Why the pilot shortage matters to Fort Dodge

Pilots used to need 250 hours of flight time to get hired by a regional airline. Now, they need 1,500 hours.

The genesis of the 1,500-hour rule, as it came to be known, can be traced to Feb. 12, 2009, when Colgan Air Flight 3407, operating as Continental Connection, crashed into a house on approach to Buffalo Niagara Airport, killing all 49 passengers and crew as well as one person on the ground.

The National Transportation Safety Board eventually concluded that the crash was the result of the plane’s two pilots failing to respond properly to cockpit warnings that the aircraft was about to stall.

The Colgan crash led to a re-examination of entry-level requirements for U.S. airline pilots, resulting in the passage of the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010. Among other measures, the bill instructed the FAA to increase the minimum number of flight-training hours for commercial pilots from 250 hours to 1,500 hours. The rule took effect in 2013.

Both the captain (over 3,000) and the first officer (over 2,200) on the Colgan flight had well over 1,500 hours of flight experience.

There is no data that shows 1,500 hours of flight time makes a better pilot. There are actual studies that have been completed that show pilots with less than 1,500 hours performed better.

Pilot Source studies conducted by universities ahead of the implementation of the new requirements and again in 2015, have shown that trainees with less than 1,500 hours of logged flight time actually performed better in regional airline pilot training than those with more than 1,500 hours.

Those results correlated to another Pilot Source 2015 finding, which is that trainees who are less than four years removed from college graduation perform the best and that pilots with four-year aviation degrees perform better than those without degrees.

It should be about quality of flight training, not about quantity of hours.

The impact of the 1,500-hour rule has been felt in Fort Dodge. The rule went into effect in August 2013. Great Lakes Airlines suspended service to Fort Dodge on Feb. 1, 2014, due to the lack of pilots meeting the new hourly requirement. They didn’t have enough 1,500-hour pilots to fly the routes.

Air Choice One replaced Great Lakes and restored air service to Fort Dodge on Feb. 23, 2015.

The cost and time it takes to obtain an Airline Transport Pilot license is just one cause of the pilot shortage. Until recently, near poverty level wages at regional airlines were another factor. Over the past two years, many regional carriers, including the two biggest, Skywest Airlines and Republic Airways, have made substantial increases in starting pay and added signing bonuses.

Rhonda Chambers is the manager of the Fort Dodge Regional Airport.

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