BY ZACH SCHONFELD, thehill.com
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Monday denied a request from Republic Airways to halve the flight time required for new pilots if they attend the airline’s training school.
Individuals are typically required to fly 1,500 hours before serving as a commercial pilot, but Republic Airways — which flies smaller routes for United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines — argued the reduced requirement would improve hiring at a time when many airlines face staffing challenges.
Republic told the FAA that its pilot academy, located in Indianapolis, Ind., resembles those used to train military pilots, whose flight time requirement is already reduced to 750 hours, so the agency should warrant the same reduction.
The FAA rejected those claims, adding that even if a reduction was appropriate, Republic’s request for an exemption was not the appropriate vehicle to make such a change.
“After full consideration of Republic’s petition for exemption and the public comments, the FAA has determined that the relief requested is not in the public interest and would adversely affect safety,” the agency wrote in its decision.
The decision comes at a time when many airlines report facing staffing challenges.
As the coronavirus pandemic subsided and more Americans returned to the skies, many travelers faced delays and cancellations this summer while the industry struggled to keep up with rising demand.
The challenges have led airlines to suspend some routes and sideline jets despite willing passengers, especially at smaller airports serviced by regional airlines, like Republic.
The airline had contended that the exemption would provide a more efficient training path for aspiring pilots and satisfy demand at those smaller airports.
Republic also noted a lack of diversity among pilots, arguing that high entry barriers to the field, including the flight time requirement, especially inhibit minority groups.
“The FAA disagrees that the reduction of R-ATP flight hours will address (1) a perceived pilot shortage, (2) reduced commercial aviation services to small communities, or (3) recruitment within diverse talent pools,” the agency wrote in its decision.
Three Indiana Republicans, Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, Rep. Victoria Spartz and Sen. Mike Braun, submitted comments to the FAA in support of Republic’s request.
The Regional Airline Association, a trade group that represents Republic and other smaller carriers, also supported the request, while the largest pilot union voiced opposition.
“We’re disappointed — but not surprised — that our petition to the FAA was not met with the review and engagement it deserves,” said Bryan Bedford, Republic’s president and CEO.
“Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, our proposal would enhance safety by providing students a highly structured, mission-specific training approach,” he continued. “The data proves that our approach works and it would open the door to a rich career in aviation to any students who cannot otherwise afford to participate in this transformational career while helping to address the diminishing air service impacting 90 million Americans in small and mid-sized communities.”
The airline’s request is one of multiple regulatory changes proposed in the wake of the chaotic summer travel season.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced a bill in July that would raise the mandatory retirement age for pilots from 65 to 67.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, meanwhile, has focused on expanding passengers’ ability to receive refunds when their flights are disrupted.