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Senate enquiry recommends ATPL licence be minimum for “high capacity” jet airliners

written by australianaviation.com.au | June 24, 2011

Senator Xenophon calls the Senate report into pilot training a "massive rebuff" for Jetstar's pilot training scheme. (Seth Jaworksi)

The long awaited Senate enquiry into pilot training and airline safety has recommended that an ATPL should be the minimum licence standard for copilots on “high capacity” RPT jet airliners such as the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320.

“The committee is of the view that an ATPL should also be required for first officers in high capacity regular public transport (RPT) jet aircraft such as Boeing 737, A320 and other aircraft of similar or greater capacity, and that consideration be given to implementing this as a standard,” reads the report’s first recommendation.

That recommendation seemingly rejects the move by Qantas subsidiary Jetstar to move to a “competency based” training approach through its new cadet pilot training scheme, where graduates to that scheme hold a CPL with 250 flying hours, whereas a pilot must typically have 1500 flying hours experience to hold an ATPL.

Report instigator Senator Nick Xenophon called the report’s findings a “massive rebuff” to Jetstar’s cadet pilot scheme.

“The findings of this inquiry are a huge wake-up call to the aviation industry,” said Senator Xenophon in a statement.


“The dozens of pilots and crew members I’ve spoken to in recent months have said they’re worried about the apparent race to the bottom when it comes to safety.”

Found the report: “A number of submitters and witnesses, however, argued that the minimum flight hours requirement for copilots operating RPT flights should be increased to 1500. This proposal was said to achieve a more appropriate balance between experience and competency based training approaches, particularly in light of the potential consequences of accidents involving high capacity RPT services. The use of copilots with flight experience hours approaching the licence minima was said to involve a number of latent safety risks, notably the inability of a copilot to replace and/or support the captain in cases of emergency, and the reluctance of a very inexperienced copilot to question the actions of an experienced captain (a circumstance described as involving a steep cockpit authority gradient).”

Nonetheless, for aircraft smaller than the 737/A320 size class, the report stopped short of calling for the ATPL to be mandatory. Instead, it recommended that “that for non-jet operations which employ low-experience first officers, operators be required to provide enhanced supervision and mentoring schemes to offset such lack of experience.”

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Comments (9)

  • Cynical


    So Flying a highly automated Jet from PAPI to PAPI justifies a minimum of 1500Hrs, but flying a turbo prop into a “black hole” with no slope guidance, Moruya & Taree for example, is the work of 200 Hr Pilots??

  • milav


    What a joke. In reality, a consideration needs to be given by the employer, under guidance from the regulator, to the type of aviation experience the individual has. I am pretty sure that a few hundred hours in a military fast jet well and truly exposes you to all the critical decision making and emergency handling you would ever need for airline operations, as well as hands and feet skills – where as 1500 hours of watching an autopilot fly you around somehow means you are now competent operating an airliner in an emergency and supporting the captain??? The Australian government, and CASA, need to get serious about this, and start mandating proper training and assessment rather than a blanket number of hours. I am sure there are pilots out there with less than a thousand hours who have had far better experience and skills than those with triple the time. The answer isn’t as clear cut as putting a number on it, and all this will do is make it more and more difficult to enter a career in aviation, not like it is easy or cheap already.

  • Ben


    The skill sets to drive a single pilot aircraft and a multi-crew one are also completely different. 1500hrs bashing around in 206’s and PA31’s doesn’t necessarily make you a good airline pilot.

    Also as a comparison, a new ATC is normally checked to line with under 300hrs experience in the real world. Maybe 500hrs total time ‘plugged in’ if you included all the simulator time (field and Academy)!

  • George


    If only there was some way of distinguishing between flying commercially and flying an airline……hang on! Wait, there is!
    It’s called a Commercial Pilots Licence and an Airline Transport Pilots Licence. The line in the sand is already there people.
    CASA has already set the standard for what you require for both of these licences.
    I think it is insanity to have a 200 hour FO sitting right seat in an A320 or 737.
    It is so simple, if you are flying an Airline Transport category aircraft in airline operations, then you need a “wait for it” Airline Transport Pilot Licence. It doesnt matter what seat you are sitting in, you are part of the required crew for that aircraft.
    If maybe a A320 or 737 could be certified for single pilot operations then sure put a 200 hour CPL holing FO up the front until he obtains his ATPL. Yeah Yeah I know, that is never going to happen! And rightly so!

    Senator Nick Xenophon for PM!!!

  • Matt


    Mr Xenophon.

    I praise you and others in conducting this enquiry as it gas certainly rattled the cages. However, the findings fall short of being of any real impact to the Aus aviation airline industry. What is wrong with making it mandatory that the ATPL needs to be held by a pilot wanting to operate a 737, A320….. A recommendation is only going to get us so far. Jetstar and others will just further exploit this and find ways to show how thier scheme has other so called procedures in place to alleviate them from following this recommendation. For god sake make it mandatory to make them and CASA accountable.

  • William


    OK. So it seems like we have got the attention of the sector of Australian aviation who are trying to get into RPT aircraft without putting in the work or committing to acquiring relevant experience.

