There's a renewed push for apprenticeship programs in the U.S., one supporters say can address a shortage of skilled workers and the financial burden on young people today.
It was nearly four years ago that Colgan Air flight 3407 from New Jersey crashed on its way to Buffalo, N.Y. All 49 passengers and crew were killed. Accident investigators blamed pilot error, and calls mounted for stricter oversight of regional airlines. As a result, new regulations for pilots are set to take effect beginning next summer. No one is against enhancing air travel safety, but some aviation experts are concerned the rules are too strict and could contribute to a severe pilot shortage. Pilots unions argue the situation is not that dire. Diane and her guests discuss new rules for pilots and the implications for airlines and travelers.
- Roger Cohen president, Regional Airline Association.
- Andy Pasztor senior special writer for The Wall Street Journal, specializing in aviation and space.
- Captain Lee Moak president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. New federal aviation safety rules for pilots are said to be phased in beginning next year. They'll require newly-hired pilots to have higher experience levels and all pilots to have longer rest periods. At the same time, many senior pilots will be turning 65, the age of mandatory retirement. Some argue U.S. airlines could face the worst pilot shortage in decades.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about how air travelers and the industry could be affected: Capt. Lee Moak of the Air Line Pilots Association, International and Roger Cohen of the Regional Airline Association. Joining us from an NPR studio in Los Angeles, Andy Pasztor of The Wall Street Journal. You're invited to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
CAPT. LEE MOAKGood morning.
MR. ROGER COHENGood morning.
MR. ANDY PASZTORAnd good morning from Los Angeles.
REHMAnd, Andy Pasztor, I'd like to start with you out there in Los Angeles. Explain for us these new rules going to be taking effect next summer concerning pilot experience.
PASZTORThe new rules will require all new co-pilots that will be hired to have at least 1,500 hours of flying experience and to be at least 23 years old. And to put this into a little context, the industry has had cycles of pilot shortages over the years and over the decades. But I think there is a growing consensus that this time it's different because there are so many factors coming together.
PASZTORIt's not just the new regulations that could cause a problem and many people think are likely to cause a problem. The allure of becoming a commercial pilot, the number of people going into the pipeline from the start is a significantly smaller number. The number of applicants is significantly smaller than it has been for many years, therefore...
REHMAnd why is that?
PASZTORWell, I think partly because of the pay at some regional airlines, partly because of demographic factors that they're just less interested in aviation. It's quite a complicated issue. And many people have different, you know, ideas about it, but I think that there are -- there's less interest among young people in aviation than there has been. So in the pipeline, fewer people going in, harder to find people to hire in the middle, and as you very well said, Diane, at the end of the pipeline, tens of thousands of veteran pilots will be retiring over the next decade.
REHMAnd I gather that is because of a mandatory retirement age of 65. Now, how many do we expect to fall over that cliff, if you will?
PASZTORNumbers vary all over the place, and the union, I think, has its own numbers. Our -- my colleagues and I looked at this, and we think that there could be as many as 43,000 pilots between now and 2020 that will be retiring because they reach the mandatory age of 65.
REHMCapt. Lee Moak, how do you see it?
MOAKWell, first, the good news, actually the great news is we absolutely do not have a pilot shortage today. We have the best educated, the best trained, the most experienced pilots in the world. They come out of the United States. And actually, to the contrary, we have thousands of our members that are currently furloughed and out of work for a sundry of reasons. And we have thousands of other United States' pilots that are now flying overseas, and they're flying overseas, again, for other reasons. But I would point to the primary reason that these overseas carriers are paying them appropriately.
MOAKThey're paying them appropriately for their education, their training and their experience. And if there's any problem we have in the future, it's going to be a pay problem, not a pilot shortage problem because these pilots want to be flying in their home country, the United States.
REHMWhat about Andy's point that you've got so many about to retire and that you are increasing the number of hours that brand-new pilots have to have had before they can be hired by the airlines?
