Chuck Weirauch takes a look at the unique training challenges facing US regional airlines while complying with new aviation law.

 With the clock ticking towards August 2, 2013, when the sections of Public Law 111-216 that require airline first officers to have become ATP certified and accrue 1,500 hours of flight time in order to earn that certification are scheduled to self-enact, regional airlines have implemented training programs to assure that their pilots will meet those requirements by that deadline.

While the majority of the industry has vigorously opposed those parts of the law (Sections 216 and 217 of the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010), and have predicted regional airline service interruptions and pilot shortages as a result, airlines have basically assumed that the regulations will become a part of the cost of conducting business in a more rigorous regulatory environment.

Goal

"Last year, our members had already started the process of training their first officers that did not already have ATPs to complete the certification process to meet the Public Law deadline," said Captain Scott Foose, the Regional Airline Association’s (RAA) senior vice president of Operations and Safety. "We have received good support from the FAA to ensure that these programs were developed and implemented, and at this point our members are well beyond the half-way point in completing that process."

Across the board, RAA member airlines have added training both in the classroom and in the simulator in order to prepare their pilots to complete the ATP certification process, Foose said. They were able to incorporate ATP training as a supplement to most of the pilots' recurrent training requirement, and this approach avoids disrupting the lives of the pilots. The airline type rating that is an additional requirement is also being included during recurrent training, Foose added. Last year, the FAA determined that when an ATP check ride is completed in a type-rated aircraft, the pilot successfully completing the check ride would also receive a type certificate on that aircraft. The airlines have included this check ride, and pilots are earning their type ratings in this manner, although they do not necessarily gain pilot-in-command (PIC) status, he explained.

AQP

Even though the ATP and type rating training cost airlines considerable time and expense, the training managers at Air Wisconsin decided to expand their pilots' next recurrent training event even further to provide them with Advanced Qualification Program (AQP) certification as well. According to Captain Paul Preidecker, Chief Flight Instructor for the airline, Air Wisconsin had been working with the FAA for a long time to develop an AQP program. The airline gained approval for the program in July 2012, the same time it had decided to start its FAA-approved pilot ATP and type rating training effort. ExpressJet Airlines has also taken that same approach. American Eagle has been developing an AQP program.

"In one month, we made the transition over to AQP and our first officer ATP plans," Preidecker said. "We tried to take the initiative in the company to do this at the same time, since it just made for an easier transition for everybody."

Making Progress

As Foose stated, regionals are well on their way to have all of their pilots ATP certified and type rated by the August deadline. Preidecker said that as of March 7, 70 percent of Air Wisconsin's 280 first officers have now met the requirements, with all doing so by the end of July. Captain Jim Winkley, VP for Flight Operations for American Eagle Airlines reported that of 1,368 pilots, only 375 have yet to become ATP certified. All will have earned their ATPs and type ratings by the end of June, with July left for any make-ups, he added.

According to Darrin Greubel, Manager of Line Operations for ExpressJet Airlines, the regional air carrier has been approved to conduct ATP/Type ratings as part of its FAA-approved AQP program. First officers have been successfully completing the program since the Fall of 2012 on all fleet types. To date, the program has been very successful and all pilots are expected meet the PL-111-216 requirements by August 1.

Captain Jim Barbour, Director of Training for ExpressJet, reported that as of March 14, 870 of the airline's 1,684 CRJ and ERJ first officers needed to complete their ATP/APQ training and earn their certificates, with everything on track to meet the deadline.

Hiring

Some regional airlines are currently hiring new pilots, but in light of the 1,500-hour and ATP requirements, they are only employing those with more flight time than in the recent past. Barbour said that his airline is doing "a little bit of hiring", but everyone that is being hired has the ATP minimums.

"Air Wisconsin has been looking at this for a long time as to how we would meet the requirements of the Public Law," Preidecker said. "So we said that in order to be interviewed, you would have to meet ATP minimums. We don't necessarily require that someone has an ATP when they come here. On the screening and/hiring end of things, we just stated that so we would not have any problems with that by August, and we have not had any difficulty finding people with those qualifications."

Winkley said that American Eagle is currently hiring 20 to 30 new pilots a month that have 1,350 to 1,400 hours, but prefer those pilots with 1,500 hours and an ATP. The airline will continue to raise that new hire minimum until it reaches the federally required levels, he added.

