Regional airline giant asks the FAA to let it hire pilots with less experience

May 10, 2022

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With pilots in short supply, one regional airline is asking federal officials to allow them to hire first officers with far fewer hours than would normally be allowed.

Republic Airways, the nation’s second-largest regional carrier which operates Embraer 170s and 175s for American, Delta and United, said in a filing with the Federal Aviation Administration that it wants an exemption to be permitted to hire pilots who graduate from its flight academy when they reach 750 flight hours. That’s half the 1,500 hours of experience required of most pilots.

Among regional airlines, Indianapolis-based Republic is in a unique situation — and it didn’t pull the 750-hour number out of thin air.

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Republic is the only regional airline to own and operate its own flight training program for participants with little to no experience. The LIFT Academy — short for Leadership in Flight Training — operates under a set of rules that allows certain programs that operate in conjunction with universities to reduce the number of hours required to receive what’s known as a restricted airline transport pilot certificate, or R-ATP. Airline transport pilot certificates, also known as an ATP or an R-ATP, are required for first officers to fly for the airlines. It’s the result of safety reforms implemented in the wake of the Colgan Air flight 3407 crash in 2009.

Hours can be reduced in three different ways to receive an R-ATP. A student who conducts flight training in conjunction with a two-year college program is eligible for the certificate at 1,250 hours, while a student who attends a four-year college program is eligible at 1,000 hours.

Republic is targeting the third way — for military veterans who are eligible for an R-ATP certificate at just 750 hours. In its FAA filing, Republic argues that there are many similarities between its LIFT Academy program and military training. This includes being a closed-loop system that it says is closely aligned with the standard operating procedures and flight operations at the regional airline. Not only are students learning to fly, but they’re learning the airline and its operations concurrently, Republic said.

“It is … the very essence of the R-ATP Program that immerses LIFT students into their desired operating environment surrounded by system safety from day one,” the airline wrote.

The exemption request was actually filed last month, but went little noticed until executives from a competing airline mentioned it on an earnings call this week. It’s the furthest known step a regional airline has taken to chip away at the 1,500-hour rule. The rule, which took effect in 2013, has come under renewed scrutiny as the industry faces a pilot shortage so acute that airlines have been forced to park regional jets, prematurely end Essential Air Service routes and trim regional capacity. Many in the industry have called for it to end, though others have countered that the extra experience is a good thing — helping ensure an adequate supply of flight instructors. It’s become one of the most controversial topics among pilots.

More: How a pilot shortage could leave travelers with higher fares and fewer options

With Republic squarely in the corner of being against the 1,500-hour rule, the airline also uses its filing to argue that this exemption would help make becoming an airline pilot more financially feasible for students, as well as diversify the flight deck.

“The Republic R-ATP Program provides a cost-effective means to flight training that is accessible to a large pool of candidates including those from underrepresented minority groups,” the airline wrote.

Featured photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images.

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