With the pilot shortage challenge becoming ever more acute, regional carrier Republic Airways is looking for a different way to get more pilots into its operations. The carrier filed an application with the US Federal Aviation Administration last month seeking permission for pilots with 750 hours of flight experience – half the current requirement – to be licensed as a Restricted Air Transport Pilot (R-ATP), eligible to operate commercial service for the company.
The exemption “is designed to resemble and provide the benefits and rigorous curriculum and structure of the § 61.160(a) military-based pathways training, albeit for closed-loop civilian pilot training for part 121 operations.” Further, the company asserts it is “in the public interest, would have no adverse impact on safety, and will provide a higher level of safety” than the standard 1,500 hour rule.
Key to the application is that Republic owns and operates the Leadership In Flight Training (LIFT) Academy. LIFT’s curriculum focuses on training specific to airline transport pilot requirements, and operates as a “closed-loop” system, whereby LIFT and Republic are able to monitor and analyze performance throughout the training process.
Pilots who graduate from the R-ATP program would only be allowed to fly at Republic, at least until hitting their 1,500 hour mark. And, as the company notes, the approach is similar to how pilots who receive flight training through the military are treated.
This Program is designed to meet or exceed the safety of the military R-ATP. In addition, this Program will support aspiring aviators from underserved communities and diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in aviation.
The closed-loop, integrated program curriculum, takes a student from initial flight training to become qualified as a First Officer applicant at Republic through a controlled and rigorous environment. Republic’s R-ATP Program is focused on a selective admissions process, an airline-based training environment, advanced academics, daily assessments, and data validation of measured performance criteria to meet the required qualification standard minimums.
Students will be assessed daily and are required to pass multiple knowledge and skill validation gates throughout the Program’s life cycle to ensure that they meet the rigorous performance standards. Failure to pass any gate will result in the student being transitioned out of the R-ATP Program and continuing through the standard ATP path.
More focused training
Pilots in the R-ATP program will receive “Specialized Advanced Airline Training” in addition to the regular curriculum. Essentially, LIFT Academy will add many of the first officer indoctrination training components on top of the regular coursework, helping prospective pilots to advance towards a commercial license more quickly.
The program is “integrated with Republic from day one, forming an integrated closed-loop system of training. LIFT students utilize advanced training equipment and methodology that mimics what Republic uses, thereby preparing LIFT student pilots to become qualified line pilots at Republic and reducing training redundancy.”
In short, Republic argues that classroom and flight training hours focused specifically on becoming a commercial airline pilot should count more towards qualification than a more generic flight school environment.
Promoting inclusion & diversity
One of the key arguments made by Republic in the application is that “programs can typically be cost prohibitive for many, particularly aspiring pilots from underserved communities.” Republic highlights that 40% of those who enroll in the LIFT Academy program do not actually begin their training. Of those, 40% withdraw for financial reasons.
The Republic R-ATP program aims to remove college tuition from consideration, focusing only on the flight training costs. The program will also reduce the need for a loan in many cases, allowing students to focus more on training and less on an outside job or other financial requirements. The program also includes potential subsidies, scholarships, and stipends during the early training, as well as a salary in the later phases of the program.
But it isn’t 1,500 hours
Since the 1,500 hour rule was legislated in the wake of the Colgan Air crash exemptions have been rare. And for all the bravado from politicians about addressing the pilot shortage, the 1,500 hour rule seems to be something of a holy grail, not to be touched under any circumstances.
The FAA generally is loathe to allow for exemptions from explicitly declared Congressional requirements where such flexibility is not remanded to the Agency. And where the rule in question has become synonymous with flight safety it might be even harder to get the exemption.
But Republic is trying.
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