The FAA has rejected Republic Airways’ proposal for co-pilot hours

(CNN) – Federal regulators have flatly rejected an airline’s controversial request to cut commercial pilot hiring standards in half to address a global pilot shortage.

In April, regional airline Republic Airways asked the Federal Aviation Administration to allow graduates of Republic’s LIFT Academy to become airline co-pilots with 750 hours of flight experience, rather than the usual 1,500 flight hours required of new airline pilots.

On Monday, the FAA said it denied Republic’s request after the agency “determined that the airline’s new training program does not provide an equivalent level of safety to regulations requiring 1,500 hours of flight experience before a pilot can work for an airline.”

Republic is a regional airline based in Indianapolis that says it operates 1,000 flights a day on American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express.

Just what Republic Airways wanted

The Republic asserted in its initial application to the FAA that its in-house training program was comparable to the rigor of military flight training. Therefore, according to the carrier, FAA regulations should be extended to the Republic so that airlines with less experience can hire military pilots.

“Through its rigorous curriculum and structure, this Program will exceed the safety standards of the military R-ATP [training program]”, argues Republic, adding that its program will “provide a higher level of security”.

The curriculum includes classroom and flight time, tutoring and frequent exams. By not taking a test, Republic proposed, a student would be placed on the normal 1,500-hour license track.

Under this program, licensees who would receive a special pilot license would receive a full license upon reaching 1,500 hours.

Republic argued that its program would increase diversity in the pilot ranks. Acquiring the 1,500 hours typically involves a college degree, a low-wage job and renting planes to fly, an expense that can cost between $170,000 and $220,000, Republica said.

“The cost of a four-year degree can be a significant barrier for some highly qualified students and puts pilot training out of reach, especially for those in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities,” Republic’s proposal said.

The Regional Airline Association, representing Republica and its peer airlines, supported Republica’s proposal. He said the approval of the program “recognizes that flight time is not the only component of developing a safe and qualified pilot.”

Union against the plan

The Air Line Pilots Association, the largest pilot union, strongly opposed the Republic program.

“Changing existing pilot certification requirements or allowing operators to fold provisions to cut costs would be a huge mistake and have real-world, life-and-death consequences,” wrote Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA president. Letter to the FAA.

The US 1,500 hour requirement is much higher than the entry level in many other countries. The Department of Transportation’s inspector general wrote in a report earlier this year that 18 of the 29 countries he looked at require first officers only 240 hours.

The United States once had a lower requirement for co-pilots — 250 hours — but lawmakers imposed the limit after the 2009 Colgan Air crash that killed 50 people. Investigators said the commuter plane’s pilots failed to properly recognize and respond to the plane coming to rest just miles from Buffalo-Niagara International Airport.

Sulley Sullenberger, a retired airline captain who landed a US Airways plane in New York’s Hudson River, is opposed to reducing the hours of first officers.

“There are no shortcuts to experimentation. There are no shortcuts to safety. Standards are standards because they are necessary,” he told a congressional panel in 2015.