New Rule ‘Advances’ Pilot Training Back to the Fundamentals of Flight

By Scott Spangler on November 11th, 2013

Responding to the tragedy of Colgan Flight 3407, the FAA has issued a final rule that “is a significant advancement for aviation safety and U.S. pilot training,” says Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in the FAA news release.

Really?

To quote the FAA release, the new rules requires these stick-and-rudder skills:  “ground and flight training that enables pilots to prevent and recover from aircraft stalls and upsets” and “expanded crosswind training, including training for wind gusts.”

The other requirements all have to do with paperwork, such as “tracking remedial training”  and “more effective pilot monitoring,” which is important in assessing blame after unfortunate pilots have a problem related to their lack of current stick-and-rudder skills.

Can I really be so old that the skills my instructor reinforced with practice on almost every lesson—recovering from stalls and unusual attitudes—are now considered advanced training? And landing in a crosswind, at least at most of the airports I called home, was not a special skill. When I was flying in the Kansas City area, landing without a crosswind was the challenge.

Perhaps I am. I learned to fly in the last decade of aviation’s analog era. Back in the 1970s, headsets were the big thing. That was also when the pilot population started its decline, so industry started easing the requirements to make private pilot training less intimidating. Who remembers the heated debates on the need for spin training?

Or maybe it’s where I learned to fly. Before my instructor would solo me I had to demonstrate a consistent ability to recover from stalls and unusual attitudes, including spins. It was a game I really came to enjoy. With my head down and focused on my lap-bound hands, he’d do his best to mess up middle ear while putting the Skyhawk in some on-the-edge-attitude. Then he’d yell go, and I’d have to look up, take the controls, and recover to straight and level flight. It was fun, and I enjoyed the challenge. As I became more proficient at it, the goal was to lose as few feet of altitude as possible.

Then the digital era dawned and technology seemed to hypnotize pilots and their instructors and their examiners with its unblinking glass stare and the autopilot’s superior flying ability…in most situations. Over the past decade it seems that the pendulum of the stick-and-rudder skills are are the fundamentals of flight in all aircraft has been drawn ever closer to technology’s electromagnetic field.

It’s only right that the pendulum has crept back a bit toward hands-on flying. It can only improve aviation safety, and I’m sure it will make pilots happy. If there’s one complaint I here most often from them, especially if they fly commercial aircraft, is that they are no longer pilots but system operators. Several actually agreed that they were drone pilots who went along for the ride.

But to be accurate, we should not classify this return to the fundamentals of flight as an “advancement.” A better term, in my editorial mind, would be “correction.” – Scott Spangler, Editor

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14 Responses to “New Rule ‘Advances’ Pilot Training Back to the Fundamentals of Flight”

  1. jim denike Says:

    amazing how the FEDS have jumped all over this opportunity to make more regulations and paperwork. Left completely untouched is the glaring discrepancy in pay that forced a young first officer on that Colgan flight to have to commute such a great distance that she was obviously dealing with great fatigue. With the little money she was earning, she could not afford to live near her home domicile.
    Not well covered by the media in the aftermath is the fact that the captain took virtually all of the blame. However, short thrift has been given to the lack of standard callouts as to his airspeed or configuration. The SIC actually retracted the flaps without notifying the captain – a cardinal sin if ever there was one and a major contributing factor to the ensuing stall spin.
    Perhaps a little more money and a lot more sleep could have prevented this tragedy. But more paperwork is not the answer. Nor is regulatory overkill.

  2. Larry M. Coleman Says:

    These changes don’t do much at all, but at least they’re harmless. They don’t enhance safety in any substantial way, but they make for good press releases for lawmakers to pat themselves on the back and “show that they’re doing something”, and give hopelessly unqualified and inept political appointees like Fox a chance to pretend they know anything about the industry they’re in charge of.

    What baffles me is how the stunningly counterproductive and worse-than-stupid “overhaul” of 61.156 went off at about the same time as the 1500 hours requirement and hardly anyone made a peep. The regulations themselves aren’t particularly outrageous, and might even be slightly beneficial if the change had been made in the proper place. They should have been added to the Part 121 regulations, where they might have done a sliver of good, but instead they got pushed off into Part 61, where they absolutely, positively do NOT belong. Requiring 12 hours of training in air carrier operations for someone who just wants an ATP to enhance their skills actively discourages those pilots who actually believe in the “license to learn” concept. Training in air carrier operations should be done by the air carriers themselves, rather than pushing the cost onto others.

