New First Officer & ATP Rules Explained

The Congress and FAA recently made some big changes to the minimum requirements for First Officers in part 121 airlines and for the way pilots get their Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) licenses. These changes will affect you if you’re dreaming of an airline pilot career. In this post I’ll explain the new rules and how they may affect you.

In the past,  pilots could fly as first officers for part 121 airlines with as little as a commercial pilot certificate and an Instrument rating. The commercial pilot license could be obtained with only 250 hours total flight time, or 190 hours through an FAA-approved curriculum. Of course, most airlines required higher minimums, but this was the absolute minimum required by the government.

Several fatal accidents in recent years, specifically the Colgan Airlines accident,  resulted in a massive public pressure to increase these minimums. This ended with the Congress passing the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010, often refereed to as the “1500 rule,” the minimum total time normally required for an ATP certificate.

On August 1, 2013, the new rules went into effect, requiring First Officers of part 121 operations to have an ATP certificate.  Also, starting January 2016, the FAA will require all first officers of part 121 to have a full type rating on the aircraft, which is now required only for captains.

Another change is in the way pilots get their ATP licenses. In the past, a commercial pilot could simply take the ATP knowledge test and practical test without any specific training or endorsements. The new rule requires ATP candidates for a Multi-Engine class (or for a type rating taken with the ATP) to complete an ATP certification program (CTP), which includes structured ground and simulator training. (FAR 61.156)

Since the new minimums will make it more difficult for airlines to find qualified pilots, especially in the regional level,an exception in the rule allows first officers to work with a “restricted ATP” , or “ATP-R”. With the restricted license, you can work as a first officer for a part 121 airline. However, you’ll need a full ATP to work as a first officer in a flag or supplemental operation, in a crew requiring three or more pilots, or as pilot-in-command.
The lowered requirements for the ATP-R are:

  • Be at least 21 years old (instead of 23 for full ATP)
  • have one of the following:
    • 750 hours flying for the military.
    • 1000 hours if you got your training through an approved aviation bachelor’s degree.
    • 1250 hours through an approved aviation related associates’ degree
    • You can get the restricted ATP with as little as 200 hours of cross-country flight, instead of the 500 required for the unrestricted certificate. However, you must meet all the other flight experience requirements for ATP such as the 1500 hours of total flight time.

The new change doesn’t only affect first officers. Upgrading to captain now requires 1000 hours as SIC, or as 135 PIC. Up to 500 military hours can count towards this requirement.



  1. William Pereira says

    From the last two accidents we seen this new requirement has not made Aviation any safer – both were high 5000 plus hour type rated Captains….Leave it to CON gress to smash the dreams of the folks who want to fly! (Asiana @ SFO and [email protected])… Not to mention the impact to flight schools and FBO’s….