FAA Revises Aircrew Training Requirements

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In an effort to “mitigate incidents of unprofessional pilot behavior and reduce pilot errors that can lead to a catastrophic event,” the FAA on Monday published changes to training requirements for airline pilots. It emphasizes training and testing in the leadership aspects of the flight deck and sets formal goals for mentorship of new flight crews.

“This action requires air carriers … to provide new-hire pilots with an opportunity to observe flight operations and become familiar with procedures before serving as a flightcrew member in operations; to revise the upgrade curriculum; and to provide leadership and command and mentoring training for all pilots in command.” The changes become effective on April 27, 2020, with compliance required over the next two to three years. The FAA says that while the costs of compliance will be $90 million over 10 years, the airlines will see a cost savings of $95.5 million on the basis of increased safety.

According to the FAA, “a problem still exists in the aviation industry with some pilots acting unprofessionally and not adhering to standard operating procedures (‘SOP’), including the sterile flight deck rule. The NTSB has continued to cite inadequate leadership in the flight deck, pilots’ unprofessional behavior, and pilots’ failure to comply with the sterile flight deck rule as factors in multiple accidents and incidents, including Pinnacle Airlines flight 3701 and Colgan Air flight 3407.” 

The 2004 Pinnacle crash involved a Northwest Airlink regional jet that suffered dual engine flameouts “after a pilot-induced aerodynamic stall and were unable to be restarted. Both pilots were killed [there were no passengers on board], and the airplane was destroyed. The NTSB determined the probable causes of this accident were (1) the pilots’ unprofessional behavior, deviation from SOP, and poor airmanship, which resulted in an in-flight emergency from which the pilots were unable to recover, in part because of their inadequate training; (2) the pilots’ failure to prepare for an emergency landing in a timely manner; and (3) the pilots’ improper management of the double engine failure checklist.” After the crash, Pinnacle expanded its leadership training module from two to eight hours and saw a decrease in the washout rate for pilots moving up to captain status; until then, nearly a quarter of all PIC applicants failed to move up.

The 2009 Colgan Dash-8 crash, which killed the two pilots, two flight attendants, and 45 passengers, was the result of the captain’s “inappropriate response to the stall warning which eventually led to a stall from which the airplane did not recover. Contributing to the accident were (1) the pilots’ failure to monitor airspeed; (2) the pilots’ failure to adhere to sterile flight deck procedures; (3) the PIC’s failure to effectively manage the flight; and (4) Colgan Air’s inadequate procedures for airspeed selection and management during approaches in icing conditions.” Crew management and adherence to the “sterile cockpit” rule have been part of both the FAA’s and NTSB’s guidance for some time.

In its rework of training guidelines, the FAA wanted pilots new to a given carrier to “complete operations familiarization (OF) before beginning operating experience and serving as a pilot in part 121 operations for the air carrier. The FAA proposed that the OF must include at least two operating cycles during part 121 operations conducted by the air carrier while the newly hired pilot occupies the flight deck observer seat and uses a headset to listen to the communications between the required flightcrew members and air traffic control. In recognition that certain airplanes used in part 121 operations do not have an observer seat in the flight deck, the FAA proposed a process for an air carrier to request a deviation from the OF requirements to meet the learning objectives through another means.” 

Overall, the airlines and the affected pilots unions agree with the FAA’s recommendations. The NTSB, however, felt that the mentoring guidance should be extended into Part 135 operations, but the FAA said this was outside the scope of the current proposal. Some airlines asked for more than the 24-month lead time (one as much as 48 months) to first create and then determine how to integrate the new training into their programs.

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14 COMMENTS

    • While a very true statement, unlike way back in the stone age of steam gauges and Flight Engineers, the military has manning issues of their own and is extremely unlikely to become the resource of experienced and highly trained warm bodies that it was. For a very, very long time I might add.

    • The most unprofessional and dangerous thing to happen at my airline in recent memory was by a pair of former fighter pilots repoing an airplane following maintenance. I spent 30 years in military aviation and witnessed my share of unprofessional military pilots and fly with former military that have the leadership qualities of a mushroom. I also fly with a lot of young kids coming out of very professional and well designed college and university aviation programs that are complete rockstars and a pleasure to fly with. Coming up through the ranks as a civilian pilot requires a lot of hard work, skill, sacrifice and determination. I think the industry as a whole would benefit from everyone stepping back from this absolute deference to military pilots and judge pilots simply by their merits. Both paths to the airlines produce good and bad pilots and jackasses who frequent GUUUUARRRD.