  3. Ron Rapp Says:

    The heated debates on spin training don’t need to be remembered. They’re still here today.

    Not only that, but there are still flight schools where spins are taught and mastered before a student solos. See: Sunrise Aviation at SNA. I’m one of the people who learned to fly there. I did 1, 2, and 3 turn spins with recovery on a specified heading before I soloed. They still do it today.

    Tailwheels are the solution to these basic skill issues. They have the added advantage of being very cheap to obtain and operate (Cub, Champ, Luscombe, Citabria, etc), to say nothing of being fun to fly.

    –Ron

  4. George Semel Says:

    Well I started flying in 1975, and unusual attitudes , stalls and spins were what you did and had to be proficient at recognition and recovery or guess what you didn’t solo till you did well enough for the check airman at the flight school I when to. Never mind about passing a check ride for the certificate. These days they spend to much time early on instrument flying and its possible to go thru to Commercial Pilot with very little actual solo flying. Back in the day you needed 200 hours PIC before you could even do an Instrument rating, So you got the Commercial first. Lot of good old stick and rudder skills that you needed to do for the ride and well just to become a smoother pilot. Well some 25 or so years ago they changed that to cut down on the Weather related accidents, nothing much happened to reduce that rate since and you have a whole generation of pilots that are really lacking in basic flying skills. Then again I am an old guy now, I may not be able to tell you the finer points of a G-1000, but I can take a map a pencil a watch a compass and a wiz wheel and fly anywhere, And my crosswind skills well I was pretty good till I got to Bethel Alaska in 1985 and then I really learned how to handle cross winds.

  5. @williamAirways Says:

    Jim,

    The captain took virtually all the blame because he was the *Pilot In Command*. It’s his ship, his crew, his flight, his RESPONSIBILITY. What hurt him in the public eye was the 5 failed check rides in his flight training history. That’s what snowballed the 1500 hour flight experience and the additional knowledge requirements.

    The issue of regional airline pilot pay and rest rules are contributing factors. One may argue that the SIC should have evaluated her ability to pay for a crash pad so that she can arrive early and be well rested before starting her clock. She should have considered the logistics and cost of being an airline pilot prior to accepting the airline pilot job. She knew how much she was going to make when she signed up. She knew she lived on the other side of the country. She could have relocated but opted to commute instead. Perhaps we should start teaching basic accounting and budgeting skills to career minded student pilots. But more fundamentally, she failed to use her basic flight training. How many times during flight training have you heard of the IMSAFE checklist? She clearly failed “F” but yet chose to fly instead of call out sick. At this point, she failed to make the right decision, which leads back to her training during Aeronautical Decision Making. So who’s fault is it? Perhaps better quality flight training could have ingrained the importance of certain human factors and risk management topics. Or perhaps she just needed to pay more attention during ground school.

    Larry,

    Part 61 — Certification: Pilots, Flight Instructors, and Ground Instructors

    The changes does belong to this part, not Part 121.

    Personally, I think that whole “license to learn” is a cop out for pilots who didn’t study hard enough during primary flight training. Yes, a pilot should be learning all the time, but to call a pilot certificate a “license to learn” is really an acceptance of marginal skills and knowledge in pilots. It’s like saying, “Well, you really passed your check ride by the skin of your teeth, but, good thing for you it’s a license to learn. Go out there, and try not to kill anyone.” The rest of the story can be told by the accidents and fatalities that never seem to dip below 400 annually due to GA pilots.

    To your point, air carriers do provide training to their pilots. Some wash out, some pass. But the training is provided.

    Scott,

    I agree with you that it’s a “correction” and not an advancement. All those advanced avionics and auto pilot systems on transport category airplanes…just think what trouble the general aviation pilot with their iPads can get themselves into. One cannot get enough stick and rudder training. We really need to bring back spin training as a PTS requirement. Stay tuned. ;-P

  6. Bill Palmer Says:

    I think the new 121 regs are a turn back in the right direction, but a shallow one.

    This regulation takes a glance at the recommendations of ICATEE (International Committee for Aviation Training in Extended Envelopes http://icatee.org/) which coincidentally and appropriately met for the first time on the date of the Air France 447 crash. I highly recommend a visit to their resource-filled website.

    The real disappointment is that carriers have five years to comply, even for the training items that could be done much quicker than that.
    The delay period is ostensibly to allow for simulator reprogramming and enhancement. There is a lot of enhancement that could be done. Among them: incorporation of clogged pitot, wave, wake turbulence encounters, modeling for flight at angles of attack beyond the stall buffet, and for recovery from bank angles in excess of 90°. However, I have yet to see that list in the new regs.

