R-ATP Regulation to Reality

The newly-promulgated FAR 61.160 went into effect last week.  Already, I am seeing positive changes in the aviation industry.  Hiring is on a rapid up-swing, and rumors are starting to circulate about a liberal interpretation of the new first officer qualifications and certification rules.

While discussing the potential for a pilot shortage last year, I didn’t yet mention the combined effects of existing trends and the looming 1,500-hour minimum experience level for new first officers.  What was happening at the time, and slowly becoming problematic, was that the regional airlines were increasing their own hiring qualifications.  Those hiring policies were becoming restrictive faster than the country was producing ATP-qualified pilots.  Remember, before the Airline Safety Act of 2010 there was no requirement for regional airlines to hire ATP certified first officers.  But the Act required by August 1, 2013 that “all flight crewmembers have obtained an airline transport pilot certificate.”  The Act also required the FAA to issue its Final Rule on this by an August 1, 2012 deadline, which it failed to do.  This left airlines in the awkward position of hiring only those pilots who could obtain an ATP before the 2013 deadline.  Hiring slowed to near zero because there was a shortage of entry-level pilots who could accumulate 1,500 hours of flight experience.

It was ironic on many levels that the FAA didn’t finalize the new regulations until July 15, 2013.  This gave the entire industry only two weeks to meet the required compliance date.

I don’t think anyone expects even the FAA to adapt to these changes that quickly.  The reality of compliance with the multiple new requirements is that it will take several months just to create and implement the needed procedures.  In the meantime, there are parts of the industry operating on assumptions, hopes, and loopholes.  After all, this new regulation by its own nature is just a huge set of exceptions to the ATP certification requirement.

New Loopholes

The new FAR 121.436 grandfathers most existing airline pilots and excludes them from the new SIC type rating requirement until 2016 and from the new PIC experience requirements indefinitely.  The ATP requirement however is effective as of August 1, 2013 and now prevents commercial certified pilots from flying under part 121.

The new AC 61-139 specifies authority for retroactive R-ATP eligibility certification of aviation degree graduates:

Based on the information provided on the initial or reinstatement application, the FAA will determine whether or not prior graduates of the degree program(s) listed on the application may also be eligible for a restricted ATP Certificate with a certifying statement should the institution receive authorization.

The new FAR 61.160 may be open to interpretation as to the phrase, “training was completed as part of an approved part 141 curriculum.”  I have engaged in some lively debates on this point.  While everyone hopes this regulation is not taken literally to mean that a part 141 commercial check ride application is the prerequisite for an R-ATP certificate, the only thing everyone agrees on is that nobody knows exactly how the FAA will interpret this.

Airlines need new pilots now, but nobody is authorized yet to certify graduates for R-ATP eligibility.  It looks like what is happening is the universities are submitting their authorization applications to the FAA and also issuing eligibility certificates on a case-by-case basis to graduates who are essentially R-ATP qualified despite the procedural formalities.  Presumably, this comes with some kind of a loophole assurance from the FAA that the R-ATP pilot certificates can be issued in the immediate future despite the expected delays in authorizing the universities to certify graduates.

New Predictions

Even after the FAA catches up with the influx of applications from universities, the reality of the R-ATP certification process might not be quite what the regulations specify.  The adaptation of regulations to laws and adaptation of industry to regulations will need to be followed by adaptation of regulations to industry.  I don’t think the regulatory process is anywhere near finished for this very new R-ATP license.

There are still hints that the FAA is considering a “multi-crew” certification track for career pilots.  It doesn’t seem like that will happen any time soon, but it does seem like a viable alternative to R-ATP minimums.  The industry’s ability to adapt to the 1,500-hour and 1,000-hour minimums in the long run has yet to be seen.

I stand by my previous predictions that the not-part-121 operators may be uniquely poised to hire new commercial pilot graduates now.  With no immediate possibility of getting hired by a regional airline, the entry level career pilots are limited to jobs as flight instructors and perhaps corporate and part 135 pilots.  As I mentioned before, jobs such as towing banners and carrying sky divers don’t offer the type of experience required for either ATP or R-ATP.  Think about the 200 hours cross-country and 100 hours night flying.  Where will those come from?

The successful recruitment of new pilots by regional airlines could become precarious again after this next hiring surge subsides.  This is great news for pilots, because increased competition between part-121 and not-part-121 operators for human resources helps to drive up wages.

In summary, I see continuing trends of increased hiring, increased wages, and the FAA scrambling to make its new rules work well for all parties.

Previous article: First Officer Qualification Rule in Detail

3 thoughts on “R-ATP Regulation to Reality”

  1. Answering a couple questions I received recently:

    Completed my ground training for instrument and commercial at a 141 school but did my flying part 61. I assume I’m out of luck?

    What I’ve seen so far is that the part 61 training at a part 141 flight school is not preventing R-ATP issuance. This could change however, and nobody seems to know if this will be allowed in the future. New students would be well-advised to enroll under part 141 for instrument and commercial flight training.

    Will my university have to start their own 141 training program or just tell students to go to any flight training school that is part 141?

    Universities that have either their own part 141 approval or an affiliated part 141 flight school (with a written agreement) should have no problem applying for and receiving the eligibility authorization.

    I think you might run into problems at a university that does not offer FAA-approved flight training. I don’t have any first-hand information about that though. Ultimately, it is up to the local FSDO to determine who can take an R-ATP check ride.

    I would enjoy hearing about experiences anyone else has with these scenarios.

  2. I am curious on how liberal the “required flight training” will be taken. I completed PVT, INST, COMM single under PT 141- assuming the DE ride was done under PT 141.. but I received my Multi add on via PT 61 (off campus if you will).. 61.160 (b)(3)(ii) doesnt specify, initial commercial or otherwise. (b)(3)(i) however, was completed PT 141 ground school.

    What are your thoughts?

    1. Hi Jon, my personal first impression is that the “required flight training” for a “commercial pilot certificate with an airplane category and instrument rating” refers to the minimums, or initial training. So, the required training for your instrument rating ended with the instrument check ride, and the commercial airplane training ended with the commercial ASEL check ride.

      To entertain other interpretations would involve questions such as, what if the applicant has a single-engine instrument rating and a multi-engine VFR restriction?

      The way they updated 61.159(a)(3) suggests the only influence of part 141 on your add-on ratings is the 50% simulator credit toward AMEL hours.

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