MOAKWell, two important but distinct issues, the first one on the number of hours. On the number of hours, we went through a process with government, industry and labor to say, what do we need for that co-pilot to be qualified in the cockpit to ensure that this is a safe operation going forward? We didn't do that for fun. We went through a process. And what we came up with is it's not just quantity of time. It's quality of time.
MOAKAnd so they've made allowances for that, 1,500 hours or based on your experience, if you were trained in the military, perhaps 750, or our U.S. aviation schools, the best in the world, 1,000. So the 1,500 number, I think, takes -- is not represented properly. On the retirement issue, again, a little bit of a very complicated issue. Mandatory retirement was changed a few years ago. Now it's at 65.
MOAKRetirement is complex in aviation world because pilots have to go through, after age 40, two comprehensive physicals a year. It's not just a random point. It's actually the Federal Aviation Administration said, hey, how can we continue to be safe? We've chosen -- again, this -- we went through this process and, as a comparative, ended up at 65. But as a comparative, U.S. park rangers, mandatory retirement, 57, air traffic controllers, mandatory retirement at 56, FBI agents, mandatory retirement at 57.
MOAKAnd I think what gets missed on the retirement age is what goes into that, these complex, very comprehensive physicals. So, again, I don't think we know -- I know we don't have a shortage now and these issues are complicated, but I don't believe we'll have a shortage in the future here.
REHMCapt. Lee Moak, he's president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International. And now, turning to you, Roger Cohen, as president of the Regional Airline Association, I gather the smaller regional airlines could be among the most affected.
COHENWell, you know, thank you very much, Diane. It's a real pleasure to be on with you and my good friend, Lee and Andy. I want to underscore what Capt. Moak said. We don't have a shortage. Today...
COHENToday we -- absolutely, it's now. It a matter...
REHMWe're -- I've heard that. We're not talking about now.
COHENNo. Today. And -- but we do think that the spotlight on this issue really does bring in to play something that all of us in aviation need to be focused on, which is we've all kind of beaten up on it over the years, and we've made it a much less alluring profession. And we all bear responsibility for that -- the airlines, the employees themselves. Frankly, you know, we have a deregulated industry right now, and the consumer is getting an incredible break.
COHENWe have tremendous service. You can get one stop anywhere from almost any place in this country to any place across the globe. And we have, most importantly, the safest system we've ever had -- knock on wood -- the safest system. But who's borne the brunt of that? It's really the people in the industry and the airline companies themselves who've never been able to really, you know, earn the kind of profit that would keep any other business sustainable.
COHENSo everything that's been said here today, I think we agree with. But we do appreciate the fact that it has shined a spotlight on the importance of regional aviation because you said those smaller carriers, well, that's kind of yesterday's news. Today regional airlines fly one-half of all the scheduled flights in the United States. And three-quarters of the cities with any service in this country have service exclusively from regional airlines.
REHMAnd what I meant by smaller was obviously smaller planes going into areas, as you say, that would otherwise either not be served at all or be underserved. Andy Pasztor, what about the new rule that's going to require pilots to have more rest?
PASZTORThat also, Diane, will increase the number of pilots necessary to keep the current schedules, and of course, additional pilots for growth. The estimate is it'll require about 5 percent more pilots in the entire system. But I'd like to get back to the shortage issue because I agree with what your two guests in the studio there have said. There isn't an immediate shortage, but I do think that the situation is different from the past.
PASZTORAnecdotally, you're already starting to see some small cargo airlines with small planes having trouble attracting enough pilots. And ExpressJet, one of Roger's members, a regional airline, has hired about 800 pilots over the past two years. And their officials say that only half of them at the time -- this was in the summer -- only half of them actually met the experience requirements and the age requirements. So it's not just a theoretical discussion.
PASZTORThe FAA, Embry-Riddle University, which is one of the leading aeronautical academic institutions in the U.S., and other organizations have been holding meetings and really talking about a different way to get enough pilots. So I would say that the situation is certainly not dire today, but there are signs that unless the industry and government tries to do something different, we really will face a pretty tight situation in the coming years.
REHMAnd when you say different, what do you mean?
