Big changes are on the way for pilot training requirements after the Federal Aviation Administration finalized new regulations last week.
Although the timing is coincidental, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last week issued new, tougher regulations for pilots seeking to achieve first officer, or copilot, status—just days into the Asiana Airlines accident investigation, which is focusing heavily on pilot error as a possible cause of the crash.
To become a first officer, or copilot, at a U.S. airline, pilots will be required to log 1,500 flight hours, up from 250 hours under previous regulations. The rule also requires a pilot be at least 23 years old and pass a test demonstrating knowledge of the type and class of aircraft that he or she will be operating.
Congress mandated the changes for commercial airline pilot-training requirements after the 2009 Colgan Air crash near Buffalo, New York, where 50 people died. The National Transportation Safety Board found that pilot fatigue, training, and qualifications were all factors in the crash. The pilots, including a 24-year-old first officer, made mistakes that stalled the plane in a snowstorm.
“The rule gives first officers a stronger foundation of aeronautical knowledge and experience before they fly for an air carrier,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. “With this rule and our efforts to address pilot fatigue—both initiatives championed by the families of Colgan flight 3407—we’re making a safe system even safer.”
Associations in the aviation community have different reactions to the new rules.
Capt. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, welcomed the change, citing the pilot union’s commitment to safety. The group hopes “to make the transition to the new pilot qualifications rule as smooth as possible for our members,” Moak told USA Today.
The Regional Airline Association (RAA), however, expressed concern that the stricter requirements could hurt regional airlines, whose pilots typically have less experience than pilots for the major carriers.
“As we’ve stated all along, the changes will impact the future supply of pilots and could imperil service to 500 communities across the U.S. which rely on regional airlines exclusively for their scheduled flights,” Roger Cohen, president of RAA said in a statement. “We are hopeful the FAA will take additional steps to help bring more highly trained aviators into the cockpit and an airline career.”
The regulations will go into effect when they are published in the Federal Register, which the FAA expects will happen this week.