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The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has denied Republic Airways’ controversial request to be exempt from federal pilot training qualifications and experience requirements for students enrolled in the airline’s private flight academy.
The Indianapolis-based airline was seeking regulatory approval to allow its Leadership In Flight Training (LIFT) Academy graduates to obtain their pilot’s licenses with only 750 flying hours, rather than the currently required 1,500 flying hours. Essentially, the graduates would apply for a restricted airline transport pilot certificate with the same reduced flying experience as military or ex-military pilots.
However, after reviewing Republic Airways’ proposal, the FAA “determined that the airline’s new training program does not provide an equivalent level of safety as the regulation requiring 1,500 hours of flight experience before a pilot may work for an airline.”
Republic Airways’ exemption request, made in April of this year, was an attempt to combat the ongoing pilot shortage, which the airline believes was made worse when the FAA in 2013 enacted the rule that all pilots flying for a Part 121 airline have a minimum of 1,500 hours. The FAA was directed by Congress to implement this rule — as part of Public Law 111-216, which was passed by Congress in August 2010 — in an effort to address the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations regarding the fatal February 2009 crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407.
Charles E. Schumer, U.S. Senator for New York, said in a Sept. 19 statement that “since these safety laws were enacted, not a single major U.S. airline has had a fatal crash, and I will never let us turn back the clock.”
Numerous pilot unions also voiced their disapproval of Republic’s exemption request. Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) president, Capt Joe DePete, issued a statement following the FAA’s decision, stating it’s “a huge win for aviation safety and for the flying public.”
ALPA is the largest airline pilot union in the world, representing more than 65,000 pilots at 40 U.S. and Canadian airlines.
“We opposed with our full weight this exemption request and will do so with any other efforts that seek to evade, undermine, weaken, or repeal first officer qualification, experience, and training requirements,” added DePete.
He also noted that the FAA’s 1,500-flying-hour rule has reduced aviation fatalities by 99.8 percent since it was implemented.
Republic Airways CEO Bryan Bedford shared that the airline was “disappointed, but not surprised” that its exemption request to the FAA “was not met with the review and engagement it deserves.”
The airline opened its LIFT Academy in May 2018, with the goal “to transform the standard pilot training model into one that is more widely attainable and attractive.”
The airline itself has a fleet of 200 Embraer 170/175 aircraft, operating nearly 1,000 flights per day under its airline partners American Eagle, Delta Connection, and United Express.