PASZTORWell, that's --- that has been discussed for some time now. I think the hope is, at least among some FAA officials and perhaps some airline officials as well, is that there will be some additional federal support, either low-cost loans or perhaps some tax credits for airlines to help in training young would-be pilots to get into the cockpit. Unfortunately, given our budget situation and the political situation, this has been all very general.
PASZTORAnd there haven't been any specific proposals.
REHMAndy Pasztor of The Wall Street Journal. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, we're talking about what could become an airline pilot shortage in the next few years, unless the government and the airlines work together. Here in the studio, Richard -- sorry -- Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association, and Capt. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International. On the line with us from Los Angeles is Andy Pasztor.
REHMHe's senior special writer for The Wall Street Journal, specializing in aviation and space. And, Andy, I have to tell you that both my guests here in the studio and they say everybody else was particularly concerned about the headline in The Wall Street Journal proclaiming an acute shortage of pilots. Do you stand by that word?
PASZTORAcute can be understood in many different ways. I think the point the story was trying to make is that there really is a major issue here that people need to deal with. I've gotten a tremendous amount of email on the stories that my colleagues and I wrote. And the -- one of the funnier ones, which I should share with you, is I got this morning. Someone said: If there aren't enough bucks, there won't be enough Buck Rogers.
PASZTORAnd I mean, I think the economics of the situation really, really cut to the heart of the matter, except for the fact that in this industry, creating pilots, producing pilots is a long -- it takes a long time. It takes two, three, four years, sometimes longer so -- to get to point where they can fly commercially. So it's a question of being able to make some changes now that could influence what happens years from now.
PASZTORYou can't solve this issue or ameliorate this issue in a couple of months. It's a long-term question, and I'm afraid that, at least from my perspective, I don't see enough focus on specific proposals to try to deal with it at this point.
REHMI was rather surprised to learn that the average salary for a new pilot, at least reportedly, is $25,000 and for a regional carrier less than $18,000. That seemed to me, Andy, a rather low income for someone who has a pretty significant responsibility for the lives of others.
PASZTORWell, certainly, Diane, for the regional side of the industry, under 25 is, I think, the norm for starting pilots at most regional airlines. There's been an equilibrium over the years. Essentially, there's been enough people interested in getting into the profession even at those low -- relatively low salaries and give it -- given the huge loans that many of these pilots have to pay off once they get hired, there have been enough people willing to do it.
PASZTORAnd I think, as Roger said, the allure is not what it was years ago, and so that's one of the central questions that some experts are trying to think about: How do you energize and increase interest among young people in becoming pilots?
MOAKFirst off, there's a lot of allure to be in an airline pilot. Many of your listeners would love to be airline pilots out there, so that's hogwash. The second...
REHMI don't think it's appropriate to call what another guest says hogwash.
MOAKI didn't mean like that, but I mean...
REHMI really don't.
MOAKWell, I apologize for that.
REHMYou may disagree...
REHM...but you don't have to describe it...
MOAKWell -- then I take that back.
MOAKAnd how I'd like to say it is being an airline pilot, and I think it's an incredible profession...
REHMI'm sure you do.
MOAK...and the responsibility there, like you pointed out, is an incredible responsibility. And our members and all the pilots out there, they like their jobs. And for someone who's not an airline pilot to say that their jobs aren't good anymore, which is what I was hearing here, there's no allure, your job is no good, maybe I was a little sensitive on that. But I would like to step you through an airline pilot for a minute.
MOAKAnd how I would like to step you through is if you go out one, two and three years from now, you know, the reality is a little bit what Andy is saying, OK? You go to college, and, you know, it's not just in the airline industry. You go to college, and you're going middle class, perhaps less than that. You're going to incur student loans. You come out of college, and you've got your certification so that you can be an airline pilot.
MOAKPeople want to be airline pilots. And then now, there's a little competition in the marketplace because what we do is we do have the best schools. We do have the best training in the world. We do have the best safety record. And that will continue. We're focused on it. But we now have foreign carriers in a global marketplace that's coming in and saying, hey, I want to hire you to come to my country and fly.
