FAA proposes revised rule on airline training programs

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Published: May 12, 2011

US FAA on Wednesday proposed new regulations to overhaul airline training programs for aircraft crewmembers and flight dispatchers, revising a proposal first issued in 2009. The supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would in particular revamp pilot training, mandating more recurrent training and calling for pilots to be put through challenging emergency situations in advanced flight simulators.

“This new type of training will provide a more robust evaluation of pilots in [simulated] real-life scenarios,” FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt told reporters on a conference call. He said the original January 2009 NPRM had to be revised to account for a massive amount of comments submitted in response to its issuance ( ATW Daily News, Aug. 13, 2009 ), knowledge gained from the investigation into the February 2009 Colgan Air Q400 crash that killed 50 ( ATW Daily News, May 27, 2010 ) and aviation safety legislation passed by Congress last year ( ATW Daily News, Aug. 2, 2010 ).

FAA estimated in the SNPRM that the proposed rule would cost airlines a collective $ 391.9 million over 10 years but added that the “estimated potential quantified safety benefits over the 10-year analysis interval is $ 445.1 million.”

The proposed rule issued Wednesday does not address minimum requirements for pilots serving as a first officer on a Part 121 flight; Congress last year mandated that FAA develop regulations requiring the accumulation of at least 1,500 hr. of flight time before a pilot can operate a commercial flight, up from 250 hr. currently. FAA Associate Administrator-Aviation Safety Peggy Gilligan said the SNPRM is the first in a series of rules regarding aviation training/qualifications/work conditions that will be promulgated by FAA over the coming months. A “pilot qualification” rule to be released at a later, undetermined date will address the minimum flight hour requirements, she said.

Regarding the rule issued Wednesday, airlines had warned following its original release in 2009 that it would significantly increase the amount of time pilots had to spend in simulators. Gilligan said, “We don’t have hours attached to the [flight training] syllabus,” which focuses on meeting skill requirements rather than achieving an accumulated number of hours. “From our analysis, [the requirements] don’t substantially increase the number of hours of simulation,” she insisted.

Babbitt said the provisions in the SNPRM constitute “the most significant changes to air carrier training in 20 years.” He said the pilot training emphasis will shift to focus more on comprehensive competence rather than mastery of “individual”skills. “The new training will require a more realistic and coordinated effort among the crew [being trained] ,” he explained. “It will be a lot more like flight.”

He said crews will be given “real life scenario training” for “extremely rare” emergencies, such as the stall that brought down the Colgan Q400. “I think the key piece here is that some of the simulation ability [now available] allows us to go past [training for] recognition and avoidance of a stall. Now you can actually put someone in a stall scenario and let them recover,” he commented.

The proposed rule would require that pilots “be trained as a complete flight crew, coordinate their actions through Crew Resource Management and fly scenarios based on actual events,” FAA stated. “The revised proposal would require ground and flight training to teach pilots how to recognize and recover from stalls and aircraft upsets. The proposal also would require remedial training for pilots with performance deficiencies such as failing a proficiency test or check, or unsatisfactory performance during flight training or a simulator course.”

It would also require the use of flight simulation training devices to instruct pilots using methods that are “crew-oriented and scenario-based,” FAA said. Recurrent training would have to occur every nine months, which means first officers would “receive twice the amount of FSTD time over a 36-month training cycle asthey receive today,” according to the SNPRM, which will be open to public comments through July 19.

Photo: FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt

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