RAA calls for new focus on ways to boost pilot competencies, safety
By Regional Airline Association
The Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI) has released Phase IV of its ongoing Pilot Source Study (PSS), a population study that represents the single most comprehensive study of regional airline hiring and training that has ever been accomplished. The study evaluated pre-hire experience and training performance of regional airline pilots before and after implementation of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) 2013 First Officer Qualifications (FOQ) regulations. The study concluded that a pilot’s pre-hire experience directly influenced his or her success in regional airline training programs.
By Regional Airline Association
Among the report’s conclusions was a concerning confirmation that pilots entering the workforce with high hours in flight required the most additional training once hired. New hire pilots with high hours in flight also failed or dropped out of airline training programs (referred to as non-completions in the study) at the highest rates. This study’s outcome validates observations from regional airline training departments. The study shows that pilots with higher hours in flight, whose flying time is often unstructured, are faring worse in airline training programs than their lower time counterparts.
Phase IV of the Pilot Source Study shows pilots from recent restricted ATP (R-ATP) backgrounds perform significantly better in training than pilots with higher hours in flight. Therefore, these R-ATP pathways should be supported and expanded. The study stands as firm evidence that reconnecting the pilot pipeline is not merely an economic imperative; it is a critical step in continuing the advancement of aviation safety.
Recently, the Regional Airline Association (RAA) unveiled an airline-based R-ATP pathway called the Air Carrier Enhanced Part 121 Training Program, or the ACE R-ATP. The ACE R-ATP is more than a training program, it is a restricted ATP pathway, intended to work within the established regulatory framework and meet the mandates and objectives of Congress. The ACE R-ATP proposes to restore access to highly skilled aviators, offering an enhanced pathway to the commercial airline cockpit through a structured combination of flight time, mentoring, and specific competencies—ultimately offering a higher level of safety than existing regulations. RAA’s ACE R-ATP pathway was formed through the collaborative efforts of regional and major airline training experts, drawing on hundreds of years of collective training expertise, and melded with various recommendations from other stakeholders. The proposal also includes advisory guidance from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Stated RAA President, Faye Malarkey Black: “The ACE R-ATP addresses, head-on, a key finding that the industry is currently forced to engage in remedial training of newly-hired pilots, especially of those pilots hired with high flight hours.” As an alternative, the ACE R-ATP envisions structure and discipline for new pilots, providing new and additional elements of pilot screening, training, and support at critical phases in their professional development.
While the proposal comes at a time when the current pilot shortage has led to service disruptions and air service reductions at airports across the nation, Black emphasizes the ACE R-ATP pathway is a safety-first measure. “The ACE R-ATP will reconnect the pilot pipeline and restore career certainty to the profession,” she said. “More importantly, the ACE-R-ATP pathway will materially advance safety by allowing airlines to hire the most proficient pilots and support them through a comprehensive program designed to provide additional, airline-based structure, oversight, and training.”
Regional airlines are already making unprecedented investments in the next generation of professional pilots, yet pathways like the ACE R-ATP are needed to restore airlines’ ability to recruit and support the most proficient pilot candidates. Black concluded: “Our program seeks to provide an enhanced pathway for training and oversight while increasing the accessibility of aviation as a career choice. We are confident it will deliver squarely on these objectives, ensuring our nation’s skies remain the safest.”
The AABI Pilot Source Study was commissioned and executed on by Drs. Guy Smith, of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and Elizabeth Bjerke, of University of North Dakota, who are the co-principal investigators. They worked with five Ph.D.s from different institutions who are participating in the data analysis: Dr. Thomas Carney, Purdue University; Dr. Cody Christenson, South Dakota State University; Dr. Paul Craig, Middle Tennessee State University; Dr. Mary Niemczyk, Arizona State University; and Dr. MaryJo Smith, Ypsilon Associates. The update includes data from the training records of over 7,000 pilots hired since August 1, 2013.
Earlier phases of the Pilot Source Study influenced the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010, which resulted in the First Officer Qualifications (FOQ) regulations issued by the FAA. Under these regulations, all air carrier first officers must hold an Air Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate or a restricted ATP certificate. Additionally, earlier phases helped establish the “restricted privileges ATP (R-ATP) certificate,” pathways, enabling pilots from certain structured backgrounds to operate as first officers by allowing the FAA to approve credit toward flight hours.