What exactly is the FAA 1500 hour rule? In very simple terms, the FAA 1500 hour rule specifies a time limit before pilots are granted an ATP License.
The introduction of the FAA 1500 hour rule was introduced in 2013 and has caused controversy ever since, and you are about to find out why. What exactly is the FAA 1500 hour rule? In this article, we will examine the reason for its creation and its implications for pilots and aviation.
What Is the FAA 1500 Hour Rule?
In very simple terms, the FAA 1500 hour rule specifies that before a pilot can be granted an Airline Transport Pilot License, they must accrue 1500 hours total flight time. They must also be 23 or older. In even simpler terms, what this means is that airlines will not (generally) hire potential first officers with a commercial license.
When flying in a multi-crew environment, there are two pilots. The captain or ‘commander’ is referred to as the ‘pilot in command’ (PIC). The first officer or co-pilot is referred to as ‘second in command’ (SIC). The 1500 hour rule has the greatest effect on those seeking an SIC position, as it is likely that they will have the least experience.
Is This Different Than Before?
Yes, vastly. Before the introduction of the 1500 hour rule, first officers were only required to be a commercial license holder, which only required a minimum of 250 hours to attain. In tandem with this requirement, a prospective first officer (also known as a co-pilot) must be trained and tested on a specific aircraft type (known as a type rating).
Furthermore, the rule specifies that a prospective airline co-pilot must also have logged at least 50 hours in a multi-engine aircraft. The prospective candidate must also complete an approved ATP certification program.
1500 Hour Rule Summary
To gain a position as a first officer with an Airline Transport Pilot License, a candidate must:
- Be 23 years old or greater.
- Hold a Commercial Pilots License and instrument rating.
- Have flown 50 hours in a multi-engine airplane.
- Complete an approved ATP training program.
- Have flown 1500 qualifying hours.
- Have passed all ATP knowledge and practical tests.
Exceptions to the FAA 1500 Hour Rule
While the rule will apply to most newer pilots, there are exceptions. This experience (and age) requirement may be reduced somewhat in certain circumstances. These include:
- Military pilots with 750 hours of flight time.
- Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in aviation with 1000 hours of flight time.
- Graduates with an Associates’ degree in aviation with 1250 hours flight time.
- Pilots who are 21 years old must have 1500 hours of flight time.
It is worth noting that the above doesn’t permit the holder to a full ATP license but a restricted privileges certificate. If you would like to read the 1500 rule in its entirety, the FAA has produced a fact sheet here.
Why Was the FAA 1500 Rule Introduced?
The 1500 rule was introduced following an air disaster. The accident investigation concluded that both pilots failed to respond appropriately to warnings leading to a review of pilot experience requirements.
Downsides to the FAA 1500 Hour Rule
When it was introduced, the 1500 rule was considered quite controversial in many circles. The cause of the Colgan Air incident was not solely due to inexperience (in fact, both pilots had over 1500 hours of flying experience). One key factor that has to be considered is that the 1500 hour rule has gone some way to creating a pilot shortage.
Whereas in the past, a prospective candidate could accrue a relatively low number of hours before making their way to a ‘real’ airline, now this has been greatly increased. The financial pressure placed on low-experienced pilots is greater, as there is a greater period spent accruing hours in those positions which aren’t quite so ‘glamorous’.
Furthermore, graduates need less flying time, or to flip it around, becoming a co-pilot is more accessible for a graduate. As you may already be aware, going to college comes with a high cost in its own right.
What Is the Good News?
There may be a silver lining to our ‘cloud’. It isn’t all bad. We will take a look and see the positive side with the FAA 1500 hour rule:
Experienced Pilots Equals Safer Flights
This point may be controversial, but there is a direct relationship between experience and flight safety. An increase in the number of flying hours does mean that, on average, a prospective pilot’s ‘stick and rudder’ skills (also known as handling abilities) should be greatly improved.
A Pilot Shortage?
For those well versed in aviation careers, it is very much a boom-and-bust industry. According Boeing’s recently released Pilot and Technician Outlook (PTO) study, the demand for experienced pilots outstrips supply. Why? As more experienced pilots retire, there simply aren’t enough new joiners to fill their shoes.
What does this mean for a prospective trainee? When there is demand in a profession, usually the amount of remuneration and the benefits tend to go in the right direction… that is up! You can expect that career earnings will be positively affected in the long term.
Airlines and Flight Schools Recognize the Challenge
Pilots are as much of an airline’s lifeblood as passengers. Without either, the aircraft won’t leave the ground. Airlines recognize this and are keen to ensure that a temporary slowing of pilot numbers doesn’t lead to bigger problems.
As a result, many are partnering with flight schools to recruit pilots who show particular promise during training. This can often be combined with offering agreements with pilots during their training to employ them in the future once the hours requirements are met. This ‘sponsored’ track gives pilots the ability to invest in their future without uncertainty.
Ways to Achieve 1500 Hours Flight Time?
The FAA 1500 hour rule makes it harder to gain an ATP and find a first officer position. However, there are solutions. There are many rewarding careers for low-hour pilots that will allow a candidate to be paid, both financially and with invaluable experience. If the answer to the question of what exactly is the FAA 1500 hour rule fills you with a sense of foreboding, it doesn’t have to.
While rules and regulations are constantly reviewed, one constant requirement in aviation is great training to put yourself in the best possible position. While the quantity of flight hours may have increased, there is still a consistent requirement for quality flight training. This is one factor that is certainly in your control.
Tamu Smith-Kohls serves as the Vice President of Enrollment Management and Marketing for California Aeronautical University. She has worked in the aviation industry in various roles for 24 years. As a United States Air Force retired veteran, she has a unique appreciation for the aviation industry. Tamu has served in Information Systems as a Network Administrator, Aerospace Flight Medicine as a Health Services Manager, and Air Force Recruitment and Marketing. She holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology; a Master’s in Business Administration and is a Certified Neuro Linguistic Practitioner. Her passion is motivating, training, coaching and serving others to reach their best potential.