Breakthrough Reported In FAA Reauthorization Impasse


Republican Sen. John Thune told Reuters on Tuesday there’s been a breakthrough that may allow the FAA Reauthorization Bill to be taken up by the Senate. The House passed its version of the bill in the summer but there’s been a logjam in the Senate over relaxing airline pilot training, specifically a proposal to increase the number of loggable simulator hours from 100 to 150. Thune wouldn’t comment in detail on the discussions but said there is an agreement that “deals with the pilot shortage, pilot supply issue and incorporates some of the best and greatest technology,” Reuters reported him as saying.

Aviation groups have been clamoring for the Senate to resolve their impasse, which has to do with the 1,500-hour experience rule for new ATPs. Reuters said “advanced simulator technology” is part of the agreement that may allow the bill to move forward in the Senate. Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell said she still has to read the language of the deal but is optimistic. “There was a breakthrough from that hearing that we had before we left … I am hopeful that we will be able to do something,” she told Reuters.

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.


  1. Reform the recent increase of the FO must have atp and type. Return to commercial ASMEL with apprentice status. Sims are great but time in actual conditions with a good Captain is priceless. Just have a good “pairing” dispatcher.

  2. Lowering standards in aviation training caused the Japannese Air Force to accurately fly kamikaze aircraft into the sides of ships.
    The FAA is also lowering standards for ATC.
    If in difficulty pilots can be pleased to know that they will have assistance at hand to fly into the ground or other aircraft.

    • Yeah, the Japanese resorted to kamikaze due to desperation, loss of pilots/planes, low petroleum resources, which was the reason why these one way pilots were only taught minimum training… to take off and navigate to the target and crash. I very seriously doubt the acceptance of an increase in acceptable training in sims will cause those airline pilots to become kamikaze-like! There’s no substitute for actual stick time but sims can and do have a place in training.

  3. Loathe as I am to weigh in on an issue that I know relatively nothing about (hey, some of my best friends are ATP airline captains 😉 but in academia, they don’t hire ABD’s as full professors. There is an almost medieval set of jobs/challenges through which a supplicant must endure and succeed, in order to be given that responsibility, and there is no shortage of aspirants. (I survived my wife’s PhD and early career; it was no picnic for either of us.)

    For the life of me, I can’t imagine why my airline captain buddies stuck with it to achieve the left seat in a career limited by age, not ability. (Money can’t be all of it.) From what I can tell, and from the toys they play with at home, the job offers very little of “the joy of flying”.

    How does this problem NOT fall into the lap of the airlines themselves? One might argue that if the salary is not an issue, perhaps it’s the working conditions.

  4. It could be argued that sim time is more valuable than actual flight time because of the unlimited situations the pilot can be faced with, compared to the vast majority of hours in a real aircraft during which nothing of any training value ever occurs.

    • Sim time is valuable but it is still make believe. You can’t die in a simulator unless you have a heart attack from the pressure of passing a check ride. I have taught and flown the best level D simulators made, with almost 9,000 hours of simulator instructor time to go along with my 22,000 real flight hours and while simulators play their role in teaching and learning I don’t think they can ever give the pilot experience that equates to the real world of flying. That being said the 1500 hour requirement is also filled with flaws. The 1500 hours that one pilot attains is not equal the the 1500 hours that another attains.

    • The sim is great for providing risk free exposure and practice for many scenarios and procedures in a compressed time frame. That said, because sim time is risk free and usually highly structured, there is simply no substitute for time in the seat of a real airplane with real people, real weather, real ATC, and real risk for failure. There’s a reason U.S. trained ATPs have fewer lapses of basic airmanship than we see elsewhere with far more sim-focused training and the evidence points to that reason being time spent flying little airplanes in weather and teaching others to do it or the intensive and perfectionist military training, complete with its high wash-out/failure rate for those who aren’t good enough.

    • Where would you come up with such a comment (or argument) you’ve made here, Brian? What’s your basis on? That the training value in an airplane vs. the simulator isn’t of any comparative value? Correct me if you’ve meant it another way! That’s ludicrous man. In all of my 47 years flying including in heavy transport jets, I have had enough times of very valuable “training”, and lessons learned. In the airplane. In real time line operations. Part 121 scheduled operations in those aircraft types. In fact, while in the simulator you aren’t faced with unlimited situations at all. AQP training is quite structured. While various curriculum events with abnormalities are established and conducted. The FAA needs to see, of course. Incidentally, you have usually 4 hrs. to complete the event satisfactorily in a simulator. Add a two hour briefing prior, and a half hour de-briefing. If NOT, you’ll be doing some extra training (not a bad thing either). For an example, one time in the airplane I’ve seen a leading edge(s) device asymmetrical upon flap/slat retraction on takeoff. Separately, a loss of cabin pressure with an a/c pack deferred and the other malfunctioning. Abnormals like these we utilize our skills and learn from our instructors, fellow crew members, yes of course in the simulator, and in the airplane. We are constantly utilizing and referencing the airplane flight manuals, the flight ops manual in particular and the normal and QRH checklists. I’m just NOT buying into your argument here, bud.

  5. The establishment of the 1500 hour rule was not just a reaction to the Buffalo NY crash. I was a Check Airman for Mesa Airlines from 2002-2007. During that time I did IOE and flew with a great many pilots who went through a 0 to 250 hour time program at either San Juan Community College or Arizona State University. Hard working, well prepared pilots who knew the procedures of flying the CRJ series of aircraft. ILS down to minimums? Have them fly while the Captain manages the situation. Seems like a great thing.