MOAKNow, they would rather fly here. They're from here. It's their home. But they're going overseas because of market-based competition for these pilots. That's number one. The second thing -- and I think you brought it up and you illustrated it quite well, Diane -- how do you inspect someone to pay off their $100,000 student loans when they don't even have a livable wage at some of these companies?
MOAKAnd then I want to make one very important point here is we don't have a mainline carrier. Nobody is saying mainline carriers. We'll have a shortage in the future. And you know why? Because they pay. They pay commensurate with the training, the education, the experience of these pilots. So over at the example that Andy gave of Exjet where they were having a little difficulty, well, let's be clear. There's thousands of pilots that would like to fly there, but at that airline and others, they're not paying appropriate wages.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Mary who says my son is a graduate of a four-year degree program in aviation flight operations from Daniel Webster College, currently working as a flight instructor in order to accumulate the hours necessary for employment by the airlines. How will these new requirements affect him as a graduate of such a program and not just from a flight school? Are there different requirements depending on the kind of preparation new pilots have received? Roger?
COHENWell, I think that -- I think what I would tell that student we're underscoring everything that Capt. Moak said. This is a tremendous profession. It's -- being an airline pilot is an incredibly difficult thing to do. They're incredibly professional at every level in the industry. I was actually, you know, what I would tell that individual is stick with it because over your career you are going to be able to recoup better that original investment, and it is a lot.
COHENAnd I know so many of these young people and so many of their parents. You're going to be able to recoup that investment. The return on investment -- I was just handed some statistics just recently that it's better than becoming a teacher, becoming a lawyer, even becoming a doctor...
COHEN...over the course of a career.
REHMHere is an email from Carole who identifies herself as the spouse of a 28-year pilot veteran of the regional airline industry. She says: Pilots have fought for decades for new rules to prevent fatigue. Regional airline associations and executives want lax rules in order to have pilots on duty 14 to 16 hours a day. The rules are not too stringent if you want your flight crew to be rested and alert.
REHMAirlines knew this pilot shortage was coming but did nothing to prepare. The profession has been degraded to the point at not being worth the tens of thousands of personal dollars it takes to become a professional airline pilot. Andy, first talk about those rules as far as on duty and off duty.
PASZTORSure. The new rules -- and this -- your writer basically is trying to re-debate and fight again a fight that has essentially been settled. After many years and some very strong opposition from both regional airline association -- officials and the association and the mainline carriers, the new rules have been established. And it will require pilots to have more rest between their flying duties, essentially guaranteeing them, if you will, eight hours of actual rest instead of just eight hours off duty.
PASZTORAnd the FAA has followed the lead of science -- scientist in other countries in terms of adjusting pilot schedules based on the time of the day they fly, how many landings and takeoffs they have to execute and really tailoring schedules based on the body clock of the pilots and the time of day and the difficult -- basically the difficulty of their routes but...
REHMSo you're saying that this issue is now settled?
PASZTORI think for passenger airlines in the U.S., it's largely settled. They're still on debate about whether cargo airlines should abide by the same rules. The FAA has determined that they don't need to. And there's some debate about that and that probably will go on. But for commercial passenger carriers in the U.S., I think it's largely settled. But I'd like to go back to the point that your studio guest there made.
PASZTORI agree that pilots have an extremely difficult job, and, of course, there are many people who want to be pilots. But I would like to throw out two statistics that I think indicate that we're not just talking about theoretical problems here. The number of new pilots with what they call an airline transport, an ATP, the certificate that you need to fly commercially in the U.S., only about 3,000 of those are being produced each year, new ATPs that is. And that's less than almost a third of what we were producing 20 years ago. That's not a good trend.
PASZTORAnd Roger -- Mr. Cohen said this summer that there were about 1,800 people working for regional airlines at that time who couldn't meet the necessary standards under the new rules. So those are real statistics and those -- that's not theory. Those are, I think, actual issues that people are dealing with today.
