Reported by Alex Daugherty for Politico Pro.
Unions for pilots and flight attendants, as well as former Rep. Peter DeFazio, on Tuesday, made an 11th-hour pitch urging DOT to reject a proposal from SkyWest Airlines to operate charter flights under less stringent FAA regulations that would allow their pilots to fly with less than 1,500 hours of training.
Former House Transportation Chair DeFazio, ALPA President Jason Ambrosi, AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson and Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan all argued that SkyWest’s application to conduct flights under Part 135, which governs charter flights, is an attempt to circumvent safety rules and could potentially cut service to some rural airports.
“Their scheme would turn back the clock on our nation’s unmatched safety record,” Ambrosi said. “It must be stopped because it would create a different level of safety for small, rural communities.”
Regan said it isn’t clear when DOT will make a decision but it could happen at any time.
“It is on the edge, one bureaucrat can sign off and it goes to whoever the higher power is and it moves,” DeFazio said. “There’s some at DOT who think this is going to enhance service to small and medium communities — no. DOT needs to listen because some people down there don’t have it quite straight.”
Ambrosi and Nelson added that they are also attempting to close what they called “the charter loophole” in the FAA bill to prevent other commercial airlines from shifting to charters as a way to get out from under the 1,500-hour rule. DeFazio, who is barred from lobbying Congress until January 2024, emphasized that his conversations on the issue are solely with DOT officials.
“I’m not working that angle. I’m totally focused on DOT, they have the administrative authority,” DeFazio said. “I just want to make it clear in case the monitors are watching.”
Background: SkyWest’s charter application has drawn ire from some lawmakers, notably Senate Commerce Aviation Subcommittee Chair Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and American Airlines. Ambrosi also added that he has discussed the issue privately with other airlines who see the charter application as a “slippery slope.”
In June 2022, SkyWest filed a petition with DOT requesting that it be allowed to create a spin-off company called SkyWest Charter that operates part of the company’s fleet as a commuter air carrier. Pilots at charter airlines only need to have 250 hours of training, rather than the 1,500-hour minimum for airlines with scheduled flight operations. SkyWest executives said on an earnings call in April that designating certain routes as charter flights allows the airline to continue flying to smaller destinations and is a way of counteracting the airline’s pilot hiring struggles.
Regional carriers say they haven’t been able to hire enough pilots because of the 1,500-hour rule and some carriers have attempted other end-runs around the 1,500-hour rule — for example, last year Republic Airways sought an exemption to the rule for pilots trained at their in-house flight school. The airline argued that its training regimen should be enough to allow pilots to fly with just 750 hours of flight time, the same reduced experienced requirements that military pilots have. The FAA denied Republic’s petition.
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