    Here is the problem.

    Mesa at the time was taking delivery of a CRJ a week and very rapidly expanding their footprint. Hiring was brisk and as soon as you met the minimums to upgrade to Captain you could. The 250 hour pilots, in less than 2 years received enough flight time to move to the left seat. They had been flying the same routes in brand new aircraft with most, never experiencing any kind of failure or anomaly during their tenure. Then they upgraded. Because they were low seniority pilots they had to go where nobody else wanted to go. There they found bad weather, airplanes with quirks, surly ramp and gate agents, and a constant juggling of their crews schedules. It was very rough on them because they had never had to be in charge before, they had never had to make a go no go decision in a single engine aircraft, they had never taught another person to fly, there by learning how to learn themselves. If a Buffalo situation had presented itself there would have been a Mesa crew in the headlines.

    This has nothing to do with Mesa Airlines. This situation was industry driven. Either supply the lift or you lose your spot.

    In the best of times, the Captain mentoring program can be effective. During the worst of time it can be a safety nightmare.

    Keep the 1500 hour rule and eliminate the work around offered by the aviation schools. Perhaps a reduction would be in order for a flight instructor who has say 800 hours of instruction. You learn more about decision making, adherence to procedures, and the art of learning doing FI than anything else you can do in aviation. It makes you a better pilot and decision maker. Skills that will benefit them for the rest of their careers.

    • Flight instruction would be an easy solution if only the FAA had not, through incompetence and careerism, helped destroy piston GA.
      The airlines cannot even move crews by light aircraft instead resorting to putting them in vans for hours when commercial flights are not available.
      A modern van should likely be nearly as expensive as 6 seat piston based on cost and amount of materials, yet we know that’s not the case at all. It’s only because of policies which have kept those planes from being manufactured at scale and have kept innovation in the sector to a minimum.
      Want to fix the airline problem? Fix piston aviation. Everything and everyone causing the airline problem will be exposed when you propose the solution to fixing GA.

  6. Nothing is perfect, but sim time is perfect enough. It’s time to couple the cockpit with ground-based overwatch/standby pilots who can help out in a pinch. That would be the best of all worlds IMO. On the way, of course, to removing airline pilots completely from the cockpit.

        • Yes, thanks for that pbolits 🙂. A company monitors telemetry on every patient in my ICU with an intensivist (like me) standing by. If he sees something odd on his end, he calls me on a terminal in the pts room where we all can see and hear everything and each other. If I catch something out of bounds, there’s always someone for a second thought 24/7. Great conversations. Everyone including the patient wins. Recurrent training for ICU docs is no longer episodic. Similar system would benefit airlines immensely IMO.

  7. If I read the article correctly, the increase in sim time changes from around 7% of the 1,500 hours to 10%. Hardly a game-changing result. There is no perfect way to train pilots for the grind of commercial operation, in part because all people are different and learn differently. Most of us seem to favor the method under which we learned. To me, the advantage of sim time is that it can be highly structured and customized to work on those things the student seems to have problems with. Having problems holding the ILS to minimums in turbulence and a crosswind? Try doing it 7-8 times in an hour. Hard to do that in a real plane. Yes, there is no substitute for the real thing, but honing skills in a certain area can best be done for most issues in the sim. As usual, YMMV.

  8. They aren’t lowering any standards. It’s lowering the time required to take the ATP written and enter training. If they are successful then they start their apprenticeship. If they flunk out then they can slog it out to the 1500 hour requirement and try again.

    Requiring 1500 hours just to enter airline training proves how little credence the FAA gives Part 61/141 training, FAA approved airline training, and pilot ability itself.

  9. In my previous life, I was an airline Captain for a couple of overseas airlines.

    Due to the lack of a GA culture and time building opportunities, airlines were more or less forced to align with flight training schools to produce cadet pilots. These pilots were, from ab-initio, groomed to become jet airliner pilots and their training including doing some training in a small business jet. They would graduate initially with a Commercial, Multi-engine IFR licence, and later later batches would come with about 200 hours TT and a Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (See ICAO Annex 1, Section 2.5 if you want to understand what this is).

    It was not unusual for me to fly with a First Officer on an Airbus A320 who had less than 500 hours TT. These individuals were well trained, but yes, there were circumstances where the lack of experience showed especially with novel situations. I would often resort to my flight instructor toolbox from my past, and Captains were definitely mentoring young appendices. That was the reality based on necessity.

    Even though these young MPL pilots would get their ATP as soon as they qualified with 1500 hours TT, that didn’t mean that they transitioned to the left seat soon after. The airline established a minimum of 4000 hours TT for upgrade and subject to a rigorous command assessment. Some people passed, some were told to prepare themselves harder and reapply after a year. The 4th bar was not guaranteed simply because your seniority number came up.

    As much as I dread thinking back to my own experience going through the Command assessment (which I obviously passed, and the first time too – my knowledge level had never been and will probably never again be as high as the day I passed) to me it seems like a better system, and one that dealt with a shortage of pilots, than asking for 1500 hours, which may have been flown mostly in a Cessna 172 going endlessly around an airport traffic circuit.