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FAA reduces hours required to be first officers on commercial airliners

Lacey Bellrose, 23, of Schenectady, a student at

Lacey Bellrose, 23, of Schenectady, a student at The Aviation Center at Farmingdale State College, packs up her gear after a flight with an instructor on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Farmingdale State College students training to fly for United States airlines now face an easier path to professional qualification.

An agreement worked out with the Federal Aviation Administration permits Farmingdale graduates holding a bachelor's degree in aviation to serve as first officers on commercial airlines with 1,000 hours of flight time instead of the 1,500 normally required.

In their announcement this week, Farmingdale officials said that about 300 colleges and universities offer aviation degrees, and only 45 are authorized by the FAA to certify their graduates for the reduced flight hours necessary to obtain the qualification, known as a restricted airline transport pilot rating. Farmingdale is the only institution on Long Island to offer it, they said.

"This is a pretty significant advantage for our graduates," said Michael Canders, an associate professor in the aviation department, who said the 500-hour exception represented a potential cost saving for graduates, as well as faster career track for those hoping to one day be first officers, the position just below captain on a commercial airliner.

Getting to be a commercial pilot is a multistage process, Canders said. He said that many of the 120 students in Farmingdale's professional pilot program will graduate with about 300 hours of flight time, then work as flight instructors until they can make up the rest of their flight-time requirement to qualify as first officers.

Only then can they begin logging the necessary 1,000 additional hours to qualify as a captain on a commercial airliner.

The FAA implemented its 1,500-hour requirement last year in response to 2009 crash of Colgan Air 3407, which brought new scrutiny to regional carriers and spurred calls for better training for all cockpit personnel. The twin-engine turboprop crashed outside Buffalo, killing all 49 people on board and one on the ground.

Previously, first officers were required to have only a commercial pilot certificate, which requires 250 hours of flight time.

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