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Looming Pilot Shortage: Should You Be Worried?

Is the airline industry facing a serious pilot shortage? According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, stricter training requirements for pilots are making it more difficult for airlines to obtain new recruits. The Journal warns that we could be looking at the biggest pilot shortage since the 1960s.

Some experts say the possible shortage is the result of new Federal Aviation Association (FAA) pilot fatigue and pilot certification safety rules. Starting this summer, pilots will be required to hold an Air Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate, which necessitates 1,500 hours of training. And by the end of 2013, pilots will operate under new flight-time limits and mandatory rest periods, including a 10-hour minimum rest period before flying, which is an increase over the current minimum of two hours. (These rules were initially proposed in reaction to the 2009 Colgan Air crash, which was attributed to pilot error.) See the full list of pilot-fatigue rules here.

The Journal reports that a shortage could negatively affect consumers, especially if smaller regional carriers can’t find enough people to fly their planes. In a speech, Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association, said, “Absent a game-changing shift in the supply of [pilots, small to midsize communities] are in jeopardy of losing some, if not all, [of] their scheduled flights.”

Any regulations that decrease pilot workload and increase pilot-certification rules are sure to put the squeeze on airlines; the FAA recognized this—and accounted for it. On its website, the FAA states, “The estimated cost of this rule to the aviation industry is $297 million but the benefits are estimated between $247 and $470 million.”

So who is right: The FAA, which sees the new safety rules as a boon to the industry, or those who claim a pilot shortage will hurt regional service?

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is on the side of the FAA. Sullenberger told CBS News that the pilot-shortage claim is just a scare tactic coming from an industry that doesn’t want to lose money following the new safety rules. According to Captain Sully, “This strikes me as a cynical effort on the part of some in the industry to cry wolf and use scare tactics in an intent to influence the (FAA) when they write the final rule on pilot experience to weaken it, and this pilot experience requirement is one that’s mandated by the Congress.”

Citing his famous emergency landing on the Hudson River in 2009, Sullenberger stated that he couldn’t have done it without his extensive flying experience.

What’s your take? Are you onboard with the new pilot-safety rules?

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