current rule requires candidates to log 1,500 hours of flying experience before obtaining their ATP license, which they must have to serve as a pilot on a scheduled air carrier.
Only military pilots
and graduates of qualified bachelor-degree aviation programs can obtain a
commercial license with less than 1,500 training hours. Academic graduates, for
example, are eligible for a license after 1,000 flight hours.
The provision in the FAA bill, introduced by Sen. John Thune
(R-S.D.), is likely to stir controversy. It would give the FAA authority to
broaden exceptions to the 1,500-hour rule to include non-academic training
programs, such as ones run by flight training schools or, potentially, the
Opponents of the 1,500-hour rule say it is excessive and one
cause of the pilot shortage that has contributed to bankruptcies or forced operational
changes at several regional airlines.
Prior to 2013, trainees needed just 250 flying hours to obtain an ATP flight certificate.
The 1,500-hour rule, however, is strongly backed by the Air
Line Pilots Association union as well Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer
It also has the vocal backing of family members of the 50
people who died in the 2009 crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 on approach to
Buffalo Niagara International Airport. That crash was what led Congress to
create the 1,500-hour rule.
The reauthorization bill also includes several consumer-protection
measures. Among them, it would prohibit airlines from removing a paid passenger
from a plane for reasons not related to safety or security.
It would also require the FAA to review the minimum space
between rows on commercial aircraft. And it would instruct the Department of
Transportation to develop regulations requiring airlines and ticket agents,
including travel agents, to prominently disclose a flight's baggage fee,
cancellation fee, change fee, ticketing fee and seat selection fee prior to
Unlike the House's FAA reauthorization bill, the Senate's
does not call for the privatization of air traffic control (ATC).
Republican senators, who on a whole cater more heavily to
rural interests than their counterparts in the House, have remained hesitant to
embrace privatization even though it is supported by President Donald Trump and
House transportation committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).
Driving the reticence of senators are the concerns of small
rural airports and the general aviation community in general, which fears that
privatization will favor commercial airlines.
The reauthorization bill, which would fund the FAA through
2021, passed the committee via a voice vote. It will next be heard on the
To avoid a funding gap, Congress must pass an FAA
reauthorization bill by Sept. 30 or pass a short-term extension.