The impact of the new ATP rule.

IT’S ALREADY HAPPENING. The so-called ATP rule took effect August 1. The impact on the industry-including those who train up-and-coming professional pilots—is apparent now.

Enacted in August 2010 in response to the February 2009 Colgan Air accident, Public Law 111-216 has significant ramifications for anyone contemplating an airline career track.

Of special note are Sections 216 and 217 of the law. Section 216 requires that all FAR Part 121 pilots hold an ATP certificate. Section 217 allows for a reduction in the minimum 1,500 flight hours required for an ATP certificate based upon academic course work. The FAA’s final rule, issued in early July, has three provisions that allow for a reduction in hours for the ATP: Military aviators could earn the certificate with as few as 750 hours; graduates of certain four-year aviation degree programs would be able to get that ATP with 1,000 hours of flight time; graduates of certain two-year degree programs would need 1,250 hours. Curiously absent is any reference to aviation academies that focus exclusively on flight training and time building.

Also required is at least 50 hours of multiengine time and a lengthy and potentially expensive ATP-specific course. Additionally, a second-in-command for airline operations will be required to have an aircraft type rating.

At this point there is little guidance pertaining to academic course content or the ATP-specific program syllabus. Nor is there any policy for timing. What of the graduate who exits an aviation program at age 20, defers entering the ranks of professional aviation for a decade while tending to the family construction business, and then applies to the airlines at age 30?

The law’s ramifications already are being felt throughout academia, prompting academics from the University of North Dakota (UND) and the University of Nebraska-Omaha to take a hard look in a study titled, An Investigation of the United States Airline Pilot Supply. In that work, “1,410 respondents answered the questions of how the new ATP requirement and 1,500 hours to fly as a first officer had affected their career aspirations.” One hundred twelve (7.9 percent) indicated that they had changed their mind about pursuing an airline flying career, and 469 (33.3 percent) indicated that they were thinking twice.

UND’s Kent Lovelace, chairman of the department of aviation, says the rule has caused some students to pursue a different career track. “These changes will likely contribute to a projected shortage of up to 35,000 pilots over the next 20 years or so, starting two or three years from now.”

Gerry Fairbairn is director of the aviation studies division at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. “The new requirements probably scare some of them away, but for the students who are serious about a career in aviation, I think they find the forecast demand for pilots that has been publicized heavily during the discussion of this rule outweighs the negative impact of the increased flight time requirement.

Right now, the number of students that have deposited and registered for the fall of 2013 is up significantly over what it has been for the last several years.” But, Fairbairn speculates that “having a large number of pilots trying to build time as flight instructors is likely to keep flight instructor pay depressed.”

At Purdue University, Associate Professor of Aviation Technology Larry Gross says, “We have noticed that some of our students in the professional pilot program have indicated that they are considering changing their career objective of pursuing a professional flying career with the airlines because of the ATP requirement. We have seen a reduction in our enrollment for the flight program the last two to three years. It is difficult to determine if this is due to the ATP requirement, the high cost of pilot training, or the economic conditions. I suspect it is a combination of all of these issues.”

Northwest Michigan College Director of Aviation Aaron Cook says, “The new first officer requirements have not adversely impacted our enrollment, which has increased 30 to 40 percent over last year, and the existing students have not reacted negatively. What we are really talking about is an extra year of flight instruction, banner towing, or charter flying. I think we can all say that it increases experience and allows for another year of professional advancement to handle the very unique issues airline pilots face today.”

Mark Willette, associate director of aeronautics at Jacksonville University, says he hasn’t seen a change in students’ positions on career choices as a result of the ATP rule. “Most students I have spoken with are of the opinion that, once the adverse manifestations of the rule are felt, commercial carriers will press for a modification of the legislation.

If the rule stands as published, the travelling public will be adversely affected.”

Juan Merkt, director and associate professor of aeronautics at the university, is working to take the sting out of the rule’s impact by positioning the school as a good place to be because of its direct track relations with carriers such as ExpressJet, Cape Air, and JetBlue.

It’s not yet clear how the ATP rule will reverberate through the flight lines at the nation’s aviation collegiate programs.

There was a time you could not even get a resume through the door at Air Wisconsin or other regional airlines without 2,000 hours of total time and 500 hours of multi. We did it then.

We can probably do it now if commitment and financial resources hold out.

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