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Expert: ‘Number of flying hours doesn’t equal a better pilot’

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An aviation expert at Purdue University says the FAA made the wrong call when it rejected the request from Republic Airways, a regional airline, to hire co-pilots with about half the flying hours required.

“It’s quality over quantity, always has been. A number does not ensure that someone is just qualified to do the job,” explained Mike Suckow, a professor at Purdue University’s School of Aviation and Transportation Technology.

The current industry standard is 1,500 hours to be a co-pilot, according to the Federal Aviation Authority. Suckow says they’ve tested the theory of “time equals better” with their own students.

“I can put it in the student in a simulator here to do 50 hours of loft in a simulation program, and take that and compare that with a student that flew 1,500 hours in an airplane doing VFR (visual flight rules) work, like flying,” Suckow said. “The one that did the 50 hours of intense deliberate practice on the skills required to own that level of technology is going to do better, significantly better, (and) faster as well.”

Republic Airways petitioned to hire first officers, or co-pilots, with 750 hours of flying time if they completed Republic’s training program. Republic argued that its training would be similar to the military’s, which requires less flying time. Suckow says while he believes while it is about the type of training that a student gets, that training has heavy oversight.

“There’s an opportunity here for the quality to be monitored and actually have an airline’s input to help with that because the shortage has created lots of things — [even] shortages of instructors.”

Republic gave this statement to I-Team 8:

“We’re disappointed – but not surprised – that our petition to the FAA was not met with the review and engagement it deserves. Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, our proposal would enhance safety by providing students a highly structured, mission-specific training approach. The data proves that our approach works and it would open the door to a rich career in aviation to any students who cannot otherwise afford to participate in this transformational career while helping to address the diminishing air service impacting 90 million Americans in small and mid-sized communities. It is disappointing that, when the nation is struggling to deliver reliable air service, the FAA has declined an opportunity to engage in a meaningful discussion on this topic or to approach it in a spirit of working together.”

Suckow says he was surprised by FAA’s decision; however, he believes the industry as a whole needs to be more accessible to students with diverse backgrounds. He believes that is the key to solving the shortage issue.

“We have a challenge attracting what I would call first generation folks into the industry, and those could be folks that are, you know, underrepresented, or financially challenged,” Suckow said. “We need to come together and not continue to fragment the messaging.” 

Purdue University will be having its National Aviation Symposium from Nov. 8-10 to discuss this topic and encourage others to get involved in the industry.