Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Training to standards

You would have to be hiding under a rock to not have heard about all of the fuss going on about flight training. Most notably, you've probably heard that the FAA's Aviation Safety Bill has been passed, dictating, among other things,  that First Officers for commercial airlines must have a minimum 1500 hours of flight time (in reaction to the horrific plane crash over Buffalo, NY, last year).

The problem is this flight time (logged as actual hours flying not just training and studying) is really hard to come by. For example, I spent 7 years in the military flying Hueys and King Airs and got barely over 1200 hours. I was "lucky" in the sense that I wasn't paying for my flight training (albeit the Army was squeezing work out of me in other ways). The estimated cost these days for a private pilot certificate is anywhere from $3000 to $10,000. [I only put the $3000 figure in there because I saw it advertised. If you believe that, I have heard you can make this amount in one week working part time at home on your computer. No, really, I just got emailed this information.] When one gets that private pilot designation, he or she may have approximately 100 hours. Only 1400 more to go.

But there's more training to do. After you get your private, there's the instrument, commercial ratings, and then, most likely, your flight instructor certificate, which is what I'm working on now. Pilots can work up to 1500 hours of flight time by buying it, if they have a trust fund, since hourly rentals of small single engine airplanes are at least $100/hr. Or by slowly working at it, instructing, banner towing, etc. Anything that doesn't involve flying passengers for money. Because I did all of my initial training in the Army, I went a little different route. I now have over 4000 hours of flight time (having left the military and flown for both the commercial and fractional airlines), but no instructor time.

So, did I feel that I was a competent enough fresh out of the military pilot with 1200 hours flying a Beech 1900 in the busy, weather intensive Northeast US? Well, not always, at first, but I flew for the most part with a heck of an awesome captain, Mike, who taught me a lot as did just flying the airplane getting more experience. After completing the airline's training course, I went to Michigan to fly routes into and out of Pittsburgh. The airline, which is out of business now (no fault of mine, I should state) ran a pretty shady operation, trying to patch things together with duct tape and super glue as much as possible to keep the planes going. However, they had some great pilots. You'd have to be, flying an old, beat-up turboprop through the weather to such small, out of the way airports. For all of these reasons, the eye of the FAA was upon us. Because the FAA is always watching...

The FAA can sit in on just about anything in the airlines, and that includes your jumpseat (usually an actual seat in the cockpit, but in a 1900 it was seat 1A which had a headphone jack). They're there to make sure the pilots are running a safe flight. They can also do a "ramp check" to make sure the airplane is airworthy and legal. I remember asking Mike that if, gasp, the FAA, who takes your license away first and then asks questions, came to inspect us what we should do differently (or what wasn't I doing that I should). And Mike confidently replied, "Nothing. Everything you're doing every day is exactly how it should be done."

That's what I liked about flying with Mike. Without being anal about it, he ran a by the book operation. Other captains, ones that were not so particular, might ignore regulations, or operate in "gray" areas or be a little more forgiving of potential safety issues. When a first officer flies with such a captain, they never know what they're going to get. Heck, I had flown with captains that refused to use the checklists (so I would read them to myself - I couldn't help it!).

My point to this post is that you fly the way that you're trained. IF you care enough to continue this training into the way you conduct yourself as a pilot. Does it take any longer to do things by the book? Not really. But when the eyes of the FAA are upon you, it sure makes it easier to have those good practices ingrained. Plus, as I'm sure I've mentioned before in this blog, I never want my actions to result in the loss of the lives of others.

This is the attitude I want to convey to my students as a flight instructor. There are tons of stories about "Never Again," "I Learned from This," and other lessons pilots have learned in hindsight (I've got quite a few of them myself), but we're better off limiting the number of errors we introduce into our flights.

By the way, the new legislation also:

• Requires the FAA to strengthen regulations governing pilot training programs at airlines. The NTSB has urged airlines to provide remedial training for pilots who make errors or have difficulty on tests of their flying.
• Gives the FAA three years to impose new regulations requiring airlines to establish pilot mentoring programs and professional development committees, as well as modify existing training programs to include leadership and command training.


  1. Lynda, What a great post! I loved your comment... do it like the book. It's just as easy to do it right in the first plane. The stories I could share with you about students who wanted to make up their own way... my oh my.
    Happy Holidays!

  2. Anonymous9:19 PM

    Back in the day, we all did it the hard way. I went through the civilian route through training, graduating with a Bachelor's degree, Commercial/Instrument Multi & Single Engine Land along with a CFII. Total flight time was 400 hours. I then spent many years flight instructing, flying as a F/O free on King Airs to build time. When I finally had 1700 total time a commuter interviewed me. Back in the day they wouldn't even look at you unless you had 1500 hours. When I was hired by a major, you didn't get an interview unless you had a Bachelor's degree, thousands of hours and had been a Captain of a turbo prop or larger at a commuter or regional, sometimes corporate.

    The hiring of 250 hour copilots came when the regional jets came about and the demand for pilots grew. No one ever said that was a safe way to go! What it is, is getting back to is the norm that was ignored for growth. Just like the housing problems we had. Blaming all this on the Buffalo crash, where the FO had the degree and the hours, is a cop out. It was the Captain who was the problem in that flight deck.

    I went to college and flight instructed near a army base and I'm quite aware of the lack of flight time the pilots get for the years invested. It is the same for fighter pilots in the Air Force. It is a shame, but the military can keep pilots in longer if they aren't able to get jobs on the outside. I taught many a helicopter pilot to fly fix wing aircraft. They had the roughest time with lack of flight time. As flight instructors, we would fly sometimes 100 hours or more in a month.

    Buying all your time really doesn't get you the experience you really need. You never learn more about flying than when you teach it to someone else. Your brain has to work faster than it ever has to talk, evaluate and keep the plane in the air. As a captain, I can tell in the first ten minutes with a f/o if they came from the military, corporate, commuter or as a flight instructor.

    Living on ramen noodles to build that flight time was just apart of becoming an airline pilot. Any pilot in my seniority range can relate to this. I don't see anything wrong with paying your dues!