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Mesa Airlines CEO Points to 1,500-Hour Rule for Pilot Shortage

For Once, Someone Names The Cause of Dwindling First Officer Numbers

Mesa Air Group CEO Jonathan Ornstein argued before lawmakers earlier this month that the knee-jerk imposition of the 1,500 flight hour requirement for airline pilots has put the country on the back foot compared to others, specifically laying out the tremendous difference in experience demanded of pilots overseas. 

“It seems crazy that a 300-hour FO can land a Lufthansa A350 into JFK flying over Queens, and a U.S. pilot can’t do the same thing,” Ornstein said, naming the minimum time European pilots need to fly for carriers. “No other country in the world has adopted this, not a single one.”

The 1,500-hour requirement was a knee-jerk addition to the industry following the 2009 Colgan Air 3407 crash. At the time, the highly unflattering cockpit recordings pointed to a number of problems in the regional commuter industry, from a lack of sick time, use of OTC medication, exhaustion, and most of all - inadequate stall training. The Bombardier Q400 entered a stall while on approach into Buffalo, New York when flying through snow and fog. The primary cause of the crash stemmed from the crew overriding the stick pusher and continuing to pull aft on the control column, worsening the condition and causing a snap roll into the ground. Among the reforms pushed following the accident was the revision to change the requirement for ATP certificate qualifications up to 1,500 hours of flight time, a rule which wouldn't have altered the experience levels for the crash, as the first officer had already logged more than 2,200 hours. Similar rules were never put into effect anywhere else in the world. 

Ornstein called attention to the harm the rule has done to the industry. In 2009, less than a decade since the post-9/11 industry slump, pilots were a little more plentiful. A plethora of post-military aviators and civilian pilots had filled seats to the point that any pilot shortage seemed hypothetical. Now, faced with a massive bolus of retiring captains even with full new-hire classes, airline management is feeling angsty. Ornstein said Mesa faces a cut of 5% to 10% in flights next year due to a variety of reasons that pull pilots off the line, from illness to The continuing pandemic hasn't helped things either, as he mentioned increased rates of absence throughout the fleet sometimes as high as 24%. Having their captains poached for larger legacy carriers, sometimes even their first officers has made things even tougher to fill pilot seats despite high passenger demand. Things aren't all bad, however. Mesa is hiring additional instructors and booking extra sim time to bring new hires up to speed as quickly as possible, hopefully allowing the company to alleviate the worst of the squeeze by this time next year. 



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