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Dave Kolpack, Associated Press, Published August 22 2013

UND graduates receive exemption from aviation rule

FARGO — Pilots who graduate from the University of North Dakota aviation school will be eligible to work for commercial airlines with fewer flight hours than required by a new federal rule, college officials said Thursday.

The Grand Forks school is the first college aviation program to receive an exemption from a Federal Aviation Administration requirement that each pilot have 1,500 hours of flying time to work for the nation's airlines. The new rule will allow UND pilots to fly as first officers — in the right seat of the cockpit — when they reach 1,000 hours.

Elizabeth Bjerke, UND's associate chair of aviation, said the ruling emphasizes "quality over quantity" in flight training.

"A quality program is going to produce quality pilots and that's who we want flying," she said.

The FAA has been ironing out new regulations following the 2009 crash of a Colgan Airlines flight in Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 49 people in the plane and one person in a home. Federal safety investigators say pilot error led the plane to stall.

Congress responded to the accident by passing a law requiring that all airline pilots receive an advanced pilot license known as an Airline Transport Pilot certificate. That led to the FAA requirement that doubled the amount of flying time that airlines normally required before hiring aviation graduates from UND and elsewhere.

"Historically airlines would hire our graduates at about 700 or 800 hours," Bjerke said. "They would do very well in training because they had a good solid foundation and still they were trainable by the airlines."

Several regional airlines are worried about a shortage of pilots with the new rules and the exemption should bolster the workforce, Bjerke said. She expects the other four-year aviation schools to apply for and receive the special authorization for the restricted ATP license from the FAA.

Bjerke and aviation researchers from four other colleges analyzed pilot background and training records at more than a dozen regional airlines. She said it showed that pilots at four-year accredited aviation programs performed better than pilots who were trained elsewhere, such as a flight academy.

The study was forwarded to an FAA rule-making committee.

Bruce Smith, dean of UND's aerospace school, said in a statement that the FAA decision shows the quality of the school's commercial aviation program.

"To be the first designated is a reflection on the long-term reputation of our graduates in the airline industry," he said.

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