FAA issues final rule on air carrier pilot training

November 6, 2013

The FAA, addressing a mandate from Congress to update air carrier flight training standards and regulations, has published a final rule that stresses basic pilot skills and better tracking of remedial training for crewmembers to avoid  "events that, although rare, are often catastrophic," such as the February 2009 crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 near Buffalo, N.Y.

The National Transportation Safety Board applauded the release of the final rule. The measure addressed numerous pending NTSB recommendations, some "stemming from accidents dating back more than two decades," the NTSB said.

Highlighting the rule’s focus on areas of training generally regarded as fundamental to safety—such as stall recoveries and crosswind training—the FAA said the rule’s provisions stem, in part, from the Colgan accident, and also respond to the ensuing congressional mandate to address flight crew training. The agency identified 11 aircraft accidents over a 22-year interval (1988 to 2009) including Colgan 3407, American Airlines 587 (New York City, Nov. 12, 2001), USAir 427 (Aliquippa, Pa., Sept. 8, 1994), Continental 1404 (Denver, Colo., Dec. 20, 2008), and Comair 5191 (Lexington, Ky., Aug. 27, 2006) that might have been prevented or mitigated by the training requirements in the final rule.

Stall recoveries, crosswinds

The rule, to take effect March 12, 2014, requires "ground and flight training that enables pilots to prevent and recover from aircraft stalls and upsets," which the FAA said would also affect future simulator standards since all flight training will be required in a full flight simulator (FFS) during all qualification and recurrent training. The rule also requires air carriers to use data to track the remedial training given pilots found to have "performance deficiencies, such as failing a proficiency check or unsatisfactory performance during flight training."

Another provision is training for "more effective pilot monitoring." The rule explains that "the pilot not flying must monitor the aircraft operation." Training under the new rule will enhance pilot focus on runway safety procedures; and will expand crosswind training, "including training for wind gusts."

"Today’s rule is a significant advancement for aviation safety and U.S. pilot training," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "One of my first meetings as Transportation Secretary was with the Colgan Flight 3407 families, and today, I am proud to announce that with their help, the FAA has now added improved pilot training to its many other efforts to strengthen aviation safety."

The FAA said the rule was one in a series of actions required by Congress, and followed rulemakings to prevent pilot fatigue, finalized in December 2011, and to increase qualification requirements for first officers of U.S. passenger and cargo airplanes, issued in July 2013.

"This pivotal rule will give our nation’s pilots the most advanced training available,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. He called on the commercial aviation industry “to continue to move forward with voluntary initiatives to make air carrier training programs as robust as possible.”

NTSB plans evaluation

In a statement, NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said the board would evaluate the rule to determine if it warranted closing numerous open safety recommendations.

Among recommendations it said were addressed by the FAA was "the oldest open aviation recommendation issued by the NTSB, a 1993 recommendation that asks for simulator training for pilots" in using traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS). The rule also addressed an NTSB recommendation on training in adverse attitudes stemming from a 1991 accident and reiterated in numerous other accident investigations.

The provisions on remedial pilot training, recognizing and recovering from stalls, and pilot monitoring all addressed open NTSB recommendations, Hersman said, noting that the teaching of pilot monitoring skills "remains the active subject of recent accident investigations."

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.