Airlines' reported pilot shortage real or trumped up?

4:48 PM, Nov 12, 2012   |    comments
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(CBS News) U.S. airlines are facing a serious pilot shortage, according to one report in the Wall Street Journal.

Airline officials say more pilots are leaving the job and government rules require new pilots to have much more flight experience.

So, is this shortage a fact -- or just a scare tactic?

Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, CBS News' aviation and safety expert weighed in on "CBS This Morning" on Monday.

"This strikes me as a cynical effort on the part of some in the industry to cry wolf and use scare tactics in an intent to influence the (Federal Aviation Administration) when they write the final rule on pilot experience to weaken it, and this pilot experience requirement is one that's mandated by the Congress," Sullenberger said.

Sullenberger said the new pilot measures were voted upon with unanimous results in the House and Senate. "(It's an) amazing accomplishment in this political environment -- to solve problems in the regional airline industry that have been the result of a dozen years of crashes taking needless lives," he said.

If the new rules are undermined, Sullenberger said it means the airlines will continue to hire pilots who aren't fully experienced. "When they go into the right seat of a regional jet as a new hire pilot, they're still getting on-the-job training with you as the passenger in the back," he said. "It means that, until they've got much more time, probably several thousand more hours, they haven't seen that many cycles of the year, the thunderstorms in the summer, the ice and snow in the winter."

Referring to his "Miracle on the Hudson" flight in January 2009 in which he and his co-pilot landed U.S. Airways flight 1549 safely on the Hudson River, Sullenberger said, "Experience matters. If my first officer Jeff Skiles and I on the Hudson River flight hadn't been as experienced, if we had much less time, we could not have had the same outcome and people likely would have died."

Sullenberger agreed that the airline industry is trying to create a crisis for their own benefit.

"This is not a surprise to anyone," he said. "You know, we've known since December 2007 what the mandatory age for retirement for pilots was going to be. We've known these rules were coming for several years. In fact, in congressional testimony this year regional airline association officials, in response to a congressional question, indicated that they fully expected by August of 2012, which has passed, that their member airlines would be completely compliant with the airline transport pilot license requirement in the new rule. As a matter of fact, they further say that out of their 18,000 regional pilots, only 100 might not be and that's because they haven't yet reached the age of 23, which is one of the requirements."

CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg added that airlines can and will meet these requirements. "You can't create a crisis and say 'it's an economic impact, we're going to have a problem' when you've known about it for a long time. And the rules that are in place -- and I think Sully would agree -- are minimum rules. We're just starting this. If you see what the actual requirements were for hours of pilot experience prior to this, they were laughable. We're at a better level now, but it's still not where we need to be."

CBS News

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