MOAKThanks, Diane. I wanted to go back on an issue related to this. First off, on the flight and duty time rules, OK, those are science-based safety rules that we work with industry, labor and government. And we have settled for commercial airline pilots. We're still working to bring cargo pilots under one level of safety. So we're talking about safety there, and no one wants a less safe operation. There was a problem with fatigue during the rotations, once you left and you're flying from city to city. We've now addressed that for commercial pilots, not yet for cargo pilots.
COHENAnd if I could, Diane, it's important to -- we'll set the record straight. On those fatigue rules, the regional airlines have been leaders and supporting those rules that when the mainline carriers, cargo carriers, supplemental carriers kind of squawked about them, we recognized that this needed to be done. We stepped up. In addition to the stepping up, we've actually -- conducting our own studies on fatigue to help prevent any fatigue in the future.
REHMRoger Cohen of the Regional Airline Association. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about Andy's point in regard to the number of new pilots certified? Go ahead, Capt. Moak.
MOAKThanks again. On the 1,500 hours, we took a good hard look at that, again, from a safety viewpoint, and we do our best work when industry, labor and government -- government setting up a process -- takes a look on how we're trying to qualify for co-pilots.
MOAKAnd we looked at that and said, if someone just goes out and takes off in a very small airplane in an airport in circles every day and gets 1,500 hours, that's not the same as perhaps someone who went through a aviation school -- University of North Dakota, Embry-Riddle, many others -- the training that they receive there, so -- or someone who goes into the military and learns to fly in the military with that training.
MOAKSo we took that, worked together in an aviation rule-making committee, collaborative effort and came up with this new safety-based rule. So again, it's not an arbitrary rule. It was safety-based.
REHMI don't think Andy is arguing about an arbitrary rule. I think he's simply talking about the number of new pilots certified, which is now about 3,000 each year, which represents one-third...
REHM...of what happened 20 years ago. So does that or does it not represent a shortage for the future?
MOAKIt does not and what gets missed in that statistic, OK, is, first off, all the pilots that are getting qualified and getting their hours up before their ATP, all are military-trained pilots, all are globally trained pilots. That gets left out. And remember, it's not 3,000 in, 3,000 out like he is suggesting. And again, the -- I believe and many experts believe that this is a market-based -- there's a market-based solution here that are...
REHMWhich is simply to raise salaries.
MOAKNo, it's not just to raise salaries. People will come into this profession, people will return to our country 'cause -- when I tell you, we have thousands of our highly trained pilots outside of the country right now.
REHMWhat about that, Andy? That point has been raised again and again that individuals who are fully trained are being hired by foreign airlines, and thereby, the U.S. is suffering the loss thereof.
PASZTORI think there's no doubt about that. I think that there are many pilots who are going overseas partly as a result of the cyclical nature of the industry. When there are furloughs and unpredictable ups and downs in the industry, many pilots get caught in those downdrafts, if you will, and look out elsewhere to get a more stable situation. So, yes, Capt. Moak is absolutely right. There are many pilots working overseas.
PASZTORI just -- I'm not sure how well and how effectively and how quickly the U.S. industry will be able to attract them to come back to the shores. I'd like to make -- to our shores. I'd like to make one other point to maybe further complicate this but hopefully not. Flight instructors are an important part of the system. They're the ones who teach young pilots, before they go to the airlines, how to fly, the basic elements of flying of -- in small planes -- sometimes single engine, sometimes multi engine, but still small planes.
PASZTORUnfortunately, the same trends that you see among pilots are happening among flight instructors. The number of new flight instructors per year who is certified by the FAA is also at least 50 percent less than it was 20 years ago. So, I mean, I understand the points that your guests are making, but the numbers are pretty stark, I would say.
REHMAll right. Andy Pasztor of The Wall Street Journal. When we come back, it's your turn to enter the conversation. Stay with us.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones. First, we'll go to Knightsville, Fla. Good morning, Carina. You're on the air.
CARINAHi, Diane. How are you?
CARINAHey, I'm a regional airline pilot. I've been flying for about eight years, and I just wanted to comment on some of the issues that you've been bringing up on your show this morning.
REHMSure. Go right ahead.
