Wednesday, August 23, 2017

When it comes to pilot training, safety is about more than flight hours

By Faye Malarkey Black, opinion contributor 

Faye Malarkey Black is president of the Regional Airline Association, an advocacy organization for North American regional airlines.

With the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before Congress, some have accused special-interest groups of weakening aviation safety.

Recently, Air Line Pilots Association, International’s president, Capt. Tim Canoll, argued this point while he distorted the truth about a provision added by Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) during a markup of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization.

The Association appropriately credits the 2010 Aviation Safety Act with contributing to eight subsequent years without accidents but creates a straw man argument when he equates Thune’s provision with undermining a large collection of enumerated regulatory enhancements.

In fact, the flight hour provision in question relates to a rule implemented in 2013, governing commercial airline First Officer Qualifications (FOQ). Far from undoing safety advancements, the provision expands one successful element of that rule: allowing more structured training pathways to provide credit toward pilot qualification.

Canoll mentions safety data gained by prior accidents but fails to mention that the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board each rejected “flight time” as a factor in any recent accident. Canoll similarly ignores other gold standard safety programs that evolved over the past decade. These programs allow collaborative data sharing among all walks of industry and provide insight into millions of operations, identifying and addressing risk in the system before accidents occur. These programs go to the very heart of today’s safe system, and downplaying their role in elevating safety is a discredit to the more than 57,000 association professionals, who tirelessly support them.

Emphasizing the importance of flight time, Canoll misleadingly suggests that pilots gain enriched flying experience after they graduate. In reality, pilots do any type of flying they can to gain hours, accumulating unsupervised flight time in unmanaged airspace in aircraft that bear no resemblance to technically advanced commercial airliners.

Pilots without access to structured training pathways spend years in these environments before entering airline training, where — unsurprisingly — they succeed less often than before. Training experts across the country report reduced proficiency among pilot candidates because they are now spending years away from training. In fact, regional airline training departments fail more candidates than before despite expanding training to provide extra support.

In the face of this, Canoll’s association paints an entirely misleading portrayal of the provision, suggesting it guts safety and training rules Congress enacted. To the contrary, the provision was guided by the scientific findings of some of the best aviation universities in the country. 

A 2015 Pilot Source Study found pilots following structured training pathways perform best in training, while pilots with high flight hours but limited structured training perform worse. The provision would allow airlines to offer (and pay for) additional structured training pathways. These pathways work because they provide additional supervised training as credit toward a portion of the unsupervised flying a pilot would otherwise gain. 

In fact, the FAA would review any training proposals offered by airlines line-by-line. As before, the FAA may approve these pathways only when they enhance safety over other means of qualification.

The association claims there is “no substitute” for an hour in flight. In reality, structured training pathways ensure pilots are trained for scenarios they may never encounter in flight, like losing an engine or icing on the wing.

The association’s objections are particularly cynical in light of their prior support for structured training pathways noting, “We concur with the recent statement by the Flight Safety Foundation that the public deserves a more sophisticated solution than a blanket move to 1,500 hours… The law’s flight-hour credit provision is entirely justified on the basis of quality of experience and not merely quantity of experience.”

What the Air Line Pilots Association does not acknowledge is that blocking pathways preserves a high barrier of entry to the career, even as a growing pilot shortage is viewed by some as collective bargaining leverage.

To be clear, pilots deserve fair compensation. Substantial wage increases have already taken place and will continue. Profit-driven manipulation of aviation safety regulations must not. The structured training pathways the association would block offer more training and a higher level of safety to the traveling public. It is time for the Air Line Pilots Association to end cynical attacks on industry partners and start working together to support new pilots and enhanced safety.

Original article can be found here ➤

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