First Officer Qualification Rule in Detail

Cover page of the Federal Register for July 15.The new first officer qualifications are a hot topic.  On July 10, the FAA released its Final Rule, which should appear in the Federal Register next week.  Everyone has something to say about this.  But opinions aside, all I can I find on the web is the text of the new rule and several paraphrased copies of the FAA press release.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s inside the 221 pages of the Pilot Certification and Qualification Requirements for Air Carrier Operations.

To get the most important information up front here, I compiled a detailed summary of changes as they would apply to a graduate of a qualifying 4-year degree program.

I also outlined the structure of the Final Rule and noted the page numbers of some important sections.  The small page numbers correspond to the unofficial FAA version, followed in parentheses by the official page number in the Federal Register.  For example: Page 1 (42324).  This will help you to reference either version of the Final Rule.

To see how the Final Rule compares to the previous NPRM version of FAR 61.160, please see my 2012 article, First Officer Epoch.

Description New Minimum New Regulation Old Minimum Old Regulation
Age 21 years § 61.153(a)(2) 18 years § 61.123(a)
Total Time as a Pilot 1,000 hours § 61.160(b)
Flight Time as a Pilot 250 hours § 61.129(a)
Education Bachelor’s degree § 61.160(b)(1)
Concentration Aviation major § 61.160(b)(1)
Certification R-ATP eligibility § 61.160(b)(1)
Recognized Coursework 60 credit hours § 61.160(b)(2)
Instrument Ground § 141 curriculum § 61.160(b)(3)(i)
Commercial Ground § 141 curriculum § 61.160(b)(3)(i)
Instrument Flight § 141 curriculum § 61.160(b)(3)(ii)
Commercial Flight § 141 curriculum § 61.160(b)(3)(ii)
Cross-Country Time 200 hours § 61.160(e)
Night Time 100 hours § 61.159(a)(2) 7 hours § 61.129(a)(3,4)
AMEL Time 50 hours § 61.159(a)(3)
Instrument Time 75 hours § 61.159(a)(4) 10 hours § 61.129(a)(3)(i)
PIC Time 250 hours § 61.159(a)(5) 100 hours § 61.129(a)(2)
PIC Cross-Country Time 100 hours § 61.159(a)(5)(i) 50 hours § 61.129(a)(2)(ii)
PIC Night Time 25 hours § 61.159(a)(5)(ii) 5 hours § 61.129(a)(4)(ii)
ATP CTP Requirement Effective Aug 2014 § 61.35(a)(2)
Knowledge Test Validity 5 years § 61.39(a)(1)(ii) 2 years § 61.39(a)(1)
Pilot Certificate ATP + Type Rating § 121.436(b) Commercial § 121.437(b)
Medical Certificate 2nd Class § 61.23(a)(2)(i) 2nd Class § 61.23(a)(2)

Section Notes

Front Matter:  Pages 1 – 11 (42324 – 42327) contain a summary (equivalent to the press release), a statement that the Final Rule will be effective immediately and that compliance is required by August 1, 2013 (see also p. 144 (42361)), contact information, statement of authority, list of abbreviations, the table of contents, and overview (a slightly longer summary).  A price tag of $4.4 billion is mentioned as the total cost of requiring ATP certificates.

Background Information: Pages 12 – 26 (42327 – 42331) describe the 2009 crash near Buffalo, New York, its political ramifications, and the development of the new regulations.

Public Comments: Pages 27 – 145 (42331 – 42361) discuss point-by-point each regulatory change, the comments pertinent to that change received during the NPRM period, and the FAA response to the comments.  This is the only section that directly addresses the merits of the Final Rule.

It is interesting to note the admission on page 29 (42332) that the FAA had not considered the full impact of medical certification requirements for first officers when the NPRM period began.

On page 88 (42347), comments about the AABI are addressed but ruled against.  “The FAA acknowledges the value of programmatic accreditation, but it is not the sole means of assuring the quality of an aviation degree program.”  Institutional accreditation, as recognized by the Department of Education, does remain as one of the qualifications in the Final Rule.

Page 90 (42348) explains new qualifications based on “coursework designed to improve and enhance the knowledge and skills of a person seeking a career as a professional pilot.”  It includes examples of which courses will count as credit toward an ATP certificate.

