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One of the biggest changes that came out of the Colgan crash is the so-called "1500 hour rule." Before Colgan, only the captain needed to have an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate, the highest level of pilot certification. First officers (copilots) could fly with a commercial pilot certificate, a lower grade of license. Now, both pilots are required to hold ATP certificates.

ATP applicants need to have 1500 hours of flight experience—hence "1500 hour rule"—though there are exceptions if you've attended specific approved aeronautical schools or have military experience. Commercial applicants need only 250 hours. (Here too there are exceptions for certain training programs.) The standards on the flight tests are tighter for ATPs and the written exams are worlds apart.

As an instructor I can tell you the difference between a 250-hour pilot and a 1500-hour pilot can be enormous. Not always—some pilots have 1500 hours, and others have the same hour, 1500 times in a row—but there can be a huge difference.

This rule has been controversial though, not least of all because both pilots in the Colgan crash already had more than 1500 hours. And the FAA made so many changes after Colgan that it's been hard to tell which of those changes actually made the difference, and which, if any, were simply no-ops. Critics of the rule have especially focused on how many flight tests the Colgan captain failed, and how the response by the pilots to an aerodynamic stall was completely backwards. Aerodynamic stalls are something you learn in your first ten hours of training as a private pilot and drill constantly throughout your career, so to get that wrong at the air carrier level speaks to an incredible failure in training and evaluation.




It also isn't clear (aside from military) how people are meant to fund/attain ATP status.

There's limited jobs with which a commercial licensed pilot can gain hours (e.g. crop dusting, sky jumpers, instructors, etc) but the number of people trying to attain ATP/jobs requiring ATPs well outstrip the number of jobs to support those people getting to 1500 hours.

As you said, previously some airlines would take the pressure off by hiring commercial pilots and getting them hours as copilots. With the new rules they need 1500 before day one, so that has to come from somewhere and it isn't clear where.

This is one reason airlines are struggling to find pilots.


Yes, exactly. The 1500 hour rule is a factor in the pilot shortage. Not the only factor—low pay at regionals, generational demographics, and changing perceptions of the career also play a part—but it's definitely a big factor.


How can there both be a shortage and low pay? Shouldn't the need for pilots drive up pay as demand for air travel itself isn't going down.


That's paradoxical seeming isn't it?

But low-pay + labor shortage is seems to be a common thing.

I would speculate it's driven by the production of a very price sensitive commodity. Lots of people choose the cheapest flights possible regardless of other considerations so a significant rise in pilot pay might make a given airline unprofitable since they can't raise prices to compensate.

So airlines feel strong pressure to keep wages down.

And really, you could say a "labor shortage" is what every high volume, low margin operation complains about but the reality is basically "we pay low wages so it's hard to get enough people to work for our low wages". (Obviously, with airline pilots, it's low wage relative to the cost of gaining the skills etc). We can see similar language with H1b visa proponents and even fast food restaurant operators use it periodically.


It doesn't matter how price sensitive your product is, you can raise prices a little and pay people a little more to help with hiring. There's a point of equilibrium somewhere.

"Labor shortage" is just a tactic to get someone else to help with the problem in a way that doesn't require increasing pay. It's the hiring equivalent of "don't miss this exclusive sale!"


I'm not sure if the cost of flights would really go up that much.

Just to play with some numbers, let's consider a pilot with a salary of an astronomical $1,000,000/yr who flies transatlantic flights on wide-body jets (300 or so passengers). She is limited to 1,000 flight hours/yr, so each hour costs the airline $1,000. For an 8 hour flight, $8,000 split between 300 passengers is about $26 per person. Given that these flights come in around $150 at the cheapest, often going up to $1,000 at peak times, this (quite high) wage estimate doesn't translate into a huge price for the consumer (especially since you could shift more of the cost towards the first- and business-class passengers).

I think the numbers work out similarly for regional flights which have fewer passengers but shorter time in the air. These pilots start with base salaries in the $30,000 range; if that were raised to $100,000 for flying (for example) 3 hour flights with 50 passengers, that's only ~$4 extra per passenger per flight.

