The nation’s second-largest regional airline will not be allowed to move forward with a plan to hire pilots with fewer hours than what would normally be required.
The Federal Aviation Administration Monday denied an exemption petition from Republic Airways that would have allowed it to hire graduates from its flight training academy with 750 flight hours.
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Indianapolis-based Republic operates Embraer E170s and E175s for American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. It also operates the LIFT Academy, a flight school that trains students from zero hours of flight time. Republic had argued that graduates of LIFT Academy were trained in a closed-loop format, similar to how the U.S. military conducts training. Military veterans are eligible to receive what’s known as a restricted Airline Transport Pilot (R-ATP) certificate at 750 hours.
“The FAA finds that the supporting materials and LIFT historical data does not sufficiently support Republic’s claim that the Republic R-ATP Program is sufficiently comparable to the training program of a military branch to warrant a reduction in flight hours,” Caitlin Locke, the FAA’s acting deputy executive director of Flight Standards Service, wrote.
For pilots not eligible for one of three existing R-ATP pathways — the other two are for collegiate aviation programs — 1,500 flight hours are needed to receive an airline transport pilot certificate.
The regional airline industry is in the midst of a pilot shortage. Many in the industry believe that this so-called 1,500-hour rule, which was part of a package of aviation safety legislation enacted a year after the Colgan Air Flight 3407 accident in 2009, is one cause of the pilot shortage, though the FAA’s Locke, in her denial, said the agency disagrees with that.
“The FAA lacks statutory authority to regulate based on a perceived shortage of pilots,” she wrote.
Many pilots are forced to take low-paying jobs with bad training contracts that have financially disadvantageous terms or become flight instructors to bridge the gap between when a pilot receives a commercial license, which can happen with at least 250 hours, and when they’re eligible for an ATP, at 1,500 hours. This long slog creates attrition and, as Republic also argued, makes the pilot workforce less diverse —an assertion that the FAA also disagreed with.
“Lowering pilot qualifications through the exemption process is not the proper vehicle to recruit talent from diverse communities,” Locke wrote.
The FAA’s denial comes amidst a significant lobbying campaign by both Republic, in favor of the exemption, and vocal opposition, led largely by the Air Line Pilots Association, the union representing pilots at many regionals, though not specifically at Republic. ALPA, which has denied the existence of a pilot shortage, had argued that Republic would be compromising safety had it been allowed to proceed with the exemption. The regional industry strongly denied ALPA’s claims.
TPG reached out to Republic for comment and will update this story.
The Regional Airline Association, which represents regional airlines in D.C., said it was still digesting the FAA’s decision, but added that the group still believes training protocols could be updated.
“We look forward to reviewing the FAA’s response,” RAA CEO Faye Malarkey Black said in a statement. “None of this changes our sentiment that flight training must continuously advance.”