Pages 94 – 96 (42349) describe an application process by which higher education institutions will be allowed to certify their students as meeting the new coursework qualifications.  Of particular interest here is the statement that, “once the FAA has determined that an institution of higher education has met all the requirements … a graduate will then be required to present the certifying document.”  The implication is clear after reading the new text of § 61.160(b)(1) on page 200 (42375), which requires by reference to other paragraphs that the degree-issuing institution must be accredited as recognized by the Department of Education and must be authorized by the FAA to certify graduates as R-ATP eligible at 1,000 hours.  Without both accreditation and the new FAA authorization, the R-ATP applicant cannot satisfy the qualifications.   It will be important for the not-yet-authorized college aviation departments and their not-yet-certified graduates to stay informed about this.

Page 102 (42351) states that transfer students who graduate from qualifying aviation degree programs are eligible for an ATP certificate and must meet the same requirements as non transfer students.  It also references AC 61-139.

Cost-Benefit Analysis: Pages 146 – 155 (42362 – 42364) discuss the economic impact of the Final Rule.

Other Notices: Pages 156 – 181 (42364 – 42371) discuss the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980, the Trade Agreements Act of 1979, the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995, the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices, and FAA Order 1050.1E.

Executive Orders and Additional Information: Pages 181 and 182 contain sections that do not correspond to any part of the table of contents in the unofficial version.  The Federal Register contains a corrected table of contents for the official publication.

The Amendment: Pages 183 – 221 (42372 – 42380) are the body of the new regulation.

Factual Errors:  On pages 23 and 93 (42330, 42348, and 42349), the Final Rule states that last year’s NPRM required 375 hours cross country time.  That is not correct.  The § 61.160(b)(1) proposed on page 12402 of Vol. 77, No. 40, would have required 325 hours, not 375.


The requirement for § 141 curriculum in ground and flight training will come as a huge surprise to those familiar with the NPRM version of this rule.  That version specified under § 61.160(b) training “obtained from an affiliated part 141 pilot school” and never requested comments for a curriculum requirement.  As a result, many students who trained at a part 141 pilot school under a part 61 curriculum will now be unexpectedly excluded from R-ATP eligibility.

Yesterday, a classmate at the airport pointed out to me that I am currently the only part 141 curriculum graduate of Eastern Michigan University.  I think this underscores the scope of disappointment that many bachelor’s degree holders will feel when they read this Final Rule.

Also, it has yet to be seen whether Eastern Michigan University can receive certifying authorization for R-ATP under the strictest interpretation of the Final Rule.  There are some nuances of the language dealing with part 141 ground school certification that I thought were needlessly confusing.  I really don’t know if EMU is considered a part 141 ground school, or how long it would take to complete the authorization process.  There are probably less than a few people who could even answer those questions at this point.

Another point of confusion for me was the calculation of “recognized” credit hours.  Do the credit hours for ground and flight instruction count toward the 60 credit minimum?  If a student obtains a private pilot certificate before college and receives some type of credit on their transcript just for holding the certificate, then is that credit counted?  Are internship credit hours counted?

Advisory Circular 61-139 is referenced three times in the Final Rule.  Does it exist and where is it?

If you have any other questions or would like to contribute your opinions, please leave a comment below.

Next article: R-ATP Regulation to Reality

12 thoughts on “First Officer Qualification Rule in Detail”

    1. Hi Mr. Kelley, I see it now. It shows up if I submit a blank search form, however it is still missing from the Series 61 page of the Advisory Circulars website.

  1. I spoke with one of the program directors last week at one of the major universities that offers a four year professional pilot degree and is a Part 141 school. I was, until a few months ago, a board member for six years for the program and am a retired airline Captain. I agree with your assessment that the FAA dropped the ‘syllabus bomb’ on all university-operated Part 141 degree programs without any prior notification upon issuance of the new ruling.

    In order for a university that currently has a Part 141 four year degree program, 60 hours of their entire class room syllabus has to meet new FAA-specified curriculum structure requirements for their graduates to qualify for the 500 hour credit towards the R-ATP. It appears that no university nationwide meets those requirements at this point.

