Pilot Shortage Forces Republic Airways To Cut Service

fromWFYI

Indianapolis-based Republic Airways has a problem: It can't find enough pilots to fly its planes. And so it plans to take more than two dozen of its jets out of service. Six months ago, the FAA boosted the number of hours it takes to qualify as a commercial pilot, and that has made it difficult for small, regional carriers to get the pilots they need.

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Republic Airways is a successful Midwest holding company that owns three U.S. small carriers. But it can't find enough pilots to fly its plane so it plans to take more than two dozen of its jets out of service. New federal rules requiring pilots to have more flying hours under their belt has made it difficult for regional carriers to hire new ones.

WFYI's Sam Klemet reports.

SAM KLEMET, BYLINE: Adding pilots hasn't been much of an issue for Republic in the past. The airline has hired about 850 over the past two years. But, CEO Bryan Bedford says applications have nosedived since August.

BRYAN BEDFORD: On an average month, Republic would receive several hundred resumes - not that all of those resumes were actually qualified pilots. But, we saw a significant decrease, roughly the population was cut in half in the September, October, November time frame.

KLEMET: August is when new FAA guidelines kicked in. The changes came in the wake of Colgan Air Flight 3407, which five years ago this week, crashed near Buffalo, New York. It was determined that the two pilots made a series of errors that resulted in the deaths of 50 people.

Previously, 250 hours of in-flight training were needed to fly a commercial jet, now it's 1,500. But, there just aren't enough pilots who meet the new higher threshold. So, Republic isn't renewing contracts for 27 of its aircraft. And fewer flights mean a financial hit, which Bedford estimates is to the tune of between $18 million and $22 million.

BEDFORD: It's going to be about 750 fewer jobs created, which includes the pilots, flight attendants who are on the aircraft, our maintenance technicians, administrative employees, people in our flight dispatching office. So it runs the gamut.

KLEMET: Bedford says the country needs to rethink how pilots are trained and there needs to be more of an emphasis on quality of hours not quantity.

For NPR News, I'm Sam Klemet in Indianapolis.

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