FAA Proposes New Pilot Training Rules


February 29, 2012

On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] announced its new proposed pilot training rules, about a year and a half after President Obama signed a bill requiring these new regulations in the wake of the 2009 crash of Continental Flight 3407 outside Buffalo. FRONTLINE investigated the incident, which killed all 49 people onboard and one on the ground, in our 2010 film Flying Cheap.

The pilot of Flight 3407, Marvin Renslow, had only logged 618 hours of flight time when he was hired by Colgan Air, a regional airline based out of Virginia that operated under the Continental Airlines banner under a code-share agreement. This is about half of of the flight time required by most major airlines. The cause of the crash was determined to be pilot error by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The FAA’s new proposal, which would apply to both passenger and cargo pilots, includes the following:

+ First officers (co-pilots) are required to have an Airline Transport Pilot [ATP] certificate, which you can only get after 1,500 hours of flight time. Currently, co-pilots are required to have a commercial pilot certificate, which you can receive after a minimum of 250 hours.

+ Captains are required to have an additional 1,000 hours of flight time above the 1,500 for the ATP.

+ Both captains and first officers will have to undertake additional training to receive the ATP, including 50 hours of multi-engine flight experience. 

There is, however, a loophole for the flight time requirement: a “restricted privileges” ATP certificate could be given to former military pilots with 750 hours of flight time or to graduates of a four-year aviation school with 1,000 hours and a commercial pilot certificate.

Family members of those killed in the crash of Flight 3407 are reported to be “very pleased” with the proposal, which is being submitted for publication today, and will be open for public comment for 60 days. Congress has mandated that new training rules be established by Aug. 2, 2013. New rules addressing pilot fatigue were put in place last December, but unlike the new training rules, the fatigue mandates do not include the cargo industry.

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