What you need to know about the 1,500-hour rule

As of Aug. 1, 2013, all U.S. airline first officers are required to meet much more rigorous minimum qualifications than have been in place for decades. The new requirements for airline copilots are intended to improve the safety of the U.S. airline industry and should also add value to pilots’ airman certificates. This website was developed to provide up-to-date information on what ALPA members need to know about the new rule and how it impacts them.

Read the FAA's list of Institutions Authorized to Certify its Graduates for an ATP Certificate with Reduced Aeronautical Experience
Read the Pilot Certification and Qualification Requirements for Air Carrier Operations (7/10/13)
Read the DOT Notice.
Read about Pilot Training and Job Aids.
Read the Final Rule.
Read the Pilot Qualifications Summary.
Read the July 10, 2013 FAA press release announcing the “1,500 Rule.”


The Final Rule
Logging right-seat PIC time

The Final Rule

Directed by Congress, the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010 called for increased minimum requirements for airline first officers. The new rule mandates that airline first officers hold an air transport pilot (ATP) certificate or the new “restricted ATP.”

An ATP certificate requires, among many other qualifications, that the pilot be at least 23 years old and have logged at least 1,500 hours of flight time.

The “restricted ATP” requires pilots to be at least 21 years old with

  • 750 flight hours if they are military-trained and qualified,
  • 1,000 flight hours if trained in a four-year college or university-accredited aviation training program leading to a bachelor’s degree, or
  • 1,250 flight hours if trained in a two-year college aviation program leading to an associate’s degree.

Pilots who obtain their certificates and ratings via non-structured general aviation flight training can qualify for the restricted ATP at age 21 with 1,500 hours of flight time.

The new rule also requires, per ALPA’s recommendation, that first officers be “type rated” in the aircraft they fly in airline service—i.e., receive special training and testing on operation of that specific aircraft type.

To upgrade to captain, an airline copilot must log at least 1,000 hours of flight time as an airline copilot, as pilot in command (PIC) in certain small and charter airline or commercial general aviation operations, or any combination of these situations. The flight experience does not have to be obtained at the pilot’s current airline.

Military PIC time (as much as 500 hours) in a multi-engine, turbine-powered, fixed-wing airplane in an operation requiring more than one pilot may also be credited towards the 1,000 hours.

At ALPA’s urging, the FAA has not changed the type of medical certification required for airline first officers—they will still be required to hold at least a second class FAA airman medical certificate.

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Logging right-seat PIC time

Low-time copilots who need to log more pilot-in-command (PIC) time toward the ATP requirement of 250 hours of PIC time have an option available to them for logging PIC time from the right seat.

FAR 61.51(e) says, in part, that a commercial pilot “may log pilot-in-command flight time for flights … [w]hen the pilot is the sole manipulator of the controls of an aircraft for which the pilot is rated,” or “[w]hen the pilot … acts as pilot in command of an aircraft for which more than one pilot is required under the type certification of the aircraft or the regulations under which the flight is conducted.”

FAR 61.51(e) also permits logging PIC time from the right seat “[w]hen the pilot performs the duties of pilot in command while under the supervision of a qualified pilot in command provided (A) The pilot performing the duties of pilot in command holds a commercial … pilot certificate and aircraft rating that is appropriate to the category and class of aircraft being flown, if a class rating is appropriate; (B) The pilot performing the duties of pilot in command is undergoing an approved pilot-in-command training program…; (C) The supervising pilot in command holds … (2) An airline transport pilot certificate and aircraft rating that is appropriate to the category, class, and type of aircraft being flown, if a class or type rating is required; and (D) The supervising pilot in command logs the pilot-in-command training in the pilot’s logbook, certifies the pilot-in-command training in the pilot’s logbook, and attests to the certification with his or her signature, and flight instructor certificate number.”

The short version

Beginning Aug. 1, 2013, to be a copilot for a U.S. FAR Part 121 airline, you must hold an ATP or a “restricted” ATP certificate. First officers also will be type-rated in the aircraft they intend to fly in FAR Part 121 service.

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A series of four fatal accidents involving U.S. airlines during a period of a few years stimulated the U.S. Congress to address the issue of minimum qualifications for airline pilots. Of the eight pilots in the cockpits of these airplanes, five had relatively low experience and/or documented training deficiencies.

Congress noted that the minimum qualifications for airline captains serving as pilot in command of an FAR Part 121 flight included

  • An air transport pilot (ATP) airman certificate, which requires at least 1,500 hours of total flight time, among other requirements,
  • A multi-engine rating, and
  • A first class airman medical certificate in order to exercise the privileges of an ATP certificate.

The minimum requirements for an FAR Part 121 first officer were considerably less rigorous:

  • A commercial pilot certificate, which normally can be obtained with only 250 hours of total flight time, reduced to 190 hours for pilots attending an FAA-approved FAR Part 142 flight school,
  • Instrument and multi-engine ratings, and
  • A second class medical certificate.

PL 111-216

The result of Congress’ focus on these accidents and related issues was Public Law 111-216, the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010, signed into law by President Obama on August 1, 2010. The legislation mandates, among other things, that

  • Effective Aug. 1, 2013, a pilot must possess an air transport pilot (ATP) airman certificate to serve as a flight crewmember in FAR Part 121 airline flight operations, and
  • The FAA must review and update the requirements for obtaining an ATP certificate.

PL 111-216 gave the FAA some flexibility, however; the agency can give flight hour credit for “specific academic training” that improves the safety of the pilot. As a result, the FAA created an aviation rulemaking committee (ARC)—a group of government and industry experts—to recommend a definition of “specific academic training” and the amount of flight time credit that would be given for such training. ALPA had a strong presence on the ARC.

Different paths to three stripes

One thing that was not changed by the new first officer rules are the four main paths to a career as an airline pilot:

  • General aviation unstructured training,
  • General aviation structured training (i.e., flight schools),
  • College/university professional pilot degree programs (e.g., Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, University of North Dakota, Southern Illinois University), and
  • Military aviation.

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FastRead Stories:

New Qualification Requirements for U.S. Pilots (March 19, 2013)

New Qualification Requirements for U.S. Pilots (March 18, 2013)

News Stories:

Training Program Addresses First-Officer Changes (AVWeb)

Controller Furloughs Hit Regional Carriers Hardest (AINonline)

ALPA Reminds Pilots of New ATP Qualification Rules (Aero News Network)

FAA Proposes to Raise Airline Pilot Qualification Standards (FAA)

Report: FAA Lags on Fulfilling Airline Safety Law (Fox News)

FAA Proposes 1,500 Flight Hour Requirement for Pilots (Air Transport World)

New Qualification Requirements for U.S. Pilots (AvStop)