FAA Denies Republic’s Proposed Exemption from 1,500-hr Rule

 - September 19, 2022, 3:32 PM
A Republic Airways Embraer E170 prepares to take off from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport in 2018. (Flickr: Creative Commons (BY-SA) by airlines470)

The FAA on Monday denied Indianapolis-based Republic Airways' request for an exemption to the rule that requires 1,500 hours of flying time for air transport first officers. In its ruling, the FAA found that Republic’s proposal for a 750-flight-hour threshold as part of its in-house training program would fail to provide an equivalent level of safety and not serve the public interest.

Republic Airways, which flies under code-share agreements with Delta, United, and American Airlines, petitioned the FAA to allow first officers who graduated from its Leadership in Flight Training Academy (LIFT) to apply for a restricted air transport pilot (R-ATP) with the same reduced flight hour requirement afforded to military or ex-military pilots. In its April filing, Republic stated that its R-ATP program resembles U.S. military training “by providing comprehensive and structured training for civilian pilots through training that satisfies the spirit of regulations while enhancing safety and providing a benefit to the public.”

Along with virtually every regional airline in the U.S., Republic Airways has encountered difficulty hiring enough pilots to fill its capacity needs, effectively forcing it to cut service to small and medium-sized communities.

Regional airlines attribute the shortage of pilots largely to the 2010 rule that arose from the fatal crash of a Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 near Buffalo, New York, a year earlier. Forty-nine people died in the crash, which the National Transportation Safety Board blamed on the pilots’ improper response to a stall warning. Even though the captain and first officer each had accumulated 3,379 and 2,244 hours, respectively, the politically charged rule change included an increase in the flight time requirement for new hires from 250 to 1,500 hours.  

In its petition, Republic cited a need to commit to “diversity, equity, and inclusion” among pilot ranks as one reason the exemption would serve the public interest. The airline asserted that its LIFT program provides a cost-effective means of flight training and access to a large pool of students including those from underrepresented minority groups. In particular, Republic provided figures detailing the combined costs of flight training and tuition at private university programs, public university programs, and the Republic program, estimating those costs to total $219,600, $171,333, and $75,000, respectively.

Perhaps more to the point, the airline also contends that the exemption would provide a service to the public by satisfying continuing commercial aviation demand, specifically in small communities that rely on commercial aviation services.

Republic noted that its program better prepares its ATPs for Republic’s initial qualification than outside vendors and that its analysis shows the LIFT training produces more than an equivalent level of safety as military training. The FAA disagreed with the assertion, however.  

“The FAA finds that the supporting materials and LIFT historical data does not sufficiently support Republic’s claim that the Republic R-ATP Program is sufficiently comparable to the training program of a military branch to warrant a reduction in flight hours,” said the FAA in its ruling. “Specifically, while Republic provides the overarching structure of its training program, the FAA does not find that the curriculum facilitates the rigorous and comprehensive training reflected in military training.”

In its refusal to grant Republic’s request, the FAA deemed an exemption an inappropriate vehicle with which to determine the suitability of the proposed flight-hour reduction. The agency also disagreed with the assertion that a reduction in flight hour requirements would address a “perceived” pilot shortage, calling the argument “overly simplistic” and an unsuitable avenue to address operators’ hiring difficulties.