Pilot Shortage Hits Regionals

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American Eagle, the regional subsidiary of American Airlines, has trimmed flights from its winter schedule in part because it doesn't have enough pilots. "It's one of several reasons, but that does play into it," Eagle spokeswoman Andrea Huguely told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "The pilots are crucial, and without them, the planes don't fly." Eagle is one of several airlines that has cut minimum experience requirements by two-thirds to 500 hours to attract more recruits. According to the newspaper, Trans States Airlines, which operates a regional service for American under the name American Connection, briefly lowered its experience requirement to 250 hours during the summer. Although no one seems to deny the value of experience, industry spokesmen contacted by the newspaper seemed to agree that safety is not being seriously compromised.

"Anyone who raises safety as an issue has some other agenda," said Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association. "The airlines are spending a boatload of money on training and recruiting." Huguely agreed, saying Eagle picks its pilots carefully. "You can't just walk in from the street and say you want to be a pilot." But John Prater, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, says the rush to get new pilots "raises obvious safety concerns. "New pilots today are going straight into the [co-pilot's] seat, and moving into the [captain's] seat in a hurry," he said. "And they're doing it in airplanes that are great machines but can be unforgiving."