Fast Five: Republic CEO On FAA Denial Of Pilot Training Exemption

Republic Airways President & CEO  Bryan Bedford
Credit: Republic Airways

Hours after the FAA denied Republic Airways’ petition to have its Leadership In Flight Training (LIFT) Academy viewed as equivalent to U.S. military instruction for commercial pilot licensing purposes, exempting LIFT graduates from the so-called 1,500-hr. rule, Republic CEO and President Bryan Bedford met with Aviation Week editors Ben Goldstein, Sean Broderick and Joe Anselmo to discuss what it means for regional carriers as they grapple with a severe pilot shortfall.

What’s your reaction to the FAA’s decision to deny Republic’s exemption request?  We were disappointed that it was rejected but not terribly surprised. We’ve seen others put forth exemption requests in the past that were rejected, so we knew it was going to be a heavy lift. But the hope was that we were doing something different than what we had seen in previous petitions looking for relief. We actually had substantial data—years of data—that bears out our case. We just wish the FAA would have actually done the work to see whether what we were proposing made sense. We never heard from them. No one from the FAA ever came out to Indianapolis to visit the LIFT Academy. What we were proposing was just rejected.

How has the 1,500-hr. rule affected the skills and readiness level of new-hire pilots at Republic in the years following its 2013 enactment? We first started to see the effect in our own training programs around 2014, when the first set of 1,500-hr. pilots were coming through the program. And our failure rates were just skyrocketing, to the point where even I was surprised at just how poorly these kids were doing. But the reality is, they were so far removed from the actual training environment—from all the time spent going out and burning holes in the sky. None of us had really conceived how poorly they were going to perform when they came back to us. That’s when we first started thinking about the LIFT Academy. We began to realize that we can’t just rely on the market to deliver us pilots. Now, the first class of LIFT students from the fall of 2018 are finally coming into Republic—that was slowed by a year or two due to COVID—and these kids are excellent.

What did your pilot group think of the proposal? The one labor union that didn’t file a negative comment was our pilots’ union. You know why? Because they’ve seen the results of what we’re doing. They’re not prepared to get out and support it, but they certainly weren’t willing to take the cheap shot and say it wasn’t a good program. Because they see our students matriculate through the mainline, and they’re providing feedback to augment the training program. But we realize we could still do even more with that process, and that’s why we wanted to add more structure to the program to replicate what the military is doing. We’ve spent tens of millions of dollars on LIFT. The only reason we would spend even more money is if we felt there was some return on that investment, and that return has to be through fewer time-building hours.

How does this effort tie into the push to enhance diversity in the cockpit? The industry’s performance on color and gender in the cockpit has flatlined for the past decade. We haven’t moved the needle a bit. And why is that? It’s because the families can’t afford this career pathway. It’s unobtainable, and no one is doing anything to make it more affordable. If we can, and they begin to see people that look like themselves succeed in this career path, that will encourage more diverse students to make the attempt.

You’ve warned that the regional pilot shortage could lead to a loss of air service for small communities. Will that get policymakers to act? That may be the only thing that will move the needle. Over the summer, we heard [U.S. Transportation] Secretary [Pete] Buttigieg say during a Senate hearing that there is a national pilot shortage. And he agreed that it’s disproportionately impacting regional airlines and causing a loss of service to small communities. I really thought that was the watershed moment that we needed to enable this dialog to resonate. It’s disappointing that it didn’t. But the problem articulated in that Senate hearing is ever-looming, and we will continue to see the negative effects on small communities. It’s just disappointing that we’re going to take people off airplanes and put them on the highway for a long drive to get to whatever the next airport is. We could do better as a country and should do better.

Ben Goldstein

Based in Boston, Ben covers advanced air mobility and is managing editor of Aviation Week Network’s AAM Report.

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.

Joe Anselmo

Joe Anselmo has been Editorial Director of the Aviation Week Network and Editor-in-Chief of Aviation Week & Space Technology since 2013. Based in Washington, D.C., he directs a team of more than two dozen aerospace journalists across the U.S., Europe and Asia-Pacific.


What rubbish. Republic tried to get by on the cheap and the FAA, rightfully, said "No."

Military pilots are paid to learn to fly and are washed out if they do not meet standards. Republic will charge $90,000 but tells prospective students that they can borrow it all (including housing) from Sallie Mae. All it takes is 15 minutes to complete the loan application!

The rigorous qualifications to apply to LIFT? Age 18, a drivers license and high school diploma equivalent. This hardly sounds like "top shelf" material.

Republic says it's concerned about small communities in America losing air service. What they are actually worried about is losing the revenue stream and the profits that would come there from.
With help from industry, the FAA should design and approve a structured approach to becoming an ATP. Applicants using that approach should replace the 1,500 hour with something less. Flying a C172 is entirely different than flying a big jet. A lot has changed in the past decade. Simulator technology has advanced greatly and the cost of flying a C172 has skyrocketed. Simulators should be viewed as a viable (and better) alternative to 1,500 hours in a C172. The FAA and the big pilot unions don't want to change, to protect themselves, but the time and need for change is now.

Part of the pilot shortage is due to the military no longer cranking out thousands of pilots qualified to fly jets at no direct cost to the airlines. Deregulation changed airline travel from something for the wealthy and privileged to a trip by Greyhound: Low Fares, Direct Routes, E-Tickets | Amenities: Onboard Entertainment, Free Wifi, Power Outlets, Extra Legroom.

Granted, it is difficult to objectively evaluate "... all the time spent going out and burning holes in the sky..." Experience can be a great teacher: single pilot night freight, or 135 on-demand charter, with demanding weather and passengers - making mistakes and rectifying them (if they do not kill you). The highly trained military pilot lacks experience in the real world, specifically the real world of 135 and 121 aviation. Generally, they will not be direct entry captains; the hours they will spend in the right seat provide the necessary experience in a structured environment.
The airlines should advocate the elimination of the mandatory retirement age.
Australia and New Zealand got rid of age limits and have never looked back. Canada never had any - it was the union that wanted mandatory retirement.
Given a choice, passengers would opt for older and more experienced pilots, just as they opt for more experienced heart and brain surgeons. If they could do it over, the passengers and two flight attendants on Colgan Air Flight 3407 would opt for a more experienced crew, and the pilot and F/O would have called in sick.
A mandatory retirement age becomes the de facto minimum retirement age. Pay, retirement, and bidding are frequently skewed towards that. Pilots should be able to plan their careers and retirement without interference from the FAA.