Thune Suggests Willingness to Drop Pilot Provision From FAA Bill

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By Shaun Courtney

A Senate committee chairman told Bloomberg Government he is open to dropping a contentious pilot-training provision from a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill so the measure can move to the floor for debate and a vote in the new year.

Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) wrote a provision into the Senate’s FAA bill (S. 1405) to create flexibility in how pilots earn training hours. The language would loosen the federally mandated 1,500 flight hours minimum for commercial airline co-pilots to allow other forms of non-flight training.

The provision aims to curb a pilot shortage among regional airlines, such as Mesa Air Group Inc., Great Lakes Aviation Inc., and SkyWest Inc.

“It may be that the bill is not the best place to get that addressed, if we can get that addressed in another form,” Thune said. “If we feel like we’re making sufficient headway on the 1,500 hours or at least on the pilot shortage issue in some other venue then we might be able to just start moving our bill.”

The 1,500-hour rule resulted from the deadly 2009 Colgan Air crash in New York. The proposal to change that rule has generated enough opposition to stall the bill’s progress since it was approved in committee in June. Opponents include Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s attention to the pilot shortage and willingness to address it through regulation give Thune reason to believe a legislative fix may not be needed, he said.

The current FAA authorization runs through March 31.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com

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