Southwest cutting required flight time for pilot applicants

(NewsNation) — Southwest Airlines announced they would be cutting required flying time hours for prospective pilots in half, in an effort to boost staff.

Though this move adds to the scrutiny Southwest is facing following the holiday travel meltdown and a recent close-call with a FedEx cargo jet in Austin, one former captain and aviation expert says it’s not as concerning as it seems.

“What this gives them is a lower floor where they could select an outstanding candidate with lower experience,” said former United pilot and aviation consultant, Kit Darby, on NewsNation “Prime.”

Starting Feb. 7, new pilot applicants for Southwest will need to have 500 hours of turbine time, down from the 1,000 hours previously required. Aside from this change, Southwest maintained they’re training policies remain the same.

“Our robust and rigorous Flight Operations training program has not changed and all current and future First Officer candidates must pass all elements of the curriculum prior to flying for Southwest,” said Southwest representative Tiffany Valdez in a written statement to NewsNation.

The move to cut required flying hours comes in response to Southwest’s pilot shortage, an issue they have been facing since the pandemic reduced input into pilot training programs. The shortage of pilots has caused Southwest to cut back on flights and restrict their growth as demand grows.

“A low-time pilot is not necessarily an unsafe pilot. The military, with the most sophisticated airplanes in the world, with a serious mission, puts people into those most sophisticated airplanes at 300 or 400 hours all the time, and they do fine. So good training can counter lower experience levels,” said Darby

Aside from the requirements Southwest establishes, new pilot applicants are also required to meet Federal Aviation Administration criteria, which require far fewer hours than most commercial airlines do.

The FAA still requires pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of total flying experience to qualify as co-pilots at U.S. airlines. With a huge need for pilots right now, and four to five years of training required to qualify to fly, this move will help ease the burden quicker, according to Darby.

Southwest told NewsNation their new recruiting policies will remain in line with or above FAA requirements, saying, “We’ll continue selecting competitively-qualified, world-class aviators who demonstrate extensive flight experience, professionalism and Southwest values.”


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