There might be other factors I'm missing - do these pilots actually fly significantly less than 1,000 hrs/yr?


You should check this video out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Oe8T3AvydU

You would be pretty surprised how many costs airlines have to pay. An extra $4/passenger/flight would eat significantly into their bottom line. This is especially true for budget airlines, which often already make less than this per passenger already (source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=069y1MpOkQY)


Your $4/pilot/flight misses the overall point. A company in a highly competitive industry is going to be minimizing costs across the board. To keep a plane in the air, you need mechanics, pilots, flight crew and so-forth. You could be completely spendthrift with just pilots and hold the line on everything else but then the potential for the rest of your personnel to be jealous is high. Moreover, what's the motivation?

"You cheap bastards could easily afford XXX" misses the point. A large company runs on general principle, and company that's producing at minimal cost is going to run on the principle of saving money everywhere.


> Lots of people choose the cheapest flights possible regardless of other considerations so a significant rise in pilot pay might make a given airline unprofitable since they can't raise prices to compensate.

In addition, certain airlines have the backing of massive nation state funds or are otherwise simply enormous - just like cheap venture capital, they can simply drown smaller competitors, buy their slots and airliners for a penny on the dollar and then jack up the prices. Lufthansa and AirBerlin are a perfect example.


" Lots of people choose the cheapest flights possible regardless of other considerations ". so true, and then they complain when there is extra cost for bags etc. it's the customers that drive the airlines to eliminate all frills or things that use to be 'free'.


It's very simple. There's not actually a labor shortage. If there were, the flights would constantly be sold out and there would be empty planes on the ground due to no pilots.


Probably one factor is the extreme time lag between someone becoming interested in becoming a commercial pilot and actually becoming a commercial pilot (for example, because of the need to get so much experience). It might be similar with doctors, where the required credentials take years to achieve—so if people say "hmmm, I might want to go into medicine, I think I'll do pre-med" they could still be more than a decade away from practicing medicine.

It seems from upthread comments that the institutions to train prospective doctors are somewhat better-developed than the institutions to train prospective commercial pilots. (My understanding is that this used to be primarily military, but now pilots are coming in through a greater range of paths.) If people think they want to be doctors, they can apply to certain schools, get certain loans, participate in an established process to find internships (which their schools will guide them through), and so on. I don't know that there are really institutions to help the pilots this way.

That doesn't mean that supply and demand somehow don't apply or don't influence people's behavior, but a need for massive amounts of training and credentialing (literally years' worth that themselves come at a high financial cost) surely slow down the response.


If it takes a long time for additional supply to become available the price spike in response to demand changes should be even more pronounced.


This is the expected market reaction when the market is free, but if there is a oligopoly effect in play it can distort this and defer that response.

The average age of airline pilots is going up very quickly though, so these terrible practices will eventually illicit a market response, since nobody (or very few people) actually wants to do this.


> will eventually illicit a market response

Completely off-topic and unrelated, but on the small chance that this helps you (or anyone else reading): illicit is something forbidden or illegal, while elicit is to evoke a particular response.


I think a large portion of the issues surrounding pilot pay are

1. Airline companies are few and far between, it's basically an oligopoly and getting black listed by one company might impact your job prospects in another

2. Pilots invest a lot of time into qualifying for their jobs and the sunk cost fallacy traps them into looking for jobs flying planes.

Also, there might be some strong self-motivated reasons, not wanting airplanes to go without pilots due to altruism, just generally enjoying flying... These aren't IMO strong financial drivers so they seem like weaker points, but they may provide some influence.


Something I haven't seen brought up: if pilots are passionate enough about flying, then that's what they're going to do no matter how little they get paid. Companies don't have an incentive to give a raise to people who are not considering a different job.


Two words: unions and seniority. Here's a good intro:

http://philip.greenspun.com/flying/unions-and-airlines

It's also worth noting that this is largely a US-only phenomenon. It has led to a lot of junior US pilots heading overseas to fly with other carriers, most notably in the Gulf, although that party is slowly starting to wind down.


