Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rise in Required Flight Time Could Reduce Number of Alaska Regional Pilots

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A new Federal Aviation Administration rule requiring commercial pilots for regional airlines to have more hours of flying experience is scheduled to go into effect Aug. 2.

The FAA says all captains and co-pilots for so-called Part 121 carriers, including familiar Alaska names like Era Aviation and PenAir, will need to have at least 1,500 hours of flying time to fly for them.

Aviation experts say the regulation that made the change -- the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act, passed by Congress in 2010 -- was a reaction to the 2009 Colgan Air crash that killed 50 people in Buffalo, N.Y. At that time, pilots were only required to have 250 hours of flight time before working in the cockpit.

Mark Madden, a professor with the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Aviation Technology program who instructs new pilots, says the act’s requirement for more flight hours was a knee-jerk reaction.

“It would have been much better in my opinion if they had concentrated on not the total minimum of flight hours, but instead on the quality and quantity of training that is required of the regional operators,” Madden said. “Minimum number of flight hours is not a good indication of the quality of the pilot; it’s the quality and quantity of training that makes the difference.”

Local Part 121 carriers say they’re not yet feeling the full effects of the new regulation, but will soon.

“Our worry of course, (is) if this moves forward, then the pilot demand in the major airlines will suck up all the resources -- leaving the regional carriers (in) a very desperate situation looking for pilots,” said Brian Carricaburu, PenAir’s vice president of operations.

Carricaburu says it’s still too soon to tell how many pilots in Alaska will be affected by the new minimum flight-time requirement.

“Our pilot numbers have been fairly steady over the last several years, and so we’re not really seeing quite that much (impact) yet,” Carricaburu said.

FAA officials declined a Channel 2 request for comment on the changes Wednesday.

The air carriers said they hope the new rules won’t lead to pilot shortages in Alaska’s skies.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. We’re going to have to wait and see like everybody else,” Madden said.


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