CARINAFirst of all, the eight-hour rest rule, that's something that we needed for years. And as an example, just this last trip that I had this weekend -- I'm a regional airline pilot for a local airline here in the States. And we had flown six legs all day, a 13-hour duty day, had to divert due to weather. And then we were told to fly the seventh leg coming up on a 15-hour duty day followed by exactly eight hours of rest.
CARINAIt's a long time coming that this is going to be a problem for us, and it's time to make changes. And people like my husband, who used to be a regional airline pilot, have left the industry. It's a pilot against management mentality. And it's just -- honestly, I think it's a terrible industry. And I'm on the verge of leaving myself.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Roger, do you want to comment?
COHENWell, I think we've got 18,000 tremendously professional pilots currently flying for regional airlines. There -- each one of them is, say, professional reliable that they have -- and we appreciate the service of their careers. That's why we work with them. We work with...
REHMBut you're avoiding what she's saying. She is talking about the number of hours...
COHENAnd then we...
REHM...she was directed to fly.
COHENThe rules are the rules. No airline has -- should, can go above those rules. That's...
REHMBut they do.
COHENNo, they don't. No, they don't.
REHMHow did that happen, Carina?
CARINAWe were -- we needed to divert due to weather. So, I mean, that's just part of the business. And the fact that -- I mean, we are allowed to call in fatigue, but it's really frowned upon. And even to this day with all the new rulings, it's still frowned upon. And honestly, when we found out that we had exactly eight hours to rest that night before we had to be back at the airport -- so by the time we got to our hotel room, we had less than 6 1/2 hours before we had to be back at the airport the next morning.
CARINAI just don't see how that's sufficient and how this is an industry that's going to attract people to come work for. I mean, it's really just the pilots against --labor against management mentality here. And it's, honestly, not a good place to work. I mean...
MOAKSo she's absolutely right. She's a professional commercial airline pilot. She's following the rules, broke no rules. But this is the very thing that we were talking about when industry, labor and government got together. We've now changed that. It's not in effect yet. We've actually addressed the very issue she's talking about where she, in this situation, would get eight hours behind her door so that she can be fully rested before her next flight.
MOAKThese will be taking effect. It's the thing that your other guest was complaining that we might have to have more pilots because we're letting other pilots rest. The bottom line is the government got involved. The RA supported on this also. And we've now taken care of that. It's not in effect. It's still being held up.
REHMHow soon will it be in effect?
MOAKThe last part of the litigation challenge is going through. But I do want to stress again that we didn't correct this for cargo or supplement -- we didn't correct it for cargo operations. We still need to do that.
REHMAndy Pasztor, do you want to comment?
PASZTORYes. I think the new rules will help precisely the situation. But I think it's a little disingenuous of the industry to say that they've been actively supporting this and working to change the rules. In fact, this has been a decades-long fight to change the rules to make them more scientifically based and essentially create a safer system.
PASZTORI would tell your listeners that today in regional airlines flying in the U.S., it's -- I would say not common, but it's certainly possible and happens, I would say, almost every day that pilots essentially work until late in the night or maybe early in the morning. Perhaps they get to their airport 1 or 2 in the morning in their last flight and then only have a few hours to rest. These are called stand-up overnights. They actually sometimes sleep in the planes or in the terminal or in -- on a room that the airline provides.
PASZTORAnd they have only a few hours before they can -- they start flying again in the next morning. Now, they get their eight hours of rest after their morning flights are completed. But the point is this has been a major safety issue that people have known about for many, many years. And it took a tremendous fight to get the rules changed so that those kinds of schedules no longer will be allowed once the new rules kick in.
REHMAll right. To Hyannis, Mass. Hi there, David.
DAVIDHi, Diane. I'm a training captain from a large regional airline. I love my job, by the way. I just wanted to let your listeners know that it is still a very fun job. I, too, am concerned by a duress of new pilots. And contrary to what one of your guests has argued, I believe that the somewhat arbitrary nature of the 1,500-hour requirement may, in fact, create the problem. I believe that Andy Pasztor in The Wall Street Journal pointed out that the hours requirement may drive some carriers to overlook weaknesses in a pilot's background in favor of hours.