Please have a read of the article before downvoting: it's not some random neoliberal "unions are evil" rant, but a very coherent explanation of how seniority-based pay works and how the system is set up to ensure senior pilots get paid $300,000 while juniors get $16,000.


Given that the author's experience (as referenced in the article) covers a period of time before the Colgan reforms, I'd expect that a decent amount of what he's written is outdated.


Luckily a pilot license can be used anywhere in the world so people can find a job abroad. At some point when US airliners can't find enough pilots something will have to change.


There is arguably a shortage of pilots with more than 1500 hours and good salaries for them. There is a glut of pilots with less than 1500 hours, and bad salaries for them.


Pilot unions still exist even for these regional carriers. How has collective bargaining worked so well for 737 pilots but not for a regional pilot?


Same way that there's a shortage and low pay for emergency medical services staffing, unfortunately.


Market response of raising pay is always slower to respond if there are other mechanisms to try first.


> This is one reason airlines are struggling to find pilots.

There isn't really a pilot shortage. Merely a shortage of pilots willing to work for slave wages. There are US pilots flying all over the world because they don't get paid what they're worth in the US.


Agreed. There are pilot jobs in the US that pay great and offer a very desirable lifestyle. However, these jobs account for what, 30-40% of US pilot jobs? The rest are fighting for scraps making $50-60k/year while paying back $100k+ in student loans and never seeing their homes. There’s a reason the FO on Colgan 3407 commuted from her parents home on the other side of the country and the CA slept in the break room the night before the trip started. They didn’t make squat and couldn’t afford anything else.


Quick reminder: "slave wages" are exactly $0, and also you can't leave the job due to threat of violence. (And also there's a lot of violence anyway, and also bad housing and bad food and complete lack of personal time or space or privacy or any freedom of choice, etc.)

It sounds like regional airline pilots may have surprisingly low wages given how highly-skilled their jobs are. "Low wages" is a good term for this.


It isn’t slavery, indeed, but waged can get lower than low. Pilots can be pressurized in accepting very low wages for the right to fly an airplane.

Reason? Pilots have to make flight hours in the plane they’re licensed for to keep their license.

So, you are, say, $100,000 in debt to get a license to fly a 737, and you need a few hours in it this month to keep that license. Renting said plane for a few hours is very expensive. That makes an $0 an hour ‘job’ flying for a few hours look mightily attractive.


"Slave wages" relates to wage slavery, not regular 18th century America slavery. Slave wages are so low they barely let you survive, and give you no way for saving up - essentially enslaving you in the regular sense, with threats of violence being fulfilled by the economy at large, instead of the employer.


> It also isn't clear (aside from military) how people are meant to fund/attain ATP status.

There is a boon to unemployed, retired US military pilots. There are tons of them, even here in China.

Feels surreal.


> As you said, previously some airlines would take the pressure off by hiring commercial pilots and getting them hours as copilots.

Do copilot hours really count? I thought you had to be pilot in command?


This. My son dreams of becoming an airline pilot. But I find it difficult to rationalize investing more than $100k to satisfy the 1500 rule just to see many pilot jobs in the future replaced by automation.


Buy an arplane. This is what I did: bought a simple Cherokee for $22,000, got my ratings (Private, Instrument, Commercial, CFI, CFII), then went to work to Alaska, sold the Cherokee (for $21,000, airplanes do not depreciate that much), which paid for all my training, got a lot of hours, got an ATP, floatplane, and commercial helicopter.

On the other hand, I usually try to talk people out of becoming a professional pilot: one health hiccup and your medical certificate is in jeopardy.


> On the other hand, I usually try to talk people out of becoming a professional pilot: one health hiccup and your medical certificate is in jeopardy.

Is there insurance coverage for this? Something akin to disability insurance for this specific scenario?


