Thune Statement on DOT Working Group Support for Proposal to Enhance Copilot Training Opportunities

June 30, 2017

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today issued the following statement on a new report by the U.S. Department of Transportation Working Group on Improving Air Service to Small Communities recommending, “Congress should affirm that qualifying ‘academic’ training [for necessary flight hours to become a commercial copilot] should not be limited to military and aviation degree programs.”

The working group’s report affirms that the supply of well-trained copilots, which enhances the safety of the airline industry, would benefit from the provision included in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2017 approved by the Commerce Committee,” said Thune. “Amidst widespread concerns about a pilot shortage, creating more training opportunities for aviators to become commercial copilots helps ensure that airlines have the chance to select the best among a pool of potentially qualified candidates. My provision requires that any new structured and disciplined training opportunities must enhance safety and gain the approval of the FAA Administrator before they count toward flight hour credits like some training opportunities already do.”

Highlights of the new report's conclusions and recommendation on addressing the pilot shortage:

The imposition of the new 1,500 hours requirement has drastically increased the time and cost for aspiring aviators to become commercial airline pilots, in many cases putting the piloting career out of reach. Meanwhile, the 2015 Pilot Source Study indicates that first officers hired since the increased flight hours requirement was imposed have a decreased rate of new?hiring training completion, and “required significantly more extra training”.

[T]he Working Group recommends that Congress direct the FAA to:

1) Reevaluate and increase the amount of hours of credit awarded to academic pathways for the issuance of a Restricted ATP. Congress should affirm that qualifying “academic” training should not be limited to military and aviation degree programs.

2) Award substantial hours of credit toward a carrier?specific and type?specific Restricted ATP based on carrier?specific and type?specific training and testing.

Click here to read the full report of the Department of Transportation Working Group on Improving Air Service to Small Communities.

Under current law, aspiring commercial copilots must accumulate a minimum of 1,500 actual flight hours to qualify for a license to pilot a commercial airliner. However, the FAA already has authority to award credits toward the 1,500 hour requirement for academic training courses that enhance safety, as well as for military flying. The Senate Commerce Committee’s proposal would expand the eligibility of commercial pilot flight training courses eligible for flight hour credit to include structured professional training when the FAA determines that such courses enhance safety. This reform is intended to promote safety, increase training opportunities for aspiring commercial pilots, and keep the core mandate of the 1,500 hour requirement intact.