FAA Official: Coming Pilot Shortage Will Be ‘Painful’
After asking for a show of hands from air charter operators who are experiencing difficulties filling pilot vacancies, FAA deputy director of flight standards John Duncan told attendees at last month’s NATA Air Charter Summit that he gets involved in discussions about pilot shortages in a lot of different venues. “From an academic standpoint, it’s going to be interesting,” he said. “But from a community standpoint, it’s probably going to be a little painful. This is a dilemma for the aviation community.”
Although the big airlines have always been able to attract flight crews with the experience that they needed, there is a perception that the new flight, duty and rest rules will create a need for more pilots. A second dynamic is the new first-officer qualification rule, with which the smaller feeder airlines are already having problems. So the airlines have to look to other places for pilots.
How that affects the Part 135 segment will be a challenge, Duncan explained, because it means that pilots moving to Part 121 are going to need 1,500 hours, “which puts [Part] 135 operations in a different place.” He asked NATA attendees for their support for a “U.S. aviation academy” that is now under discussion. It would use four-year universities to train pilots and mechanics and leverage financial backing so the costs of training would not be insurmountable.
Duncan was elaborating on comments made by his boss, director of flight standards John Allen, at the Air Charter Safety Foundation’s symposium earlier this year. He also talked about a looming shortage of pilots and aviation maintenance technicians. Talking with academia, Allen said, the FAA has floated the idea of a U.S. aviation academy program to try to stave off a lack of pilots and AMTs.
Allen envisions a five-year program in which the pilots would come out with a four-year degree and instrument and multi-engine licenses, although funding needs to be worked out politically. Internships would be created along the way, so enrollees would work with charter companies for the 1,500 hours they need for an ATP.
According to Duncan, the academy plan would allow some control over the entry standards and some control over the selection of those candidates who come into the program. In addition there would be some “exit ramps,” so that when applicants don’t succeed they can move on to something else.
Cost of TFRs
Also under discussion at the meeting was the implementation of temporary flight restrictions (TFRs). Zach Carder section chief for general aviation risk reduction at the TSA, acknowledged that several years ago there was a perception and perhaps even a reality that only certain members of the federal government grasped the effect of TFRs on GA when they were implemented.
“To some extent that was true,” he told attendees at the summit. “I don’t think at any point it was due to an agency not caring, but more so that they were so mission-focused on what their responsibilities were, especially with any of the TFRs that involved the Secret Service.”
In addition, while the FAA is responsible for controlling the airspace and promoting air commerce, the job of the Secret Service is quite simply to shield those under its protection at various events from attack on the ground or from the air. The Defense Department, meanwhile, defends the airspace to prevent an airborne attack.
“So finding the middle ground between all of those missions can be quite complicated and quite difficult,” Carder reminded, “so you give on one hand and you take away from the other until at some point it becomes unacceptable to the respective agencies.”
He said the TSA is trying to make internal changes to lessen the impact on aviation operators and airport businesses. “Your points are definitely taken to heart,” but he emphasized that the TSA doesn’t control the airspace. That is under the purview of the Secret Service or DOD.