Airline cockpit still a dream for many

The cockpit of a Part 121 airline is still the dream of many pilots. However, following the Colgan Airlines accident in 2009, Congress passed a law requiring all airline pilots hold an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate. That certificate requires a minimum of 1,500 flight hours and 23 years of age.

A trio of universities, the University of North Dakota, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Eastern Kentucky University, now are all eligible to designate graduates of their respective programs as candidates for the 1,000-hour restricted ATP certificate at 21 years of age.

Prior to the rule change, first officers were required to have only a commercial pilot certificate, which requires a minimum of 250 hours of flight time.


  1. Jeff says

    Yes, you only needed a commercial pilots license then, with Multi engine and Instrument rating. I got hired by NW Airlines in 1996 and the lowest time guy in the class had over 3000 hours and most of that turbo prop time, I had over 10,000 hours then most of it PIC in Jets and Turbo props (ex military, C-141’s), all of us had ATP’s. Granted this was not the first airline any of us had worked for and I’m sure the commuter airlines (at that time almost all turbo prop operations, pre Canadair CRJ) had a lot lower standards but if I remember right it was minimum 1000-1200 hours then. Standards have gone down a lot with the big expansion of the feeder/commuter airlines operated by independant companies but with aircraft owned by the major airline they are affiliated with. The Majors (used to be 8-10 majors now only 5) have had these tie-ins for years but in the last few years they have been ruthless with them moving aircraft around to get the cheapest rates (if you get a nice contract you can figure you will be furloughed soon) flying these new fairly high performance and extremely high tech aircraft (Q400, CRJ’s). In the next 10 years about half of all the current major airline pilots are going to retire, we are retiring in droves (I like to think of us as the “Sky King” generation of pilots), in my case 2 years from now. Our peak rate is over 800 pilots a year. We are now seeing a trend where the major doesn’t want to have as many of those 44-50 seat jets, with $100 a barrel oil they just aren’t efficient enough and they are putting on more aircraft of the 100-175 seat capacity and replacing them. There still running the 70-76 seat small jets and turbo props but the small 19-44 seat turbo props that got the guys the experience needed for the majors are gone, or going soon. I think instituting this change requiring the airlines to have a pilot with over 1000 hours and an ATP was the only way to get the airlines to not keep lowering the standards in times of shortage. Those airlines who don’t offer a decent pay, working conditions and benefits package are going to find it hard to impossible to find pilots. The cost of learning to fly went up in price and time but not really more than a generation or two back where you couldn’t get hired without at least 1200-1500 hours of experience. There is now going to be a market for multi engine training with an ATP checkride.

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