Chuck Weirauch reports on the initial impact to the US ab initio training industry of the new F/O Airline Transport Pilot requirements.
In the third quarter 2014 edition of the Regional Airline Association (RAA)'s Regional Horizons quarterly publication, RAA President Roger Cohen stated that "those that deny a pilot shortage should join the Flat Earth Society." Anyone who studies the recently-released 2014 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook might also agree with Cohen. According to that report, there will be a global need for 533,000 new commercial airline pilots and 584,000 new maintenance technicians by 2033, or approximately 27,000 new commercial airline pilots and 29,000 new maintenance technicians globally.
For those would-be commercial pilots in the US, this information might be the final factor towards making their decision to pursue just that career. But it is still anyone's guess now just how much of a de-railing factor what is known in the US airline industry as the "1500-hour rule to First Officer ATP" requirement will be in discouraging potential new students from beginning a commercial ab initio flight training program.
Measuring the Effects According to Kent Lovelace, chairman of the Department of Aviation at the University of North Dakota (UND), the latest results of a study of how the new FAA First Officer ATP requirements may have affected student enrollments in pursuit of a commercial pilot career were published in the 2012 report An Investigation of the United States Airline Pilot Supply. He was a co-author of the document, which stated that 8.53 percent of 1,600 future pilots at 40 aviation institutions surveyed were not seeking a career as an airline pilot due to the new ATP requirements. An additional 32.54 percent were reconsidering such a career because of the new rules, the report elaborated. This survey was conducted in cooperation with the University Aviation Association (UAA) and the Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI).
"This study was done before the ATP final rule came out and was done under an NPRM," Lovelace pointed out. "So we are trying to see if those numbers have changed, but we have not even started the new survey yet. The new study would be done through UAA and AABI as before and duplicate it."
One indication that the ATP rule impact might not be that severe, at least at UND, are that this year approximately the same number of freshmen and transfer students have enrolled in the Department of Aviation's Commercial Aviation degree program as in 2013. Another is that 75 percent of the student population surveyed in December 2013 said that they are interested in an airline career, as opposed to just 50 percent a year earlier.
According to AABI president Gary Northam, the main impact of the FAA First Officer requirement on colleges and universities is that it has detained the flight instructors at their CFI positions, and that they are still having to stay at their institutions until their flight hours re built up.
"As a group of collegiate programs, we are still trying to assess where the FAA will finally be on it, and if there is a possible way to have some changes to it or not," Northam said. "Some of us are also working on the new rule for the air carrier training ARC working group from a college standpoint. But we are not sure what kind of ultimate impact it will have and also we are not sure how it will fit into the predicted pilot shortage either. It is kind of a wait and see at this point, and we are looking at different things,
"From a recruiting standpoint, I think that the colleges are saying that it is not going to work as a recruiting tool because it means two or three more years that instructors will have before they can start making money in their job as an airline pilot," Northam summed up. "Overall, people still think that airline industry and the airline jobs are very good jobs over the lifetime of the careers. But the 1500-hour rule is not helping us recruit."
Tougher ATP Rule Yet tougher ATP requirements went into effect as of August 1 this year. Under FAR 61.156, ATP candidates must now graduate from an FAA-approved ATP Certification Training Program (CTP) course that includes a minimum of 30 hours of classroom instruction that covers a variety of aviation and airline topics, as well as 10 hours in a FSTD, before taking the written ATP exam. At least six of the simulator hours must be in a Level C (full-motion) simulator that replicates a multi-engine turbine airplane with a maximum takeoff weight of more than 40,000 pounds, or approximately that of a regional jet airliner. Since not that many colleges and universities, or flight schools for that matter, have such FFS capability, this new requirement could cause additional problems.
As of September, Embry- Riddle Aeronautical University at Daytona Beach, FL reported that it was the only aviation institution in the US that had an ATP-CTP course available to its students. According to ERAU's Flight Department chair Ken Byrnes, the university had just started teaching the course during that month. It has also taken the university nearly a year to gain FAA approval of this course.
The ATP-CTP course is considered as the Flight Department's capstone course, and is conducted in ERAU's Level D CRJ 200 FFS and in its Level 6 CRJ 200 FTD. The ATP-CTP course is Line-Orientated Flight Training (LOFT)-based, is only available to degree-program students and is the culmination of a 1,400-hour training program.
While the university's aviation programs operate under the FAA-approved restricted ATP requirements, students often stay on to earn additional flight hours towards their ATP certification requirements as CFIs. Byrnes reported that enrollments have been steady for the past two years, with about 1,200 aeronautical science students and a 3 to 5 percent increase over the last year.