    In Response to Cynical…I believe there is more to flying a 737 than flying PAPI to PAPI. Like flying a 140 000lb aircraft alone. Compound that single engine without autopilot in a thunderstorm down to minimums and then picking up the PAPI’s. Agreed, that should not be the responsibility of 200hr pilots in regional airlines either. At least a SAAB or METRO could be flown single pilot if need be, or at least with the assistance of an inexperienced FO. So lets make it 1500 hrs for regional airlines as well!!!

    Ben…..Agreed. “The skill sets to drive a single pilot aircraft and a multi-crew one are also completely different”. Well said. So good luck getting hired with 1500 bombing around in a 206. However, I think that you underestimate the value of flight experience in general, particularly in a PA31. I believe PA31 time is very valuable time. It builds flying skills managing two power plants, unreliable pistons at that, flying faster and further than your 206. You are potentially doing this single pilot, in bad weather, with the range capable to cross weather systems, in an aircraft that is underpowered if fully loaded. Now throw in an engine failure! It breeds Pilot Decision Making (PDM) There is more to flying than pulling back, hitting autopilot and landing some time later. Anyone can fly an aircraft. Not everyone can manage a complex one, make critical decisions on weather, fuel planning, loads while maintaining composure while under pressure from a tight schedule.

    And I don’t think we can compare ATC with pilots in terms of experience. If you are referring to Air Traffic Controllers. Sure they have a tough job, but if they lose a wheel off one of their chair legs, I am pretty sure they could scrape by. And you will not see a 300Hr ATC working Sydney International. They know that they first have to gain EXPERIENCE at a smaller airport or airspace before moving up the ladder to the better money, higher workload and responsibility

    Maliv……You have put forward the most rational response! True, hours don’t mean everything. And “The Australian government, and CASA, need to get serious about this, and start mandating proper training and assessment rather than a blanket number of hours”. But 1500hrs is not a lot of flight time to acquire and I believe is a reasonable requirement considering the equipment you are going onto. Maybe a figure such as this, followed by a breakdown of what you did for those 1500Hrs should qualify you far a job. And I believe an airline will do this through their hiring process and Sim evaluations. Well said though.

    George….I think we are on the same page here!

    Look at the realities here and some of the incidents and accidents. The US Airways #1549 Hudson river ditching, Cathay’s CX780, an A330 losing BOTH engines and GLIDING into Hong Kong before gaining power back on one engine 70% and sticking there for the landing , Air Canada Flight 143 also gliding into a Drag strip Canada successfully. The list goes on. I personally know the Captain on one of these flights and know they relied HEAVILY on their First Officer to do their job and help make educated decisions to successfully get the aircraft onto the ground ina very stressful environment.

    The point here folks is EXPERIENCE. Not just flying a 737’s around the sky Day VFR while everything is working!!! It is when the Proverbial S#@T hits the fan when you fall back and rely on your experience AND training to get you through. As a TEAM, not as a Captain hoping to get some reprieve from their FO in a time of very high stress and workload.

    The only people that have a problem with this ruling are the pilots out there who want something for nothing, and want the glorious Airline job without putting in the work to gain the experience!! I have over 3500 hrs in everything from light singles, single pilot in medium twins to Large Turbo prop time. And I am only now thinking that I am getting close to the experience, knowledge and confidence to apply for a job, and be a valuable candidate for a Regional or International Jet aircraft operation.

    Good luck Senator Xenophon!!!

  • Paul


    I would like to congratulate William for his well written piece. The biggest problem for young guys in the industry with low time is lack of patience for the cream jobs. It will come with time but you must continue to develop yourselves professionally by adding layers of experience, because when the proverbial does hit the fan, you will be relying on your experience to assist and meaningfully contribute to solving the problem in a multi crew role.

    I was a cadet once with a major regional airline many years ago with only 400hrs experience. To progress from a light twin into a high performance RPT aircraft was quite overwhelming at the start. You are suddenly dealing with IFR traffic OCTA co-ordinating separation, whilst my captain is flying a VOR approach and you are trying to providing some meaningful flight support. Huge learning curve! I didn’t get type of training at the training school. The more you are exposed to the environment and learning from the differing command styles you become more confident in your own decision making process. The aim is to hopefully be on the same thinking page as the captain for when you become captain. I look back at my own career and thank god nothing serious happened in those early days because I would question as to how effective my support would have been if I had a more complex problem. I’m now a captain with a major OZ airline, but I do look back and thank all those wonderful role models I had, which I took a piece of their differing command styles.

    For the young guys out there, just be patient, it will come. Just keep adding to yourselves professionally and also gain valuable life experience too. As William said in his above piece, there’s more to it than flying a plane.

    Happy safe flying everyone!! See you in the right hand seat soon!!

  • Brianna


    I too am pretty sure that a few hundred hours in a military fast jet well and truly exposes you to all the critical decision making and emergency handling you would ever need for airline operations. The same way hand and feet skills-where as 1500hours of watching an autopilot fly you around somehow means you are now competent operating an airliner in an emergecy and supporting the captain. Also as a comparison, a new ATC is normally checked to line with under 300hours experience in the real world. Need some advice, I’m going to start making my first ever Rc plane and I was thinking to use a Dle-20 cc engine but I’m not sure whether its going to work.

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