JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A new FAA safety rule that increases the number of hours that co-pilots must spend in the sky before working for a commercial passenger airline, could put regional airports at risk of losing flights in the future.
Sam Fischer heads the Aviation Program at Florida State College of Jacksonville. After two years, students graduate with nearly 400 flight hours, which used to be enough to get a job as a co-pilot with a passenger airline.
But that will change starting Aug. 1.
This week, the FAA announced new safety regulations in response to a 2010 crash in New York that killed 50 passengers. The crash was blamed on pilot error.
"We knew this was coming, we just didn't know what to plan for. Now, regional airlines are scrambling to figure out how this could affect them, and we're trying to figure out how our students will be affected as well."
Now, instead of 250 flight hours, co-pilots must have 1,500, just like their captains.
"The safety might improve, but what a lot of us are questioning is how effective is that going to be? After pilots graduate, they can work as flight instructors, or fly banners and such, but does that really better prepare them for commercial flight? We simply don't know just yet."
Fischer says 1,500 flight hours could take pilots another three years of training, and the airline industry is already struggling to fill positions.
Over the next decade, 18,000 pilots will turn 65 and be forced to retire. Major airlines will replace them with pilots from regional airlines, which could devastate our regional airports.
"Regional pilots will be enticed by higher salaries and a better lifestyle that major commercial airlines provide. Regional airports will leave airplanes sitting on the ground and smaller communities, like Brunswick or Valdosta for instance, will not get served."
Fischer says customers will also end up pay the price.
"What it may mean is that the regional airlines, to draw pilots in, will up their salary and the only way that works is if we the flying public pay more money for the tickets."
And that's only if regional airlines can continue operating at all. Fischer says regional fights out of major airports, like Jacksonville International Airport, could also be at risk.
"We may see those flights impacted where I can't get to Tallahassee directly or Miami directly, so I'm going to have to change in Atlanta because those flights might not be operating."
Fischer says the FSCJ aviation program is considering adding a bachelor degree in aviation, which would help students gain more flight time by the time they graduate. More information will be available in the spring.