Special TAA training is nuts
Special instructor requirements for many Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) have some long-time instructors feeling left on the sidelines. Should CFIs actually need special training or certification for the new aircraft? Well-known CFI David Dewhirst says, "no way." What to you think about this issue? Send your opinions via e-mail (email@example.com); we'll summarize your responses in a future issue.
When it comes to better training for pilots transitioning to the new Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA), our industry is shooting itself in the foot.
Some TAA manufacturers, eager to create a mystique about their products and in league with insurance companies, are requiring absurdly high pilot time for both pilots and instructors. Worse, insurance companies are frequently mandating training based on manufacturer's programs, on the FITS program, or only from specially approved instructors.
The unhappy result is that when a proud new TAA owner gets home with his airplane, he cannot find one of these "super instructors" to give him additional training, despite hard evidence showing that a number of new owners lack stick-and-rudder skills.
Indeed, for all the talk about the revolutionary nature of TAA and how the accident rate is likely to soar in the new aircraft, first returns from the real world show that all the advanced fancy electronics have little or nothing to do with the accidents that are actually occurring in TAA. The AOPA Air Safety Foundation's ground-breaking first study of TAA accidents, available at www.asf.org under "Special Reports," indicates that virtually all of the first accidents were caused by the same old reasons: continued VFR into IMC, inadequate preflight planning, stall/spin, icing, go-arounds gone bad, impromptu aerobatics, etc.
In short, the accident statistics show that training is needed--but the industry, far from encouraging that training, is actually preventing it from taking place!
Technically advanced aircraft do not necessarily have different or more challenging aerodynamics. They are FAR Part 23-certified aircraft and therefore carry certain consistent qualities for aerodynamic design, handling characteristics, systems, and control harmony. Some of the new aircraft have handling qualities superior to older designs certified under CAR 3 and are safer. Yet the insurance companies are more concerned about the newer designs than the older ones.
In some cases only an instructor who has taken a $2,000 factory training course will be approved by the insurance company to instruct in a TAA (and for most, minimum requirements for instructors far exceed the usual one hour in make and model). That is just plain ridiculous. Out of 180 pages of material in the training manual of one aircraft manufacturer, only 15 pages apply to the unique characteristics of the airplane. The balance of the manual is a primer on the operation of a high-performance airplane and a description of how to perform certain FAA flight maneuvers. It is absurd for an insurance company to require this kind of costly training for a seasoned instructor. One manufacturer has established conditions that actually restrict the instructor's ability to train pilots and prohibits the training of other instructors.
Any seasoned instructor is perfectly capable of taking an airplane flight manual from an FAR Part 23-certified airplane and creating a training program. Each airframe and avionics manufacturer should provide a package of information that an instructor can use to acquaint himself with the requirements of the aircraft and its equipment. The ease with which an instructor can develop a training routine for the airplane could even be touted as a sales advantage. "Buy this airplane, no super instructor needed." That manufacturer should also benefit from a lower accident rate because the people who own its airplane will have training conveniently available.
Not that there's anything wrong with factory training. But when a new owner completes that training, the factory instructor should let the owner's hometown instructor know what areas need additional work, making the hometown instructor part of the motivation for additional training. This idea will work only if the manufacturers and insurance companies let it.
During one FAA Wings meeting for instructors in my area, the question was asked, "If this accident pilot were your client, what could you have said to him that might have prevented the accident?" One instructor replied, "I am not allowed to deal with this airplane. What difference does it make?"
As an industry, we need to return to common sense and trust the skill level of our instructors.
By David Dewhirst
David Dewhirst is president of Sabris Corporation, a firm engaging in aircraft sales, rental, instruction, and consulting in the business of aviation. He has 7,000 hours, including 5,000 as a flight instructor. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.