Not really. At major airlines there are special programs that help with this (even with DUI's surprisingly) mainly because pilot unions make it part of the contract. For a corporate pilot, there is rarely any recourse. one other thing to remember is that the environment in the aircraft is not very friendly: very low humidity, constant changes in pressure (even if the plane is pressurized). Flying a lot of passengers also means you are exposed to a lot of germs. On top of it all, add constant lack of sleep, sedentary lifestyle, etc. You have to be very proactive to stay healthy.


The ‘legacy’ airlines like American, Delta, United , Alaska, Hawaiian etc provide quite good disability programs. Additionally, ALPA, the pilots’ union, offers a loss of medical insurance. Often times a loss of medical is not something that was also debilitating. There are plenty of other jobs for airline pilots to do in training departments and other areas in flight operation requiring the same knowledge base.


Edit: what I meant is that working in Alaska paid for my training, not selling the airplane.


What kind of work in Alaska?


Flying freight and surveys. C206 at first, then the usual progression to Navajo, Metro ...


Do you mean what kind of flying work?


"Not always—some pilots have 1500 hours, and others have the same hour, 1500 times in a row—but there can be a huge difference."

This is an excellent statement emphasizing the importance of concepts like deliberate practice and a varied curriculum/experiences. I think this idea applies to all learning.


Definitely relates to software dev where some developers have 15 years experience and some have 15x 1 year of the same thing.

In reality I think most developers have careers that look like:

* 2-3 years of explosive growth and exposure * 5-10 years of slower growth and increased mastery * then diverge to shorter periods of stair-stepping (new technologies / faster mastery), coast on what they already know well or move out of active development


Teachers can fall into the same category. A teacher for 15 years or a teacher for 1 year 15 times.


By the nature of their jobs, teachers often teach the same 1 year 15 times...


Also the importance of regular evaluation. You can develop a lot of bad habits in 1500 hours.


As my band conductor drilled into us:

> Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.

Of course "perfect practice" is an ideal, and you can't achieve it yourself without having someone or something assist to evaluate in most cases. But repeating the same mistakes for 1500 hours just makes you really good at making those mistakes.


I don't think this is a good general saying, most activities that we're performing have discoverable local maxima we can achieve... or most people will achieve, by varying their technique to observe how much better/worse easier/harder the task becomes. That said something like an instrument that is very highly tied to developing memory muscle is definitely something you can learn _wrong_. Similarly any activity where actual execution of the task is expensive/infeasible (combat for instance) also benefits a lot more from instruction.


In their defence, on a large turboprop like the one they were flying (Q400?) an iced over horizontal stabilizer feels similar to a stall but the response is entirely different.

They were hopelessly tired and distracted. The captain apparently ignored both the stick shaker and the stick pusher (when the aircraft is trying to get the pilots attention). Sometimes experience helps with self-evaluation but more often it does not, depends on the person. They should not have been flying that night (the first officer had not slept for 36 hours).


> This rule has been controversial though, not least of all because both pilots in the Colgan crash already had more than 1500 hours.

Is there a term for this: reactive legislation that wouldn't have covered the incident it was in response to?


Interesting question! There is probably a name for that kind of fallacy. The regression fallacy is close: "Ascribing a cause where none exists in situations where natural fluctuations exist while failing to account for these natural fluctuations."

https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFalla...

The term "magical thinking" is a broad label that could apply.

https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFalla...


Typically when you use a crisis to lobby for legislation, you come with a whole bag of items that are useful to the general purpose, but are perhaps not directly relevant to the incident the response is directed at.


That's a good point. In my head the "1500 hour rule" is a distinct thing, but it actually came in as a whole set.


Never waste a crisis.


"Shotgun approach"? Where you react not only to the proximate cause of the incident, but to all possible proximate causes?


How does a pilot get 1500 hours if [s]he can't get an ATPL without 1500 hours? Non-passenger/cargo commercial flying?


The 1500 hour rule only applies to air carrier operations—scheduled airlines. A commercial pilot can fly charters, survey, banner-towing, skydiving, sightseeing, demos for sales, even corporate (business jets). Add a flight instructor certificate and they can teach, logging all their teaching time.