Curricula

While Preidecker and Winkley reported that they had good cooperation from the FAA in developing the curricula for the recurrent ATP/type training programs, they also reported that doing so was a challenge for both airlines. Preidecker, who is the Chairman of the RAA Flight Training Committee, said that one of the biggest challenges for operators was that there are several sources of guidance for developing the curricula. Operators were challenged to blend all of that information and create a curriculum that would satisfy all of the regulator requirements, he explained.

Besides the regular recurrent two-day classroom ground school, airlines increased the number of simulator sessions for the ATP certification program, three such sessions for American Eagle, while ExpressJet employed two four-hour simulator sessions after a two-day ground school. Preidecker said that the most effective ATP training tool for his airline is a realistic, line-orientated simulator scenario that replicates real-world conditions and routes.

In addition to developing and administering the ATP/AQP program for their pilots, some airlines also provided several additional learning aids for them as well. Winkley pointed out that American Eagle helped prepare its pilots for the ATP written exam with a guide provided by ATP Flight Schools.

Distributed Training

All three airlines cited in this article provide online distributed training to support regular recurrent training and the ATP program, as well as a means to provide updates to pilots. ExpressJet and Air Wisconsin provide a quarterly program, while American Eagle pilots are required to perform eight hours of online home-based training as a part of regular recurrent training.

"We consider the Internet ground school portion of recurrent training not so much of a time-saving in the overall training footprint than as it is a better mechanism for getting information out to our pilots, and quarterly makes more sense for us as to timeliness and content," Preidecker said.

Rulemaking Process Flawed 

Although the aviation industry is still advocating additional academic exceptions to the 1,500-hour requirement, at this point regionals are viewing it as yet another part of conducting business operations. And while Winkley feels that the process "has gone a lot better that I had hoped," and that pilots have accepted it, Foose said that the RAA organization is unsatisfied with how the first officer requirement rulemaking process has been conducted.

"We are really disappointed that this rule-making activity is taking so long," Foose said. "Unfortunately, until that rule is finalized, it disenfranchises young people out there either in an academic program or who are contemplating going through those academic programs. So that's really a key issue for the students, and of course other stakeholders, not only the airlines, but also the communities that really rely on service from regional airlines."

"We are very dependent today on the FAA completing their new rule-making activity, and hopefully it will recognize that flight time is really an arbitrary metric for determining whether a pilot has the knowledge to fly professionally and safely," Foose summed up. "So we believe that the FAA has in its hands a wealth of information, much of which was provided by the FOQ ARC, which will allow them really to define an academic credit system that will recognize how far academics will reach to developing a better pilot."

WATS & RAA Convention to Focus on Regulation Impact, Pilot Supply and Demand

This year's World Aviation Training Conference and Tradeshow (WATS), 16-18 April, and the Regional Airline Association’s (RAA) 2013 Annual Conference to be held May 6-9 in Montreal, Quebec will once again both cover the most vital and relevant topics related to air safety and operations, with this year's events highlighting the impact of Public Law 111-216, other pending regulations, and pilot supply and demand. The RAA's Flight Training Committee has developed the Regional Airline Pilot conference sessions to be featured at WATS.

Captain Scott Foose, the RAA's Senior VP for Operations and Safety, will moderate WATS/RATS Day 2 Session 5 – Regional Airline Pilot Supply, Public Laws, Rules & Training. Presenters will include Professor Kent Lovelace, Department of Aviation Chair, University of North Dakota, Captain Jim Winkley, VP for Flight Operations, American Eagle Airlines, Jason Griswold, Managing Director, Brown Aviation Lease and Captain Paul Preidecker, Chief Flight Instructor, Air Wisconsin Airlines.  

According to Foose, the WATS/RATS Day 1 Session 4 – The US Pilot Supply and Demand Nexus, will be an industry stakeholder panel comprised of the Industry Pilot Supply Work Group that has been working since last August to draw attention to the need for an in-depth and objective look at the issue of pilot supply and demand. This session will be moderated by the FAA's John Allen, with presenters including Captain Darrin Greubel, Manager of Line Operations for  ExpressJet Airlines; Dr. Tim Brady, Dean, College of Aviation, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; and Captain Paul Railsback, Director of Operations, Airlines for America (A4A).

Preidecker will moderate the Day 2 WATS/RATS Breakout Session II – Managing and Promoting Professionalism. Captain Alison Donway, Director of Operations for Horizon Air; Kenneth Byrnes, Chairman of ERAU's Flight Training Department; and Captain Dave Ryter, American Eagle Airlines, will present for this session.

"The RAA has been involved in WATS from not only a participation level, but also supporting the agenda development of the WATS program for a number of years," Foose said. "The conference is an excellent program that has a lot of value to regional airlines as well as other attendees."