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Raw DS Article: HR3371 Hurts Aviation

October 16, 2009

Sorry I’ve fallen behind in the past few weeks. I apologize.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article for this newspaper about lagging interest in aviation, both as a career and as a hobby.

While most of the comments I received on the article were overwhelmingly positive, the article only partially had the effect I intended. This past Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Resolution 3371, a bill, which, if signed into law, would greatly increase the minimum hour and certification requirements for airline pilots in the United States. This resolution has far-reaching consequences throughout the aviation industry, especially at flight training institutions such as UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

As it stands now, the only requirement that entry-level First Officers with regional airlines have is a Commercial Pilots license, medical certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, and a minimum amount of hours set forth by the airline doing the hours. After initially being hired, they then go through specific systems and operations training for the aircraft type they will be flying in a classroom setting and in flight simulators. Pilots then spend time with more experienced captains in the airplane and eventually are able to fly “on their own” with any airline captain while holding a line or sitting on reserve. During the last hiring rush (2004-2007), pilots left UND with approximately 300-700 hours of total flight experience.

Pilots from outside of large aviation universities like UND or Embry Riddle tend to have more hours when they are hired by airlines.

HR3371 states, in part, that the new minimum requirements for a new-hire First Officer with an FAA Part 121 certified air carrier (major airlines fall under this category) will be 1500 flight hours and Air Transport Pilot certification. As it stands now, these are the minimum requirements for airline captains. The common thought amongst the aviation industry as a whole is that more flight hours = better experience = more safety, hence the increased hour requirements. As it stands now, most UND pilots graduate from the school with 250-300 hours of total flight time and experience in advanced aircraft systems and operations (often considered to be a positive). Pilots outside of UND often finish their Commercial Pilot certificates and Flight Instructor ratings with 300-500 hours of flight time. This bill would, in effect, require these pilots to spend 1000+ hours (well over a year) flight instructing or finding other flying jobs in the field.

Supporters of this bill mention the fact that most of the major airline accidents in the past few years have involved regional airlines. While there are things such as pilot pay and improvements in duty hour assignments that are positives associated with the bill, the huge increase in flight time and certification requirements are an over-zealous attempt to make the industry “safer,” especially considering the fact that current aviation research and trends around the world provide for better training processes that don’t require a huge investment in time and money. Scenario based training (SBT) and Multi-Crew pilot licensure are two great examples of how to greatly increase pilot safety and the quality of flight time these pilots experience during their training.

SBT, as the name suggests, utilizes flight scenarios that test flight and decision making skills. Research in the field of SBT has shown that pilot proficiency and self-imposed safety minimums are higher, and therefore safer than pilots who undergo the “traditional” model of flight training currently in use across the country. In addition, the pilots in the study completed their initial Private Pilot certification and Instrument ratings in approximately 40 fewer hours than their traditional counterparts. In this situation, it is clearly the quality of flight time and not the quantity that is most effective in creating safer pilots.

If my fellow aviation counterparts and I allow the House, Senate and President Obama to shoot from the hip and allow this bill to pass, it will have wide-reaching consequences to pilots at this university and would-be pilots that have yet to discover their love of aviation. It’s time we banded together and let our respective lawmakers know that this bill will greatly hinder airline and aviation safety.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim Berg permalink
    October 16, 2009 2:05 pm

    Hello Mr. Rottler,

    I am a 1985 graduate of UND. I read your article in the Dakota Student and have a comment to add. Back in my day there were no RJ’s. In fact, very few regional airlines to choose from for building flight time. I like many of my graduting class who were determined to become professional pilot with a major airline found ways to get there. The Majors were worth the price of doing a few years of hard work to get there. Look at what has happened to the pilots wage and retirement benefits since outsourcing to regional jets pilots. I have been set back for years and have lost a lot of potential income since they have showed up. It is clearly a race to the bottom of pay if the career is not protected by quality and not quantity. What is wrong with flight instructing for a couple of years? I did it for 3 years, them went onto the airlink for a four more. The average age in my new hire class at NWA was 34. There were many of pilots looking for the same job. I believe just the opposite is true with the upcoming UND avation student population. I think more young aviation students will enroll at UND because of it’s reputation and a chance to flight instruct. They will stick around a little longer and build experience and the school will even b e better. Don’t worry, if they want to become an airline pilot, they will find a way. But if wages continue to fade away, who would want to be a regional pilot for their entire life?

  2. Kyle permalink
    October 17, 2009 8:00 am

    Congress and the general public are not concerned with the desires of the enrolled aviation students who want a job as soon as they graduate. In the article it states that a pilot would have to flight instruct for a year or more. How hard is that? Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so. What if medical students wanted to start practicing medicine as soon as they finished school…ludicrous.

    Also, this wasn’t even a problem until recent years. Airline First Officers weren’t even considered with less than an average of 2,000 total time. But, the airline industry is uncapable of policing themselves and soon, just to save a buck, lowered their standards. Someone needs to step in (Congress in this case) and help those who can’t help themselves.

  3. Glenn Barclay, CFI, MEI permalink
    January 18, 2010 10:53 pm

    If it works, don’t fix it.

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