Republic Airways Petitions FAA to Lower Pilot Minimums For Company’s First Officers

If successful, the airline would be allowed to hire pilots with just 750 hours, half of the current requirement.

Republic Airlines argues that its proposal would make pilot careers more accessible. [Courtesy: Republic Airlines]

Regional carrier Republic Airways has petitioned the FAA to lower the required pilot minimums for its R-ATP program from 1,500 hours to 750.

Republic is headquartered in Indianapolis and flies on behalf of Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL), American Airlines (NASDAQ: AAL), and United Airlines (NASDAQ: UAL). The company applied on April 15 to the Department of Transportation (DOT) to lobby for its version of the restricted ATP.

“The requested exemption would allow selected civilian pilots who complete the rigorous Republic R-ATP program to apply for an airline transport pilot certificate concurrently with a multiengine airplane type rating with a minimum of 750 hours of total flight time as a pilot,” the airline explained in its letter. 

Moreover, the airline said its Republic R-ATP would resemble the military-based training pathway more closely but would be even safer than the military’s version with a revised civilian approach.

Presently, qualified military pilots who want to transition to a commercial environment may earn an R-ATP with 750 hours of total flight time to qualify for an airline job. 

Congress drafted the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010. The act directed the FAA to require that commercial pilots seeking an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate acquire at least 1,000 hours to get a restricted ATP or 1,500 hours to qualify for a total ATP—something casually known as “the 1,500-hour rule.”

In its proposal, Republic argues that its R-ATP program would make “airline pilot career opportunities more accessible for qualified individuals from underrepresented groups who meet the selection criteria but may not have the financial means or academic support to pursue an aviation career path while providing a higher level of safety.”

How It Would Work

Republic’s proposed  R-ATP program would be a closed-loop system that the airline would operate within its subsidiary training program known as the LIFT Academy. The airline said the benefit of the closed-loop system is that pilots selected to participate are trained entirely in house, in keeping with Part 141 training standards specific to ATP requirements. Furthermore, with the integration of performance data collection, analyses, and programs like AQP (the FAA’s advanced qualification program), Republic says it can adjust and improve the training content through data-informed and data-driven analysis.

Moreover, the airline estimates that it could reduce the flight training and tuition cost that pilots pay in four-year degree programs from $200,000 to $75,000. Republic says this would lower the economic barrier of entry to many under-represented minority groups. 

The airline notes that the high cost of training has caused 40 percent of students in its LIFT Academy to withdraw altogether while trying to satisfy the minimums in place today. In its proposition, the cost of the Republic R-ATP Program would include all training costs required to become a Republic pilot, though there are some caveats for when they would be eligible for that.

Ultimately, upon completing the Republic R-ATP Program, pilots would be able to use their R-ATP privilege only at Republic—in keeping with the terms of the broader exemption—until the pilot requirements for an unrestricted ATP are met.

Prospective pilots who want to enroll in the program would undergo a selective aptitude test, as with the military R-ATP version. Upon selection, they would enroll in the program as full-time airline employees. They would earn all the required piloted certificates but receive specific training to work in a Part 121 airline environment. On the ground, “students will complete courses in Advanced Airline Academics, complete Command Experience, receive a Republic mentor, and complete Supplemental Advanced Aviation Training to help them better prepare for a career as an airline pilot,” the company said.

To maintain a high standard, the program would have a series of “knowledge and skill validation gates” that if students failed to pass through, they would be removed from the program and have to earn their R-ATP the standard way.

Industry Clamoring for Pilots

While the DOT has yet to respond, airlines have increasingly tried various things to offset pilot shortages that have forced them to cancel routes, especially through their regional partnerships. Delta Air Lines recently eliminated its four-year degree requirement for pilots, while United Airlines launched its Aviate Academy to create a more direct pipeline from flight school to a career.

Michael Wildes holds a master’s degree in Logistics & Supply Chain Management, and a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Science, both from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Previously, he worked at the university’s flight department as a Flight Check Airman, Assistant Training Manager, and Quality Assurance Mentor. He holds MEI, CFI & CFII ratings. Follow Michael on Twitter @Captainwildes.

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