The shortage of pilots is a hot issue. During the pandemic airlines pushed late-career pilots to retire early, and they weren’t hiring pilots. It’s time-consuming to train pilots, and it’s expensive. And they’re also forced to retire at age 65 regardless of health.
Up until 2013 pilots were required to hold a commercial license which required 250 hours of flying (in addition to being type-rated for the specific aircraft they’re flying). The hours requirement was increased in safety legislation which followed the 2009 Colgan Air crash, even though hours of pilot training had nothing whatsoever to do with that crash.
When something bad happens, people take unrelated pet ideas off the shelf and push them – after TWA Flight 800 exploded we got ID requirements to fly because the President wanted something to announce, to show he was doing something. After 9/11, then-Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA) famously said of the opportunity “It’s an open grab bag, so let’s grab.”
We got a 1500 hour rule for commercial pilots even though both pilots of the Colgan Air flight had over 1500 hours and the Captain had 3379 hours.
There are exceptions to the rule,
- Military pilots can have 750 hours
- Those with a B.A. in aviation can fly with 1000 hours
- Those with an Associates degree in aviation can fly with 1250 hours
Except the hours of flight time, on top of the commercial license, don’t have specific objectives or proficiency requirements. It’s just time. There could be better training and testing with more structured flying that’s easier and less expensive to accomplish, but we do not have that because,
- It sounds like the hours are important for safety and no one wants to oppose safety
- The Air Line Pilots Association (pilots union) wanted to make it tough to become a pilot, which increases their bargaining power (keeps pilots scarce and difficult to replace)
There’s little work showing that 1500 hours (again, the Colgan pilots met this) reduces accidents. And other safety agencies around the world haven’t copied the standard and pilots with less experience for foreign airlines fly to the U.S. and operate at U.S. airports.
We want pilots who know what they’re doing, but the 1500 hour rule itself doesn’t weed out those who don’t. European regulators and Canadian regulators don’t see a need for 1500 flight hours on top of licensing and type-rating. We want to focus on measures that actually improve safety, and so pilot flight hour requirements can probably be greatly improved. Instead we’ve got rules that primarily make it tough to become a pilot, increasing the bargaining strength of those already in the profession.