Feb. 27, 2004 - While the March opening of Eclipse Aviation's innovative stir welding facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico, places considerable attention on the company's ability to produce turbofan aircraft at a rate never before experienced in general aviation, the very light jet (VLJ) manufacturer is also publicly leading the charge to develop training criteria for pilots transitioning into this new class of aircraft.
Eclipse anticipates that primarily one pilot, whether a professional or private owner, will fly the five-place Model 500, which will be certificated for single-pilot operations under FAR Part 23.
Don Taylor, Eclipse's vice president of training and safety, notes that the aviation community is full of opinions and possibly myths concerning the relative safety of single-pilot operations compared with multi-pilot crews. He points out that single-pilot safety data are incomplete and mostly subjective. While studies by Robert Breiling Associates reference several accidents involving turboprop aircraft flown by one pilot, accidents involving jets flown by one pilot have been few in recent years.
Furthermore, Taylor argues that past history may be irrelevant because VLJs, such as the Eclipse 500, will be highly automated with advanced avionics and flight management systems that will serve the function of a copilot, provided the pilot is appropriately trained. For example, the Eclipse aircraft will be fitted with an autothrottle that the airframe manufacturer believes will reduce pilot miscue in high workload situations.
Observing that accidents during the initial operating experiences of Cirrus SR20 and SR22 pilots occurred in aircraft without the advanced primary flight display (PFD) currently available in new models, Taylor cautions that it is too early to say that glass cockpits increase workload for the single pilot by an inordinate amount. In fact, company officials believe that extensive use of integration simplifies the operation of the aircraft's systems and reduces the chance of overload and error. He does concede, however, that pilots must be trained to use technically advanced aircraft.
"Safety is the key to Eclipse's success," said Taylor. "Our training program is designed to produce the highest level of safety for the Eclipse pilot, and it is tailored to the pilot's experience level. We can and must teach judgment, using scenario-based training and case studies of real-world accidents and incidents. We will define metrics for evaluation of effective aeronautical decisionmaking, information management, and risk management."
Since the company has the greatest vested interest in safe operations of its Model 500 aircraft, Eclipse has decided to conduct training itself and will refund a customer's deposit at any stage of the training program if the pilot's progress and proficiency are deemed unacceptable to the company. Eclipse believes that existing training programs designed for type rating a pilot in a jet aircraft focus on professional crew situations and do not teach cockpit resource management and judgment for the single pilot. Nor do they, Eclipse officials believe, place sufficient emphasis on airmanship and aeronautical skills.
As the jet training launch customer for the FAA/Industry Training Standards (FITS) program and a collaborative party with the FAA's Centers of Excellence at the University of North Dakota and at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Eclipse is working with the federal government to develop the de facto industry standard for VLJ training. Basically that training standard, as adopted by Eclipse, encompasses six steps:
With first customer deliveries scheduled for 2006, Eclipse 500 pilots may enter training within the next year or so. Only time will tell if other VLJ manufacturers agree to follow the course advocated by Eclipse. - John W. Olcott