Pilot Shortage May Hit Regional Airlines as U.S. Tightens Training Rules

U.S. regional airlines may have a
tougher time hiring pilots under legislation passed by Congress mandating at
least 1,500 hours of flying, six times higher than now required.


“It could stymie the growth and the income potential of some of
the regional airlines,” said Jerry Glass, president of F&H Solutions Group, a
labor-relations consulting firm in Washington. “If you can’t find pilots that
meet this new, higher threshold, then you can’t grow your company.”

The U.S. Senate today cleared and sent to President Barack Obama the legislation
boosting the minimum-experience requirement from the current 250 hours. The
House acted yesterday, with lawmakers saying they were prompted by a crash of a
plane operated by Pinnacle Airlines Corp.’s
Colgan unit, which killed 50 people last year near Buffalo, New York.

The experience requirement, while boosting safety, may unintentionally make hiring
more difficult during a transition, said Kit Darby, a retired United Airlines pilot who runs
KitDarby.com Aviation Consulting LLC.

U.S. carriers have three years to
meet the conditions. The Federal Aviation Administration can let pilots fly
with less than 1,500 hours should it conclude that academic training “will
enhance safety more” than flying experience, according to the legislation.

Regional Airline Association, which represents commuter
carriers, looks “forward to continuing our efforts with the FAA” to build upon
safety, Roger Cohen, the Washington group’s president, said today
in a statement.

The group represents
carriers such as Memphis, Tennessee- based Pinnacle, Indianapolis-based
Republic Airways Holdings Inc. and SkyWest Inc.

The requirement may raise costs for carriers because experienced
pilots generally earn higher wages, said William Swelbar, a research engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who specializes in airline economics.

Pilot union advocates said the crash
showed a need for higher experience requirements, and relatives of victims of
the Colgan accident made more than 30 trips to Washington to push for a change.

If the pilots were more seasoned when they were hired, they may
have avoided pitfalls that led to the crash, Paul Onorato, president of the
Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, has said. Onorato said neither pilot
had 1,500 hours of experience when they were hired.