FAA Wants To Close Airline/Charter Loophole


The FAA says it intends to close a regulatory loophole that allows non-ATP commercial pilots as crew on passenger flights that are “essentially indistinguishable” from regular airline flights. The rule, 14 CFR Part 380, allows Part 135 charter operations to conduct flights that take advance bookings and fly scheduled routes as long as the aircraft used have no more than 30 passenger seats. Some airlines are taking advantage of the rule by contracting with charter companies to serve smaller markets in aircraft with all the trappings of regular airliners. Pilots who fly Part 135 need a commercial ticket with a minimum of 250 flight hours rather than the ATP and 1,500 required for Part 121 airline operations. The agency said it’s been watching the growth of such operations over the last 10 years and believes it’s now time to curtail the practice out of safety concerns. It’s filed a Notice of Intent to start a rulemaking process.

“Specifically, the size, scope, frequency, and complexity of charter operations conducted as ‘on-demand’ operations under the part 135 operating rules has grown significantly over the past 10 years,” the Notice of Intent reads. “While the FAA has adjusted its oversight of these increased operations, the FAA is considering whether a regulatory change may be appropriate to ensure the management of the level of safety necessary for those operations.” The agency says it wants to invite comments on the new proposed rule because it will fundamentally change the way some operators do business. “Were FAA to amend its regulatory framework, some operators conducting public charter operations would need to transition from operating under part 135 to part 121.” The new proposed rule has not yet been put on the Federal Register but when it appears a public comment period will be set.

One of the factors to be considered is that this type of arrangement is commonly used on federally subsidized unprofitable routes to small and isolated communities. Because of a shortage of pilots, particularly captains, among regional carriers, service has been reduced or cut to hundreds of smaller markets.

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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  1. The FAA … making simple S%&T hard since 1958 !!

    Once again fixing a problem that doesn’t exist.

    Oh well … podunk USA didn’t want airline service anyhow …

  2. Talk about stirring up a hornet’s nest! Maybe if the FAA would enforce the meaning of “on demand”, this would not be an issue.

  3. The PIC of those charter aircraft needs an ATP. So we’re talking about the first officers. Insurance companies typically require 500-1000 hours to fill that seat. If it’s not too much risk for the insurance company, then why is it too much risk for the FAA? I’d much rather have an FO building 1500 hours in the right seat of a charter plane than in a 172.

  4. They should only do this if they in turn get rid of that stupid, useless and dangerous 1500h rule.
    This isn’t a very rational plan, FAA…

  5. Wasn’t the 1500 rule passed by Congress? It definitely needs to be reduced, probably cut in half. Tough to ask someone to spend 6 figures on ratings and still have to find a job to build time.

  6. Call me old school but I for one will not fly as a paying passenger on any airplane, part 135 or part 121 with 250 hour pilots in either of the front seats. That’s getting into 3rd world country standards territory. If this means a heightening of the pilot shortage that’s what this means. Bring it on. I suspect some of the above comments are made simply out of blind hatred for the FAA and generic regulation rather than with the real issues and concerns in mind. I’m not a cheering fan of the FAA or over regulation either but I recognize realistic regulation when I see it.

    • All of the rest of the world does it safely, in some cases, even safer that the US, with 250h in the right seat after a dedicated FO training program.

  7. Using the phrase “loophole” in the headline is as if ALPA and American Airlines wrote the story. It’s not a loophole, it’s entirely legal. And it’s entirely safe.

    As someone else notes, PICs need 1200 hours, not 250. Safety is about culture and training, not how many hours a pilot has flying the pattern.

    • Yes safety is about culture and training, but also so much more. Safety is also about seasoning. So by definition it is also about how many hours pilots have. Even 1200 hours, and I agree, outside of the pattern, is piddles when it comes to seasoning. Seasoning for commercial standards is about having dealt with malfunctions, with ice, having deviated around thunderstorms, having coped with low visibility, and all the above and more at night for more than one 12 month cycle.

      Keeping the standards high may mean bringing on the pilot shortages. We may as a society someday actually have to return to the reality that airline flying is an expensive luxury, not the cheap, life sustaining staple necessity which we regard it to be today. That may mean that some families may actually need to drive instead of fly to Disney venues, and some middle school kids in some of our home towns may actually not get to go to Europe or even across the entire US for athletic competitions.

    • This is a loophole, no question. Dictionary def is “ambiguity or inadequacy in a law or set of rules.” Congress has mandated that airline passengers be flown by pilots who have a minimum of 1,500 hours but this reg offers a way around that.

  8. I agree with John Kliewer (above)–Military pilots fly high-performance aircraft (and often fly them solo) with fewer than 1500 hours–with a good safety record–the 1500 hour rule is as out of date as the old requirement for a flight engineer. That said, there IS something to be said for the “seasoning” of pilots sitting in the right seat–getting practical experience in all kinds of weather . This didn’t used to be a problem when it took several thousand hours to get hired, and years in the right seat before becoming a Captain. Forget the outdated 1500 hour total time rule, but require time in the right seat instead. 1500 hours of giving flight instruction or doing pipeline patrol or ag flying rarely beneficial to flying an airliner.

    Part of the problem is the “One size fits all” of the FAA regulations–aircraft “under 30 seats” (could include piston power, unpressurized, or even single-engine) and operating as a commuter are not like flying an aircraft that is heavier–flys higher, faster, is more complex, and requires special ground equipment. It would analogous to letting someone that drives a passenger van drive a bus or a tractor-trailer–these require special certification, and they are hardly as complex as a heavy airliner on international routes. I would rather have a new airline Captain that has a couple of years and a few thousand hours of experience flying the right seat of an airline jet than someone with no time in similar aircraft and operations–but does have the rather arbitrary 1500 hours deemed by the FAA. Perhaps the old “recent upgrade” system should be expanded instead–a new Captain is restricted to higher weather minimums or routes until he gets a given number of hours in type and seat.

    • Comparing military training vs civilian pilot training is not the same. Military training requires fast learning with the “threat” of washing out, something that does not happen in the civilian world where it is the pilot candidates who pay for it, vs the government in the military. Sure, I have flown with military trained pilots, and from what I have seen they don’t have much trouble actually flying a VFR traffic pattern, something I can’t say about a lot of civilian trained pilots. I don’t support an ATP requirement for pt135 FO’s. Now if they are flying Boeings or Airbuses or RJ’s or equivalent equipment with pax that’s different.

  9. This is more about the age 65 rule than it is about a 500 hour FO. You can bet your last nickel that any new NPRM that addresses non-ATP pilots in the right seat, will address age limits in either seat. And yes….ALPA is behind this all the way.

  10. People, the 1500 hour rule is a LAW passed by Congress and signed by the President which the FAA must enforce. The rule is not a REGULATION of the FAA. The anti-FAA bias of those posting is as obvious as their ignorance of the facts. Congressmen fly a lot and want themselves well protected from any danger. Write to your Congress(wo)man if you want the law changed. Your will get a form letter in response thanking you for your interest.

  11. Why not simplify things more and have only a single “ATP” level license? I think 1500 hours of dual before acting as PIC of a C-150 would be much safer than our current “loophole” riddled system.

  12. It costs a lot more to train for ATP than Commercial plus the 1st Class medical so upping the requirement to ATP would reduce the number of available pilots. Pilot shortage is already a problem that can’t be fixed quickly so that will reduce the number of flights serving small areas. I agree that a 250 hour pilot in the right seat really isn’t enough experience but I would feel comfortable with a 1000 hour Commercial pilot in the right seat. If I was the FAA, that’s what I would require.