REHMGo ahead, Capt. Moak.
MOAKOK. Great. I'd just like to take us back a minute, so...
MOAKNo. But this...
REHMDirectly to his point.
MOAKNo, on the question. Absolutely. Sorry.
MOAKSo I want to -- another way to say it is, before we have the 1,500 rule, what we've had happening is we're going to have co-pilots coming to the cockpit who had very few hours, had minimum hours. And sometimes they had to pay for their training, so they would incur a debt to the airline to pay for their training, a training bond.
REHMIt's like a company store?
MOAKRight. So that's -- what we're doing here is we're -- we are in the process of correcting that, meaning, someone is not going to come in who's not fully qualified into the right seat as a first officer, as a co-pilot in the airline because, as a traveling public, as a passenger, you deserve two highly trained professionals up in the flight deck.
PASZTORYes. I think the 1,500 hours, as we've talked about before, was a reaction by Congress to some previous problems, including the Colgan crash, but other regional crashes prior to that. I think the point that we should be talking about is, in fact, the FAA agrees with Capt. Moak and is trying to promote -- promulgate some rules which would give certain pilots, military pilots as we've talked about, pilots who come out of academic institutions or special training -- flight training academies, to give them the chance to fly commercially without the 1,500 hours.
PASZTORBut unfortunately, it's not at all clear that those rules will become effective in time. So as the system currently stands, unless the FAA acts quickly and effectively, the congressional mandate of 1,500 hours for everyone will stay in effect. And I do believe it will create problems in finding enough pilots, and it may not be the best way to find the best pilots. That's really the point. But unless the FAA act, there will be no other choice for the industry except to follow these congressional micromanagement mandates as many critics would say.
COHENDiane, if I can get back to the caller directly...
COHEN...because that question was spot-on, and I agree totally with it. And it really underscores the arbitrary nature of 1,500 hours. We wanted to get -- that group that Capt. Moak talked about, that was chaired by the Regional Airline Association. The other record we want to set straight is that these new rules, that when they do take effect next Aug. 2 of 2013, every single pilot will -- who is flying will have been trained, will have the hours, will have all the certificates, will have all of the licenses. They will -- every single person flying, every passenger can be assured, meets those new rules.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from an individual who identifies him or herself as a training captain at a regional airline, who says, "I applaud the attempt to increase training standards, but the solution Congress mandated does little to solve the underlying problem. Fifteen-hundred hours is arbitrary. Both pilots in the Colgan accident had more than that but the captain had a history of poor performance.
REHMA crash eerily similar to the Colgan crash resulted in the Pilots Record Improvement Act of '97 that required employers to be made aware of deficiencies in previous flying jobs. That and similar measures give you much more bang for the buck than some arbitrary number of hours.
COHENDiane, that is a great point. And you want to know why? That is now in law because the regional airline presidents met with then Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Dorgan -- and I was in the room -- Senate Aviation Committee chairman, and said we need to do this so that no one -- no pilot who has a bad training record that might have been outside the airline industry should be able to slip through the cracks...
REHMHow did it happen?
COHENBecause there isn't -- there had never been a single database of pilots, of training records that the FAA maintains. The FAA keeps records. When you start training, the FAA has the records of it. When you start training as an airline pilot, FAA has all those records. Those two databases didn't talk to one another, and that was wrong and we called for the change.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Brattleboro, Vt. Chris, you're on the air.
CHRISGood morning. Thank you very much for taking my call.
CHRISI wanted to just chip in. One of the previous callers had mentioned -- I have family that are commercial airline pilots and friends that are regional airline pilots for, you know, the smaller regional airlines, and the conversation that we've had over holiday dinner over the years was -- has been about both the degradation in the pay and benefits over the last couple of decades. And it's gone to the point where my uncle who's been flying the longest has said that if he were starting over again, he wouldn't do it. And...
CHRIS...it, you know, it's -- I use to fly a lot for my job. I don't fly as much anymore as a passenger. And it worries me when my uncle says things like that.
