FAA raises pilot requirements

I believe a suitable American phrase is ‘out of whack’. That expression certainly came to mind when I read that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is increasing the required flying time for US co-pilots… to 1,500 hours.

It’s a massive jump from the previous 250 hours and you’ve got to wonder where all these very experienced co-pilots (also known as first pilots) will come from.

The rule change came about as a result of the 2009 Colgan Crash and falls just one week after the new US transport secretary, Anthony Foxx, came to office. "I am especially pleased to mark my first week by announcing a rule that will help us maintain our unparalleled safety record,” said Foxx. “We owe it to the travelling public to have only the most qualified and best trained pilots."

Of course, it’s right and honourable to put safety first, Mr Foxx, but I’m interested to know how this will work.

Training to become a pilot costs (the trainee, not the airline) an extraordinary amount of time, dedication, and most of all money. Yet according to the Future & Active Pilot Advisors (FAPA), a US pilot’s average starting salary is $36,000.

Now it will be even harder for those pilots to rise up the ranks and pay off their fees.
The pilots who have already started their careers have been ‘rewarded’ by pay freezes, or worse, pay cuts. Veteran pilots, who typically earn a very decent average salary of $165,000, are on their way out as many of them are approaching their mandatory retirement age of 65.

Added to that, the US government is training fewer military pilots, who often end up making the switch to commercial flying.

The industry is doing far too little to encourage new pilots, either through bursaries or subsidised training, so it’s unsurprisingly that the profession has fallen out of favour.

So Mr Foxx, where are these pilots coming from? While it’s great to have passed a new rule in your first week, it’s taken four years to react to the Colgan Crash, in which time we’ve experienced a historically heavy recession. Perhaps the new rule is a little too late and a little too impractical?

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