>skydiving

You misspelled "elevator operator"

I used to work at an airport that had a skydive operation, we jokingly called them elevator pilots (because they just go up and down all day). They used to only pump a the required amount of fuel to get the aircraft to altitude and idle back because carrying more fuel up and down is a waste of fuel. Occasionally they would run out of fuel and glide in. One time they ran out of fuel really short and landed in the pond.


I used to fly out of an airport that had the same frequency as another airport that was a very popular skydiving destination (Lodi, Ca). One of the pilots for that outfit was on frequently; weekday, weekend, it didn't matter. Same radio calls, same slight drawl. Day in, day out. He sounded completely bored out of his mind. Even the announcement that he was dropping meat bombs ... "Skiy-diivers in the skieee over Low-die Airport, 18 thousand feeet.." like he'd said it ten thousand times. And I think he may have!


I find that if the airport is quiet you can hear the skydivers screaming, then opening their chutes, then more screaming.


I certainly yelled as loud as I could on the way down.


Were they actually at 18000 feet? I'm not a skydiver myself but I thought they usually jumped from lower to avoid the need for supplemental oxygen.


I think you're right. 12 or 14,000 feet perhaps.


This sounds like excellent practice compared to something where much more of your time is in level flight.


I love them. Without exception they are absolutely nuts. :)


Is this why commercial carriers pay so much better than all the rest? Or is this no longer as true?

Also, is the influx of commercial pilots into the western markets from other countries analogous to the software development "We can't find enough good developers / You don't want to pay what they demand" trends we see in tech?


> is the influx of commercial pilots into the western markets from other countries analogous to the software development "We can't find enough good developers / You don't want to pay what they demand" trends we see in tech?

If by "western markets" you mean the US, it is probably the other way around. There is a shortage of pilots in the US because their citizens are flying in other parts of the world where they get paid much more than they would in the US. And unlike in tech, when a pilot changes employers he starts again at the bottom of the seniority list which means lower pay, the worst routes, last pick of vacation days, etc.


You can fly with passengers on a commercial license. There’s lots of non-scheduled and non transport category aviation in part 91 and part 135 including private jet flights, various kinds of charters, deadheading, flight instruction, and so on.


Being a military pilot is one of the most common ways. Although being a military pilot is such good training in general that you could probably get a much better-paying job doing almost anything other than an ATP.


Such as?


Do you have an opinion on to what extent simulators can help? I've heard a range of opinions on this, and while there is no substitute for the real thing, I can't help but notice that full flight simulators seem freakishly good these days to the point where many pilots say their minds are often tricked while in the simulator. How much can commercial airlines rely on increased simulator time to help safety and apply hours to regulatory requirements?


I've not had the pleasure of flying "full flight simulators" (the kind used by airlines) so I can't comment on those. The lower grades of simulators are good for drilling procedures but are quite bad at modeling flight dynamics.


Tons. Commercial flight simulators are very good. They help with mundane stuff like the layout of the cockpit or familiarization with different airports (hong kong is a must) And the harder stuff pilots could not train for in real planes like equipment failures, maybe all of them. And yes, their minds can be "tricked", meaning pilots do come out of simulated emergencies sweating.


As a PPL-IR ASEL, I've wondered a lot about this. Does an extra 1250 hours of watching student pilots put flat spots on tires and inadequately use right rudder to counter act undesired yaw really make someone a safer pilot of a large, multiengine turbo{prop,fan}?

Also, as others have noted, both pilots of 3407 we well above 1500 hours


Re flight hours, I’m reminded of this post from Phillip Greenspan:

http://philip.greenspun.com/flying/foreign-airline-safety

“Foreign Airline Safety versus U.S. Major Airlines” (2009, updated 2011.)


> to get that wrong at the air carrier level speaks to an incredible failure in training and evaluation

The problem is pulling up in case of a stall is the natural, intuitive thing to do. In a high stress situation, one is liable to revert to it. This behavior is the cause of many, many crashes.


> Aerodynamic stalls are something you learn in your first ten hours of training as a private pilot...

In fact the CFI who taught my introductory flight demonstrated a stall and recovery.




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