HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Before stricter FAA rules took effect in 2013, officials say co-pilots only needed 250 hours to fly smaller carriers like Mokulele. Now they need nearly as much training as first officers on larger airlines like Hawaiian. Under current FAA regulations, co-pilots or first officers must have an Airline Transport Pilot certificate -- which for the most part requires 1,500 hours of flying time. But experts are now saying the very guidelines intended to keep pilots and passengers safe are contributing to a commuter pilot shortage.
"You're going to see a reduction of flights and that's going to be impacting everyone," said Rob Moore, the chief flight instructor at Galvin Flight Services.
"It's gonna really hurt folks' way of getting around," said Mark Jones, who owns Moore Air, a local flight school.
Aviation experts say pilots used to get their hours and experience by flying for smaller commuter airlines, like those that travel inter-island, but now that the hourly requirement for commuters and major airlines are nearly the same -- fewer pilots are taking those jobs, hoping instead to fly with bigger carriers that have better benefits.
"Why stay in the bush league? Why not go straight to the majors if you can? And apparently a lot of people are doing that and its leaving a dearth of pilots at the commuter level," explained Brant Swigart, who owns Hawai'i Air Power Labs.
Officials say this shortage of commuter pilots will directly impact inter-island travelers.
"Anything that hurts aviation in Hawaii is going to hurt Hawai'i in general," Swigart said.
"They're not going to be able to fly all the flights that they're flying now, so there will be less flights. There will be less supply, but the demand will be larger than what's available so the cost will get higher for us to fly inter-island," said Jones.
According to the Air Line Pilots Association, the average starting salary for a first officer at a regional airlines is approximately $22,000 a year. Experts say pilot certifications used to cost about $50,000 but under new FAA training regulations the price tag is going up.
"Now you add on there that you have to have x number of hours in a level C simulator and a requirements for extra ground -- it's driving up the cost more to get your certificate and so it's going to get to be even more expensive for people to become a pilot," said Moore, explaining that's exactly why qualified pilots are seeking positions with major airlines as quickly as possible so they can build their seniority and paychecks.
"You already see on the mainland,
there are regional airlines canceling routes because they can't fill their cockpits with pilots -- and you are going to see some of that hit here," said Peter Forman, an aviation consultant.
Hawaii News Now reached out to Island Air for comment, but the company declined.
A spokesperson for Hawaiian Airlines says this has not been a problem for them and experts agree -- saying as a destination carrier, they will likely never experience a pilot shortage.