The 1500 Hours Rule Grounds the US Airline Industry

Kevin Pasciak
Executive Managing Editor
Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2018


The 1500 Hours Rule requires first officers to have at least 1500 hours of total flight time for licensure to fly commercial aircraft. The 2010 regulation boosted the flight time requirement for first officers from 250 to 1500 hours. Due to the heightened experience requirements, regional airlines have grounded flights and reduced their services, as they have not had sufficient qualified pilots to sustain the flights.

The Shift from the 250-Hour Requirement to the 1500-Hour Rule

Continental Connection Flight 3407 (operated by Colgan Air, Inc.) crashed during its final approach into Buffalo, New York. Families of the victims of this crash advocated for increased standards of pilots. The 1500 Hours Rule was part of comprehensive legislation that included rigorous requirements for commercial airlines and related governmental agencies. The focus here is the set of requirements for pilots.

Proponents of the 1500 Hours Rule argue that the more rigorous training will prevent tragedies caused by inexperienced pilots. While the heightened requirement reduces the pool of available candidates for first officers, flights in and out of regional airports should not sacrifice safety.

Others argue that the heightened requirements do not result in safer skies, and it costs consumers that will pay increased fares and the airline industry (and airline employees) which is experiencing a downstream reduction in travel. There is a proposal before Congress seeking to reduce the 1500 hours of required flight time by substituting some of those hours with class-room and other on-the-ground training. The costs associated with the increased flight-time are massive and are keeping pilots and airlines from actually flying.

Complying with the 1500 Hours Rule Prevents United States Airlines from Having Enough Qualified Pilots and Puts The United States at a Disadvantage

A Forbe’s article by Dr. Nunes, a specialist in regulatory policy and workforce productivity, argues that the 1500 Hours Rule does not improve safety in the air, but it dramatically increases the training costs of pilots. Pilots need so much more initial flying time, at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars per pilot, which the regional airlines cannot afford to train the enough pilots to keep up with the flight demand. The article also questions whether the increased training requirements actually result in safer air travel.

Many United States Airlines Struggle in Current Regulations Compared to International Standards

Many regional airlines serving smaller markets have marketing agreements with big carriers and are experiencing pilot shortages due to this heightened training requirement. Overnight, some regional airlines decommissioned some (or all) of their pilots, as their flight hours were insufficient for the heightened requirements.   These regional airlines operate on tight budgets and cannot afford the increased costs associated with the incremental training. Regional Silver Airways, Republic Airways and Great Lakes Aviation reported service cuts due to complying with the new regulation. As fewer people fly in and out of regional airports, the larger hubs experience reduced traffic as well. United Continental downsized its Cleveland hub by 36 percent due to the reduced traffic from the regulation.

Internationally, pilots obtain certification via a Multi-Crew Pilot License (MLP) programs in 240 hours without any previous flight experience. Specific types of training and shift to multi-engine and multi-crew environment result in a more streamlined training regimen. Reduced training costs result in a lower barrier to becoming a professional airline pilot. Under these international regulations, U.S. pilots could meet these training requirements by training on a single-engine propeller aircraft as opposed to training in sophisticated multi-engine jets. Accordingly, opportunity exists for these pilots overseas where it is reduced through these training regulations in the United States.