    • I totally agree with David H on this one. In my opinion, the idea that military pilots are any better than professionally trained civilian pilots is a myth. I have had the opportunity to fly with both on many occasions, with some serious duds on both sides, and also some very talented ones. I do think civilian corporate pilots in many cases have more varied experience, and usually more flight hours than their military counterparts. There are a lot of great pilots coming out of both worlds – just don’t tell me you’re obviously better because you learned in the military. The non-flying public might believe that, but those of us who fly for a living know better.

  1. And who didn’t see this coming? As the experience levels drop through the floor, exactly who are these crew members going to learn from? Well past time for these companies to hire back some of the “old heads” to act as observers out on the line. Guys and gals that aged out the top or stopped early but are still interested in passing on their knowledge and experience but at a lower rate of pressure than actually being in command. Even back when I was still “on the line” I had some pretty young pilots sometimes while Jumpseating. Not often, but I did have teaching / mentoring occasions occur where I was asked a question or two based on my experience. I also had at least on time where I was able to make an “observation” to a fairly new, but not young, Captain. I made such quietly, after the flight of course and he was very happy to have learned something that night.
    The hanger flying that occurred when I was a newby doesn’t seem to exist as much anymore. It should and maybe this requirement will grow into something useful as the coming flood of new folks starts settling in to aviation. That is, of course, until the bean counters cut and slash at such a wasteful program that is nothing but a money pit. After all, safety costs money and that affects the bottom line so negatively.

  2. In the short quote of the FAA’s statement, the phrase “sterile cockpit rule” occurs twice. There is no doubt that this is the number one failure by pilots in all operations, and a persistent problem that should be mitigated. While commuting or flying in the 121 cockpit, I witnessed it, in the 135 cockpit I saw it, and as a DPE I use it as the distraction I am mandated to create.
    Untimely blabbing causes painstakingly trained professional pilots to miss all sorts of details, from benign to critical. Any program that works to reduce the impact of this bad habit is welcome.

  3. Training and testing in leadership aspects is very appropriate and should be required even in Part 91 multiple crew operations. To an extent leadership is already covered in CRM curricula but not specifically or adequately and needs its own stand alone emphasis. And yes one of the most rudimentary lessons unfortunately needing to be passed along in such training is guard frequency ethics which in the boomer days were taught at the student pilot level but which today seem either to be ignored or forgotten.

  4. As society changes, so do the people coming out of this society into the cockpits… daily life full of distractions coming out of the cell phone virtual reality that gets carried into the cockpit. A big part of the operation these days -especially on ground operations- is managing distractions.
    What I do miss when the Colgan event is mentioned, is the major factor of fatigue that played a part on both crew members. If one looks at their duties -maybe even forced on them due to employment standards- this cannot be ignored. When one is fatigued a rock-solid foundation of good SOP’s and disciplined operating standards is what keeps things together.

  5. When I was a staff officer at HQ ACC back in the early 90s we had a program to lease Learjets from the private sector to use as ‘ducks’ to simulate Commie bombers for fighter and GCI controller training.

    Most of the pilots were retired fighter pilots. We had several serious incidents where our pilots were doing unauthorized and unsafe stunts in our Lears, including roles, unbriefed low level flying, even rolls at low level!

    Military pilots, especially old fighter pilots, are certainly no less likely to shine their asses than any civilian, maybe more so.

    Just look at this recent USMC collision between an F-18 and a C-130 in Japan!

    We put a stop to the worst of these guys antics by using ACARS and GPS logs to keep an eye on them.

    The program still exists today, and it is a good one. But where fighter pilots are involved, keep an eye on them! They might revert to their childhood at any time [OK, I’m kidding. Mostly.]

  6. Now for some reality;

    I have already heard from some of our Company’s sic’s who have had to take the ATP required classroom course that it puts students to sleep. Judging from the CRM training I have to take now I am not surprised. I have a feeling this rule may just make the alleged pilot “shortage” worse by lack of interest. I have known many pilots who find out after all the training involved that flying is not the job they imagined. The “operations familiarization” requirement of this rule is the only part that makes sense. As far as “mentoring” is concerned I think there are those who will use that as a way to make up for training that candidates should have had at the private pilot level. I am not a company instructor pilot neither do I want to be. I don’t mind showing things someone new to the company or the airplane we may be flying. What I have a problem with is teaching someone things that should have been learned at the private pilot level. Several items mentioned in the Colgan accident are perfect examples. You would be amazed how many sic’s I have had in the past who could not even fly a visual traffic pattern. I think the FAA should spend a little more time making sure private pilot candidates are getting the training they need, instead of allowing schools to get by teaching the absolute minimum.