    The crosswind training is overdue, as due to FAA standards only a 15 knot crosswind demonstration is required for a checkride – even though an airplane’s limit may be several times that value. If you can’t demonstrate that you can handle a 40 knot crosswind in a simulator, why is it OK to then go do it with 300 passengers?

    Loss of control in-flight is now the tallest tree left standing in a forest of other accident causes, cut down mostly by technology. This one needs to be trimmed back with ensuring pilots have the skills necessary to do so.

    In August the FAA produced Advisory Circular 120-109 ( http://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Advisory_Circular/AC%20120-109.pdf ) which deals with stall and stick pusher training. It’s worth the read and another step in the right direction move some control training issues form academic maneuvers to more realistic situations.

    Mastery of the Flight Management System should not be confused with Airmanship. BOTH need to be taught and mastered.

  7. Edward Seaton Says:

    I learned to fly in 1946 in a 1946 J3cub.You had to do spins with the Instructor before you could solo.The Instructor demonstrated two spins.Then told me to do one.(two turns)I was scared and told him I was sick.He said ok I’ll solo you but after you get two or three hours of solo I want you to rent a chute and go up and do at least two spins.And I did and never was afraid of spins again.

  8. Alan Miller Says:

    It is important for the flight training community to understand the scope of the changes being brought about by the FAA in flight training and testing. My comments are formed from observations as an active airline pilot, Designated Pilot Examiner and active CFI. The PTS is going to be replaced by the new Airman Certification Standards, and it is not all about reinforcing stick and rudder skills. To the contrary, I and others believe it will weaken and further erode stick and rudder skills. But- don’t take my word for it, please refer to this link and read what Rod Machado, respected CFI, speaker and writer had to say about it:

    http://www.rodmachado.com/Temp/ACS_Proposal_Response.php

    Ironically, the FAA comment period closed on July 8, 2013, 2 days after the Asiana San Francisco accident. If we don’t stand up and try to prevent this ACS from replacing the PTS, I am afraid we should expect to see more accidents along the lines of Air France 447, Buffalo Colgan, and dare I say prior to the findings, possibly Asiana 214. While risk management is a critical component of GA training and evaluation, it should not trump basic stick and rudder skills. Physics still apply. When we are so focused on a scenario for evaluation of a Private Pilots ability to fly ground maneuvers, that we have to act like we are going to count ducks rather than demonstrate mastery of turns about a point, I am afraid we have lost sight of what really matters…..

  9. jim hendricks Says:

    imagine……….solo a piper trauma hawk with no spin
    training. dangerous

  10. Robert Mark Says:

    The FAA release didn’t say much about HOW all of these new training elements are going to be integrated into flight training. And as Bill said, we have five years to sit back and watch.

    Many people saw a demand for updated training coming before the Colgan crash. But this rule evolved because of the massive personal outpouring from the 3407 victim’s families to Congress.

    So now we have Congress telling us what we need … like a 1,500 ATP in the right seat of every airliner. Great.

    Someone told me the other night on the Airplane Geeks show that I was missing the point when I said we need to send some pilots back to stick and rudder school. She said these pilots can’t go back to stick and rudder school because they never had those skills in the first place.

    How could that be? Perhaps in our desire to promote aviation and keep the prices down we’ve made it far too easy to earn a pilot certificate as @williamairways said.

    Did we shoot ourselves in the foot when we canned the spin training because too many people might be frightened over the experience?

    I interviewed Dr. Tony Kern the human factors guy not long ago in Wichita. He said, “Two decades of social engineering focused on making everyone believe they are as good at everything as everyone else has led to a climate in which no one really expects anyone’s best efforts anymore.

    Look at our (advanced) checkride system. Almost no one fails a checkride anymore. Is it because everyone has become such a great pilot? Social conditioning again. Nature doesn’t do that. It grabs you by the neck until you’re dead.”