"The turnover for instructor pilots is tremendous," Byrnes added. "We lost over half of workforce in the last year - 80 CFIs. Whenever you see that, students are more motivated to get their CFIs. I think that this motivates them to stay in the program."
Just what additional effect the new ATP-CTP requirement will have on the number of new pilot candidates entering commercial pilot education and training programs, or whether airlines or flight schools will ultimately be including it in their training curricula, are unknown factors at this point. Hank Coates, Aerosim Flight Academy's VP and executive director, thinks that it is just too early to say.
"We do have an ATP-CTP program that we have submitted for final FAA approval," Coates reported. "I think that in the short run it may be beneficial for us to have that program. But it is just too dynamic an environment for us to predict the impact of the ATP-CTP rule right now."
Cost the Main Factor While Coates does not agree with the 1500-hour rule, he also does not feel that it is the primary reason why more potential commercial airline students are not enrolling in training programs for that long-term career, nor really the cost. Rather, it is the inability for those potential candidates to find adequate funding resources for their education, he related.
"I think that the students are out there, I think that they want to come," Coates elaborated. "I think that the real issue is not the cost or that they don't want to come. I just think the real issue is that there are not adequate financing sources to get the money. The kids are there, they want to be pilots, but they just can't get that cost for training. We also seen more interest on the domestic side, but for every one that we can get financing for, we have to turn away ten. It has improved a little bit in the past few months, as we have found financial institutions that are willing to work with us. But it is still very, very tight."
While pilot pathway agreements and some airline scholarships are either available now or in the works for students, these efforts do not address the student funding issue upfront, Coates stated. And until the major airlines get involved, the pockets for student education are not deep enough, so there has to be an industry-wide holistic solution that includes the majors.
"And until it gets painful for them (the major airlines), it's going to be difficult to get everybody onboard with solving the main problem, which is financing sources for training for these students to get there," Coates summed up. "The regionals by themselves can't solve the problem. It has to be the flight training institutions, whether you are talking about a four-year school or an academy, and then you have got to get the majors involved. Otherwise, it's just not going to work."
Fixing the Problem As far as Cohen is concerned, the pilot supply issue has become the number one game-changer for the airline industry. That is because both large and small US airports have suffered major cuts in service due to the shortage. The aviation industry-developed advocacy organization Take Flight Tomorrow - described as a coalition of stakeholders working together to repair the pilot supply pipeline and prevent additional losses to scheduled airline service - as of September has released a list of 86 US communities that have already lost 10 percent or more of their scheduled airline departures, with more such loss anticipated this year.
According to the RAA, these airport and community service losses are directly related to the implementation of the 1,500-hour rule. Cohen stated that the rule "has severed the pilot supply pipeline," and has "disrupted student pilots' career paths by taking them out of that structured environment and forcing them to go get time the cheapest and easiest way possible, which is not really the best training for an airline environment."
According to Cohen, Take Flight Tomorrow is designed to "repair the severed pilot supply pipeline" by allowing graduates of commercial aviation programs to be able to continue and proceed along their career path to become airline pilots, like they were before so that they can begin their airline career.
“Most of these graduates have come out with 400 to 600 hours of flight time and have proven that that they can be the best airline pilots," Cohen said. "So what we are urging everyone to do is to make their voices heard, let Congress know to tell the FAA to use the authority it already has - go back and look at the credit that is currently available at these great training programs and give it the appropriate level as recommended by the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Board initially. This is so that that we are not sending every one of these young people back to the drawing board before they can even begin interviewing for an airline job."
Meanwhile, the RAA has developed its Pilot Supply Taskforce. RAA members of this effort are working with aviation training academies, colleges and universities to create and further develop bridge and pathway programs with airlines so that students can be assured of gaining interviews with the airlines. The Taskforce effort also involves working with elementary and high schools to provide educational programs that project more knowledge of aviation, and describing the career as an aviation pilot as one that is attractive and rewarding.
"And on the back end, we're trying to do as much within our control, as much as we can in our industry to make the compensation and the benefits as attractive as we can, given the constraints of not just the business environment, but more importantly the collective bargaining agreements that cover so many of the properties," Cohen summed up. "Like any complex problem, this didn't happen overnight, and it won't be fixed in a day. There is no one single magic bullet solution. But the RAA, our Taskforce and the industry coalition are trying to address holistically as many of the issues that we can influence at this point in time."