    Each university must apply separately to the FAA for approval of their current offerings and have been given a window of a 120 days to expect a reply from the FAA once it has been submitted. Only then will they know if their program is valid or not. If not, it will take months of effort to rework their syllabus for approval and in the meantime all the current graduates who have been safely and successfully fulfilling their roles as Part 121 First Officers for more than two years and have less than 1500 hours (even by one hour) are out of a job indefinitely. The final ruling requirements are very different from the NPRM on this subject that was issued three years ago. AC 61-139 was no where to be found until mid-July.

    It would appear that most colleges and universities that offer four-year professional pilot degree programs can meet the 250 hour reduction toward the requirements of the R-ATP based on 30 hours of approved coursework. Even will all of that, the average four year degree graduate will emerge with an approximate total of 250-300 flight hours (assuming no previous flight experience) and will be years away from being an eligible applicant for any Part 121 operator.

    I guess the additional 1000+ hrs and calendar years spent drilling holes in the sky in a C-150 at a personal dollar cost in the thousands of dollars will enhance safety adequately prepare a pilot for a R-ATP. The onerous requirements have set the development of adequately and properly trained professional pilots back tremendously and will open the door to fraud and abuse. The Part 141 university programs are being made to pay for the FAA’s unwillingness to crack down on Part 121 operator’s unsafe duty rigs.

    1. Hi Mr. Bowles, these are important points. The FAA introduced a great deal of uncertainty into these new procedures.

      One thing I would like to clarify is that FAR 141 only encompasses pilot certification courses, and the new FAR 61.160 is only requiring such courses for instrument and commercial pilot training. I do not believe there is an intention to expand the scope of part 141 or to require all 60 credit hours to be approved by the FAA. The R-ATP authority application simply lists out the aviation courses required by the university to earn a degree with an aviation major. If the university offers 60 credit hours of aviation classes, then the graduates should be R-ATP eligible. Only perhaps 12 of those credits are earned under an FAA-approved syllabus.

  2. I am curious about something. I have called Oklahoma city and many do not seem to know the answer as this reg is new.

    I graduated from ERAU after transferring from a 2 year program. I completed my PPL and IFR under 141. I chose to complete my CPL under 61. I have been teaching for almost 1.5 years now and could easily meet the 1000 hour requirement. However, am I excluded now because I finished my CPL under 61?

    If so, it seems a bit unreasonable. The hours and aviation degree was the only bits mentioned in the proposal. Any thoughts?

    I think I might have to just wait it out for the 1500 🙁

    1. Hi Bert, ERAU has received FAA authorization to certify eligible graduates. So, it seems to me that you need to contact ERAU.

      I would be curious to know what you find out because many other people have asked similar questions about the R-ATP. Good luck!

  3. What really sucks is where you have an aviation bachelors degree, related to aircraft maintenance, and “accidentally” earned your instrument and commercial ratings under 61. Can’t very well go back and earn the ratings again, even if one wanted to pay for another bachelors degree.

    1. Actually, you can go back and earn your ratings again. But you probably wouldn’t want to. Just follow the Part 61 path all the way to ATP, which is what most people are still doing. At the current rate of college approvals, it could be years before the R-ATP system is fully up and running.

  4. I was looking in the FAR recently an noticed it says 250 hours of PIC time in an airplane. When did it change from simply 250 hours of PIC, as stated above?

    1. Hi John, this has not changed. If you are applying for ATP airplane, the “250 hours of flight time in an airplane as a pilot in command” is always required.

  5. I want to eventually get the ATP to fly for the regionals/airlines. I earned my B.S. in Aviation Administration. I got as far as earning my PPL at this same university, that’s it. Can I complete my Instrument and Commercial at “any” part 141 flight school or do I have to go back to the institution where I got the B.S.? According to both 61.160(b)(3)(i) & (ii), they state “….at “THE” institution of higher education.” Does this mean I have to go back to where I got my 4-yr degree or can I go to any approved part 141 school to get the Instrument and Commercial while fulfilling ATP requirements?

    1. Hi Adam, it is possible to transfer credits between authorized institutions. You need to discuss this with the aviation department at the university where you want to obtain R-ATP eligibility.

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