Flight Cancellation Fix? Controversial proposal to address pilot shortage by reducing training hours

Each week, we’re seeing new frustrations with people trying to catch flights or get home on time. We’ve seen thousands of flight cancellations and delays this summer, sometimes blamed on a pilot shortage. Blair Miller traveled to Indiana, where one airline showed him what changes they want to make to get more pilots in the air. But it’s not without criticism.

With the summer travel season heating up, some travelers are heated, too. One passenger complained, “nobody’s willing to help. They’re just booking people on random flights.”

Republic Airways is a regional carrier for American Airlines, United, and Delta. They’re hoping their flight school, Lift Academy, will help address the problem. Severino Alforeza started his journey to be a pilot in February. Before this, he was part of the crew cleaning planes. “We cleaned the inside of the aircraft, but then we get into the cockpit, and you’re just looking at it and sometimes I would just sit there just wondering to myself, holding the yoke,” said Alforeza.

Now, he’s just months away from being an airline pilot. Republic Airways started Lift Academy in 2018, the first U.S. airline-owned and operated flight training program. “It’s really a seamless transition, when you get out of this airplane, and you go to start practicing in the E170,” said instructor Jacob Wilson.

Republic Airways’ CEO Bryan Bedford spoke with Miller about the trouble passengers are facing. “Nobody in the airline business is enjoying the kind of delays and cancellations that you know, the traveling public is experiencing today,” said Bedford. “How concerned are you about the long-term impact?” Miller asked. “I’m very concerned. It’s pretty clear that healthy communities need healthy air service in order to attract and retain businesses,” said Bedford.

Republic Airways has asked the Federal Aviation Administration for an exemption from the current rule that requires training pilots to log a minimum of 1500 hours before flying passengers on a commercial airline and instead make the minimum 750 hours.

The Airline Pilots Association has asked the FAA to reject the exemption, saying, “it’s a solution that would have real life-and-death consequences if approved.” We asked the Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, why he doesn’t support the change. “This was set by Congress, and it was set for safety reasons and I haven’t seen anything that changes those safety reasons,” said Buttigieg. Bedford responded saying “there’s no science behind 1500 hours.” “We had 300 hours was the average before the law and you know, 1500, it sounds better. I can assure you nothing in our petition would weaken safety, quite the opposite,” said Bedford.

It’s not exactly clear on when the FAA will decide on whether to approve or deny the exemption.

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