The FAA’s aviation safety bill passed earlier this year, but a new report suggests the included prerequisite 1,500 hours flight experience for commercial airline copilots may not be necessary. An FAA advisory committee led by a regional airline official has proposed that 500 actual flight hours may be enough. Language in the safety legislation says that the FAA Administrator “may allow specific academic training courses … to be credited toward the total flight hours required.” The committee suggests that through an elaborate structure of training courses, up to two-thirds of the safety law’s required 1,500 flight hours could be satisfied with other credited training. The proposal is merely a recommendation and it is not clear that there is any wiggle room in other language that specifically imposes the flight hours requirement. Meanwhile, the proposal has reignited the total hours versus quality-of-training argument. And pilot groups, industry voices and safety advocates are weighing in.
Legislators who fought for the safety bill’s language say the law explicitly requires 1,500 flight hours, and any modifications must be justified by a resultant increase in safety. The president of the Regional Airline Association, Roger Cohen, has a different opinion. Cohen said academic work is “far more useful in training pilots for modern airline operations” than hours spent “towing banners above the beach.” As for the FAA, Administrator Randy Babbitt supports improved training over a general requirement for more flight hours. Babbitt has previously commented on the subject, saying “experience is not measured by flight time alone.” The Regional Airline Association holds the view that a “proper mix of the experience and academic/training approaches” would best ensure safety. And two pilot groups represented on the committee have split on the issue. The Air Line Pilots Association backed the committee’s recommendations, while the Coalition of Air Line Pilot Associations supported experience over even enhanced training.