REHMAll right. Andy.
PASZTORYes, I think that that's a very interesting and important point. If you talk to pilots, whether the regional airline pilots who work for the main carriers, the morale issue is a serious one. If you've had your benefits and your pay cut have been 50 percent in the past since 9/11, let's say, you're not a happy camper. And even if you love your job, it's not easy to deal with those kinds of issues as well as scheduling issues and other changes in livestock.
REHMAnd how many have had their pay cut in half, Andy?
PASZTORAs Capt. Moak very well knows, tens of thousands of pilots have had that happen to them.
REHMAnd why is that, Capt. Moak?
MOAKWell, since it's a highly regulated, deregulated industry, we've had 200 airlines going to bankruptcy, restructure since it was deregulated. Since 9/11, we've had many -- every major carrier basically has gone into bankruptcy and restructured and come out, and many of them have ceased operations. In fact, we just recently had two more...
REHMSo you've got to pay for -- so pay has been cut for pilots.
MOAKPay and benefits not just for pilots, all the employees, but it's been, you know, the pensions have been terminated. It has been a terrible situation. I believe a lot of it had to do with government policy, which I say a lot, but, you know, one thing I would like to talk about when we have a chance is go back to training because I think it's precisely what you were talking about earlier.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Bob in Heber Springs, Ark. Good morning, sir.
BOBGood morning to you, Diane. I appreciate you taking my call.
BOBI would just like to address one thing. The man that just spoke touched on it momentarily about the bankruptcies and so forth. The root cause -- what has caused the situation we have now in the airline industry is basic greed. After deregulation, a lot of the moneyed people came in and bought airlines, moved all of their assets into holding companies.
BOBThen they bankrupt the airline, which the airline was left as a shield. And so you have people that have been with airlines for as long as 30 years that wound up with no retirement. The only the retirement they have is the government insurance program on retirement that all airlines dump their retirement onto, which is a fraction of what they should have gotten.
REHMAndy, you've been studying the airlines for quite a while. To what extent would you agree that deregulation contributed heavily to the problems we're seeing today?
PASZTORWell, I would say that it's a moot today, and I think that that goes back decades in terms of deregulation. The problem that the airlines have today and have had since 9/11 and before 9/11 has to do with the way they're structured and their cost structure and also in terms of the growth in traffic that was projected that isn't -- didn't come to play and may not come to play.
PASZTORI would like to make one general point, which I think is really important -- that none of the three of us have not talked about. Despite the financial issues, despite the problems of potential shortages of pilots, the safety record of the U.S. airline industry has been unbelievably good, much better than many critics would have said, given all the pressures that they face.
PASZTORAnd so we should remember that during all of this discussion, since in the past, whatever you want to say, five or 10 years, the safety record of U.S. carriers, both regional airlines and major carriers, has never been better. It's world class. It's safer than it's ever been. It's at the top of the world, in fact, so I think that's important as a counterweight to all of the difficulties that we've outlined. The way that pilots who are flying today and have been flying for years, the way they performed has been fantastic.
REHMAll right. And one more point in an email, a suggestion. "Use flight simulators for training pilots in the skills they need and for assessing their skills. Hours of piloting do not assure exposure to the full range of challenges necessary for mastery of the skills required."
MOAKOK. So that's a great point, and it actually goes to the core problem we were talking about earlier on, training. If you go into the military, military training programs after just 250, 300 hours, they're landing on aircraft carriers, they're flying complex airplanes, they're transporting troops. They have outstanding training programs. When we get into the commercial aviation and they came up with what they said was an arbitrary number of 1,500 hours, they're trying to give credit for good training programs. Simulators is a step in the right direction.
REHMCapt. Lee Moak, president of the Airline Pilots Association, International, Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association, and with us from the NPR studio in Los Angeles, Andy Pasztor, senior special writer for The Wall Street Journal. And I'm counting on safety because I'm flying today to see the folks at WXXI in Rochester, New York. So wish me luck. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
COHENThank you. Have a safe fight.
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