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Airline co-pilots would have to meet the same experience threshold required of captains — the first boost in four decades — under regulations proposed Monday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The proposed regulations would increase the minimum number of flight hours required to fly for a commercial air carrier to 1,500 for all pilots. Captains already have to meet that threshold, but co-pilots currently need only 250 hours to fly for an airline.

The proposal is the first increase in the threshold to become a co-pilot since 1973, when the FAA raised the minimum number of hours from 200 to 250.

Co-pilots would also need a “type rating” specific to the airliner they plan to fly, another requirement that has only applied to captains thus far. That would mean additional training and testing.

The FAA was required to propose the new threshold under an aviation-safety law enacted in response to the crash of a regional airliner near Buffalo, N.Y., three years ago. Fifty people were killed.

Both the pilots in that accident had more than the minimum 1,500 hours. But the crash, which was blamed on pilot error, turned a spotlight on hiring and training at regional airlines. Pilot unions and safety advocates told Congress that co-pilots were sometimes hired at low wages with barely more than the 250-hour minimum and allowed to fly passengers after meeting no-frills training requirements.

“Our pilots need to have the right training and the right qualifications so they can be prepared to handle any situation they encounter in the cockpit,” said Michael Huerta, FAA’s acting administrator.

The proposal contains two carve-outs to the new experience requirements that weren’t called for by Congress: Former military pilots will need only 750 hours to fly for an airline, and graduates of university or college flight schools need only 1,000 hours.

Hours accumulated flying small planes up and down beaches towing banners or other basic flying isn’t as effective as fewer hours of quality training, FAA officials have said previously.

“The FAA thinks a combination of training and flight experience is what makes a candidate qualified to fly” for an airline, the proposal said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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