Regionals, ALPA Face Off Over Pilot Shortage


The House Aviation Subcommittee heard polar opposite views of the pilot shortage in testimony during a hearing focused on the approaching FAA reauthorization bill on Wednesday. The Regional Airline Association appeared before the committee saying the pilot shortage has already cut the number of available flights by 25 percent as major airlines poach the most experienced regional pilots for right seat jobs on the main lines. “Twelve large carriers alone hired 13,128 pilots in 2022, sourcing nearly all these pilots from regional airlines,” said RAA President Faye Malarkey Black. “This hiring spree specifically targeted captains and captain-eligible first officers.” But the Air Line Pilots Association countered with its now-familiar stance that there are plenty of ATPs to go around.

In his testimony, ALPA President Capt. Jason Ambrosi said airline mishandling of the impact of the COVID pandemic created a backlog of certificated pilots who needed retraining, but there is no shortage of pilots per se. “Fortunately, we have more pilots available now than before the pandemic,” Ambrosi said. “As a result, the temporary training backlog is already resolving itself as airlines get caught up. Moreover, pilot training classes are at capacity, and college aviation programs are full.”

The political undercurrent to the proceedings came from the loved ones of those lost in the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in Buffalo, New York, in 2009. After a few years of intense lobbying after the crash, Congress passed the 1,500-hour rule for first officers. Since there hasn’t been a fatal airline crash since, the group and many of their sympathetic government representatives are crediting the law. They showed up at the hearing because some members of the committee, including Chairman Sam Graves, R-Mo., have publicly suggested the 1500-hour limit be relaxed. Graves pointed out that all the pilots involved in fatal crashes in the last 35 years have had more than 1,500 hours. He has suggested some of those 1,500 hours be done in simulators, arguing that kind of experience for young pilots is more valuable than “flying around in circles” in a piston single.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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      • “Malarkey” is a family name in Ireland, and no doubt the CEO of the Regional Airline Association is proud of it. Only in the States (as usual) did it acquire a derogatory meaning, but the origin of that is lost to history, and could easily have nothing to do with the family name. That research is “left as an exercise for the student”, but you are apparently too lazy to do that.

        Had you taken the time to read her testimony before gleefully displaying your ignorance, you would have seen that it was merely a transcription error by Russ.

        Got anything irrelevantly cute to say about “Niles”, perhaps “Frasier”-related?

  1. I like that comment at the end. Time in a simulator is better than Flying around in circles. Said how much pilots? There’s only so much that a simulator can do. Actual control times and real world training doesn’t count eh? An instructor provides an additional measure of safety and imput. We all know this. With the exception of Graves, the chairman. Who has how much flight time and experience……

    • Simulators can expose the pilots to engine failures, control malfunctions, weather, fires, electrical malfunctions, and any combination of those the instructor chooses to introduce. Flying a simulator ingrains the proper response to these emergencies and situations and teaches crew coordination in a multi pilot aircraft. I understand that many airline pilots have their first flight in the actual airplane with passengers. Simulators are a great training tool, and pilots benefit from them, often leaving “the box” soaked in sweat and worn out.

    • Simulators have their place. But if pilots don’t have the basics then advancing to jets won’t help. Ever see a military trained pilot have trouble flying in “circles” (traffic patterns)? We have had at least 3 fatal accidents in jets because the pilot flying couldn’t fly a proper traffic pattern. The Lears in San Diego and Teterboro, and the Challenger at Truckee. My company hired a new FO who has experience as a jump pilot. I could immediately see the skill he has dealing with traffic pattern maneuvering that most other low time pilots don’t have. So no, I do not favor lowering the ATP standard (there is no new 1500hr rule). As far as any alleged pilot shortage, the airlines are slowly catching up on the training bottleneck that they created themselves. Let the airlines fix their own issues before getting any more subsidies from the government.

    • I am old school, having worked general aviation through the pilot over abundance during the 80’s and 90’s. I entered the airline industry with about 8,000 hours under my belt. I also instructed in the simulator after mandatory retirement. There is no simulator substitute for real world ADM. The limited number of scenarios that can be created in a simulator barely touches on real world experience, and the anxiety level in the simulator doesn’t compare to real life experience. Just saying. I love simulators, and have long been an advocate for there use in learning/practicing procedures and engraining muscle memory.

  2. Russ did an admirable job of extracting the main talking points of the sixteen-page testimony (with charts, footnotes, and four pages of appendices) and recommendations. The data makes a compelling case for concern, insofar as the regionals are the primary pilot pipeline to the majors. The cost of training pilots to even a Restricted-ATP rating is a major hurdle. In particular, getting experience in the swept-wing-jet flight envelope is not the sort of thing one can get at your local flight school, and even less likely once hired into the right-seat of a pax-carrying airliner.

    All your questions are answered in the text that Russ excerpted. RTFT.

  3. And yet there will never be congressional testimony on the even worse mechanic shortage, they can hire all the pilots they want, who will be sitting at the gate with a downed aircraft with no mechanics to work on them. The maintenance shortage is FAR WORSE than the pilot shortage. ANd will reach its peak in less than 10 years………just watch.

  4. I know of two pilots who are Canadian citizens, yet are not able to get jobs at US airlines. They both worked for Canadian airlines but were retired or furloughed during the Covid lockdowns. Both own homes and reside at least part time in the US. The airlines claim no job without a work visa, the bureaucrats say no visa without a job. I have tried to help by writing my congressman, total waste of time, politicians are pretty much useless.
    One would think if the airlines are in such need of qualified pilots they would issue a letter of employment to begin upon issuance of a visa, but they apparently are not willing. The airlines must not be in the dire straits they claim or they would figure it out.

  5. Time in simulators is good but as we saw with the Max crashes having certain flying skills instead of button pushing skills is a life saver. All pilots should learn to fly, develop stick and rudder skills before going on to flying transport category aircraft.

    Airlines are already paying people to build hours. Reducing the requirements will only put us back in the bad old days when people flew junk, paid for their own training in airline equipment and were on food stamps.

  6. I suspect that giving early retirements to pilots that had reached 63 years of age, to save the last pilots hired, might have something to do with a shortage of line pilots now. Those retirement packages made it financially attractive enough to depart a couple of years early due to the extravagance of the American taxpayer and the Covid saga.

    Back in the old days, it mattered little the reason for a furlough. Last in first out. Believe me, when furloughed you didn’t hesitate to return to the dream job when recalled. Ask me how I know.

  7. Instead of whining about the 1500 hour limit, why not attack the problem everyone agrees is being created by governments – schools are too expensive.

    The cost of a brand new antique airplane is of course ridiculous. The fuel cost is ridiculous The current piston GA environment is a result of Tor laws, insurance costs, bureaucratic ineptitude, and constant attacks on airport infrastructure by municipalities.

    How about Congress do its proper job and reign in government instead of trying to weasel out by adjusting the hours needed? Who would care about the hours if you could rent a plane for $50 an hour?

    • Except, that would be government subsidizing an industry, which in conservative circles is antithetical to free-market, capitalist thinking. And why should tax-payers subsidize businesses? After all, isn’t training a cost of doing business?