  11. jim denike Says:

    Larry:
    the ideal and the reality of the IMSAFE bit are two different entities. Had that lady first officer called in sick, she probably would have been out of a job.
    I cancelled a flight on short notice one morning after finding out my wife was in terrible shape at home. Advised boss. Was fired the next morning. And the Feds could have cared less.
    What the industry needs is a total reevaluation as to what constitutes a living wage. Gone are the days where regional pilots should put up with anything for the chance to make it to the majors. Things are so great at the majors anymore either, although they are getting better.
    Amazing how we have Fair Trade Coffee, the insistence that coffee growers make enough not to starve, but we can’t get a seat surcharge of $5 per flight to keep the pilots rested and fed without resorting to food stamps.
    jim
    Jim

  12. jim denike Says:

    should read “things are NOT so great at the majors”

  13. Matt Hicks Says:

    Great blog Rob, only found this reading your CNN piece.
    It’s an interesting thing that they term these changes “Advanced Training”. Most airline pilots who were brought up flying light aircraft or military aircraft consider them basic skills. However now we have a whole generation of airline pilots that have entered the industry through cadet schemes that have probably only seen a stall a handful of times, and flown a recovery a few times. Quite scary really.
    Couple that with a recurrent training system that focuses on the minimum time required to comply with regulator matrix items and years of type ratings given without these maneuvers ever been demonstrated or practiced and you start to understand why events like Air France 447 or Asiana 214 occur.
    When I undertook my first Airbus type rating it was on the A330 a long time prior to AF447, not once was stall characteristics discussed nor did any information appear in the FCOM. In fact back then the theory was you can’t stall due to the FBW envelope protections. It wasn’t until a year later during a recurrent simulator exercise, while flying a low level windshear encounter sequence I heard the “STALL STALL STALL” aural activate and thought ‘well there you go, you can stall this thing’. Now post AF447 stall recovery has appeared in the FCOM as a memory item on all airbus aircraft, and at least from my own company’s perspective Stalls, Jet Upset and even Deep Stall recovery is practiced during recurrent training.
    At least the regulators are moving in the right direction again, the sad thing is the operators drag their feet to avoid the cost of compliance. The discussion on minimum hour requirements a mute, after 26 years in the industry and 18 of that flying airliners I can honestly say the right hand seat of a high capacity jet aircraft is not the place for a 200 hour pilot. Not that I have experience in the area but I’d say the same applies to commuter size aircraft given the nature of their operation. I watch with interest and hesitation the rise of the MPL and hope sanity prevails.

  14. Steve Green Says:

    I think Jim Denike’s use of the Fair Trade Coffee analogy is brilliant, and I hope he won’t mind if I use it in future debates, because it captures this point so well.

    But before we pile on the first officer, consider that the first officer on MidPac YS-11 at West Lafayette in 1990 did exactly the same thing. He retracted partial flaps without a command from the captain, who was flying. The difference, of course, was that the YS-11 had a tailplane stall issue, and they had the real mccoy; consequently, the first officer’s actions saved the day. The Q400 does not have a tailplane stall problem, notwithstanding the FCOM in print at the time, and the Colgan crew did not have a tailplane stall. The first officer’s actions likely contributed to the outcome.

    The question is, from the perspective of the crew in the cockpit at that moment, how do you know the difference? We have known for years that the similarity between a shaker/pusher sequence of a wing stall warning and the elevator buffet/elevator snatch sequence of a tailplane stall present serious training problems. It was clearly evident in the ACA 6291 accident at Columbus in 1994, although the Board chose to ignore it. Unfortunately, as is the case all too often, we will never know exactly what the Colgan crew was thinking…or, for that matter, whether fatigue played any role at all. My personal opinion is that it probably did not, but there is no clear evidence one way or the other, and it certainly could have skewed the mental model of either crewmember.

    Of course, if they had been properly and thoroughly trained with respect to stall warning systems, they would have had a much better chance of accurately identifying what was happening. Indeed, they may have even understood the requirement for the icing condition to be keyed into their ACARS request for landing data, which would have given them the correct reference speed. Clearly, they did not understand this since they both confirmed the incorrect ref speed in two separate but equally professional approach briefings.

    We have known about the weaknesses in stall training since Roselawn, and have written about it ad nauseum, yet the Board chose to act as though this was a new discovery during the Colgan hearings. If we could somehow manage to design and implement improvements to safety in less than the 20 years it has taken to promulgate new icing certification rules, we might have some continuity among the personnel involved. But when it takes an entire career to make one set of changes…granted, the new icing rules required a substantial amount of original research, but still…when it takes an entire career, a lot of wisdom and experience is lost, and the final output of these efforts often shows that loss.

    As far as sleeping in the crew room goes, I’ve only done that once in my career, and I don’t care for it at all. But I can’t even count the number of my colleagues at a very major airline who still do this. And, after all, how much worse is that than sleeping in a crash pad with five or six other bunks in the same bedroom? Or what about the fellows who fly Caribbean turns from JFK but live in western Connecticut? No cross country commuting for them…but what time do you think they have to get up at home to make an 0600 report time at JFK? How well rested are they?

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