Government Delays Flights

Planning to fly this summer? Good luck.

Delays are up. Cancellations, too.

Why? Because of the pilot shortage.

A pilot shortage? How can this be? Flying is a popular job. Some people fly small planes just for fun. Why aren’t there enough commercial pilots?

Because the government passed another dumb law.

In 2009, after a Colgan Air crash near Buffalo, New York, killed 50 people, Congress decided that airlines could only hire aspiring commercial pilots who already had lots of flight time.

Instead of 250 hours, now they have to have 1,500 hours!

“That never made any sense,” says current commercial airline pilot Tracy Price in my new video.

The sixfold increase wouldn’t have prevented the Colgan crash. Those pilots had many more than 1,500 hours of flight time. The pilot had 3,379 — the co-pilot, 2,244.

That didn’t matter to the politicians. “We need to improve pilot training, address flight crew hours and service,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

Demanding more pre-hire flight time discouraged people from trying to become pilots. It had “the effect of pulling up the ladder,” says Price.

Few people have the time or money to get 1,500 hours in the air before they can even apply for a job. The number of certified pilots fell even as flight demand increased.

The pilots unions didn’t object.

“Fewer applicants means higher pay,” explains Price.

I say to Price, “This rule is good for you!”

“Great for me (and other) professional pilots,” he replies. “If you believe in freedom though, it’s a bit of an issue.”

The union blamed the pilot shortage on poor pay at regional airlines, so I push back at Price, “Some of these regional airlines were paying pilots as little as $21,000 a year.”

“(But) there was no shortage of applicants!” Price responds. “Plenty of people were willing to take fairly low pay and live with roommates for a year or two to gain that really valuable jet experience.”

Today’s required 1,500 hours doesn’t even create better pilots. Actual pilots get trained in simulators today. The computerized cockpit gives them more useful experience than unsupervised hours of hobby flying.

In fact, those hours may leave pilots less prepared. “Flight time does not equal experience,” Faye Black of the Regional Airline Association told Congress. “We waste a lot of time in training, breaking bad habits pilots acquire while trying to quickly get to 1,500 hours.”

The politicians ignored her.

That’s not surprising. Once government creates new rules, those rules tend to live forever.

Many are just unnecessary. Airlines don’t want to kill their customers, and pilots don’t want to kill themselves, so they self-regulate.

The last fatal commercial airline crash was 13 years ago. Flying is much safer than driving, biking, and taking a bus or train.

“Safer than any mode of conveyance ever, including walking,” says Price.

But politicians believe that if they’re not passing more rules, they’re not doing their job.

So expect more flight delays this summer.

“I spend a lot more time than I want to making announcements to people apologizing for being late,” says Price. “We should be looking for ways to expand the availability of airline travel to more people so more people can take advantage of this amazingly safe way to get from A to B.”

Photo by Victor Freitas

4 thoughts on “Government Delays Flights

  1. “But politicians believe that if they’re not passing more rules, they’re not doing their job.” And there is the problem. Today’s politician DOES believe they MUST keep making new laws, whether we NEED them or not. If there isn’t something that needs a new law, they will CREATE a problem, and THEN pass something to try and solve the problem THEY created.

    There must be a way to get bad laws off the books, useless departments and offices off the tax rolls, and bad politicians OUT OF OFFICE.

  2. The 1500 hour rule came into effect around 2013. Why is this an issue now? The airlines shoulder most of the blame. The airlines received billions of dollars in Covid relief that was supposed to keep employees on the payroll. The airlines used some of this money to offer employee buyouts and many pilots took early retirement. These were pilots with many years of service left that are now on the sidelines. Before the buyouts, the normal attrition rates at the airlines and the supply of new pilots was in balance. This situation this summer is too be expected given the actions of the airlines the past 2 years. Parity will be achieved again once the void created by the airlines is filled. It may take a year or more but things will balance out. Lowering the requirements to be a commercial airline pilot is not the answer.

    Side note, it appears that the number of aircraft incidents such as runway and taxi excursions is increasing. Maybe your research team can look into the statistics of general aviation and charter companies and accident / incident rates the past few years.

  3. As an airline pilot, the 1500 hour rule is a wise decision. There is no replacement for experience. As a passenger traveling at 500 miles per hour 7 miles up in the sky, would you want your pilots to be well seasoned or just got their pilots license a couple months ago? The old saying you don’t know what you don’t know comes to mind. Pilots with minimum qualifications and minimum experience have absolutely no business flying passengers in any jet. Anybody can be involved in an accident. The odd are exponentially reduced with a well trained and experienced crew.

  4. I disagree. I’ve been an airline captain for 27 years. I’ve flow with First Officers with 250 hours (early in my career and more recently while working for a foreign airline) and at every experience level on up. Experience DOES make a huge difference for airline safety. I see it first hand. There is just no substitute for experience. The pilot shortage is a direct result of the airlines making this an undesirable job for a lot of people who would otherwise do it. Fewer and fewer want this job than in the past. There are better ways for an intelligent person to make a living these days. We have seen a consistent and steady decrease in students at flight schools now for decades. There used to be a large pool of commercial pilots out there just waiting for their chance to fly heavy jets. Not any more. It is true that far more people die in automobiles than on airplanes, and that would probably still be true if we reduced the minimum flight hour requirements. But airplane crashes make national news and car crashes don’t. We have the safest air transportation system in the world. As a nation, we need to decide if it is important to preserve that or would we rather have cheap tickets? You get what you pay for. Let the public decide.

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