Republic Air CEO cites hurdles finding pilots

Tue Feb 11, 2014 9:50pm EST
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By Karen Jacobs

(Reuters) - Republic Airways Holdings Inc RJET.O expects to hire 350 pilots in 2014, down from 600 originally planned, as it cuts its planned flying in the wake of U.S. rules requiring more experience for aviators, Chief Executive Bryan Bedford said.

Bedford's comments followed Republic's disclosure on Tuesday that its pre-tax income would be reduced this year because it decided not to extend leases on 27 planes due to a scarcity of qualified pilots.

"What we've seen is a steady decrease in the qualified pilot applicant flow since August of last year," Bedford told Reuters in an interview. "It's become clear that there just aren't going to be enough pilots to satisfy our demand."

U.S. Federal Aviation Administration rules that took effect last summer require U.S. pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight time to operate commercial jets or cargo planes, up from 250 hours previously required for co-pilots. Airlines also must comply with additional rules that took effect this year requiring more rest for U.S. pilots.

Bedford said the beefed-up experience qualifications, which stemmed in part from a Colgan Air crash in February 2009 that killed 49 people on board and one person on the ground, meant that many "technically qualified, very competent" pilot candidates would not be available to the industry.

Thousands of pilots flying for major carriers such as Delta Air Lines (DAL.N: Quote) and American Airlines Group (AAL.O: Quote) will reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 over the next few years. When that happens, the bigger airlines will hire from regional carriers like Republic to fill the void, Bedford added.

The CEO said he expected pilot wages would rise because carriers would be forced to compete for a smaller pool of qualified applicants.

Indianapolis-based Republic Airways, which owns regional carriers Chautauqua Airlines and Republic Airlines, said it was not seeking to extend leases on 27 of 41 Embraer smaller jets that provide service for United Continental Holdings (UAL.N: Quote) and American Airlines. Taking those planes out of service this year will reduce pretax income between $18 million and $22 million.   Continued...