Photography by Mike Fizer
In 2005 the Air Transport Association warned Congress that “very light jets” (VLJ) raised the possibility of new safety risks. One of those was the training of pilots. In testimony to Congress, an ATA official asked, “How will the FAA ensure that VLJ pilots, particularly private pilots operating their own (or jointly owned) microjets, obtain and maintain the skills needed to operate safely in commercial airspace?”
So how are they doing? Aside from a few runway overruns in good weather, pilots of the smallest jets have a good safety record, according to an insurance company executive. “Results are good from the insurance perspective, but [there is] mixed feedback from pilots. Single-pilot jet operations in recent months and years have actually had very good results from a loss standpoint,” said Carson Lyons, assistant vice president of Chartis Aerospace Insurance Services in Atlanta.
“There are many emergency procedures that we and most of our competitors would certainly argue are better performed and safer to perform in the simulator versus an aircraft.
“There’s a little bit of a tug of war [between] the, ‘I want to train for how I use the aircraft, in my aircraft, where I fly,’ versus the, ‘I know I need to go to Wichita or Orlando or Dallas to do the training in the full-motion simulator that might be available for the aircraft,’” Lyons said.
“A lot of people are intimidated by having to go through it, whether it be the two and a half weeks you have to commit, or just how tough it really is,” said CitationJet owner and pilot Ronnie Morgan, a San Diego-based developer specializing in large city projects. “So, they see an easy way out. [That] is, getting a type rating in the airplane and gaining the experience in [actual] flying. I think that is what motivates a lot of people.”
If any pilot could make the case for skipping FlightSafety International CitationJet simulator training, even though the course is included in the price of the aircraft, it is Morgan. “I had more than 800 hours in the [Socata] TBM, and had flown it for five years before I decided to move up to the jet. By the time I went to FlightSafety, I already had 150 hours left seat in a [Cessna] CJ1+. I had my crew rating; I didn’t have my single-pilot rating.
“When you buy a new plane from Cessna, it comes with the [FlightSafety] training. So, I thought the smart move would be to go ahead and do the initial [course] from the get-go. I’m glad I did. It was eight or nine sim sessions. It’s quite a workout. It’s very thorough. At the end of the day, when you get your single-pilot [rating], you really feel like you earned it,” Morgan said.
“What happened was, I had 150 hours in the airplane, but they weren’t problem hours. They were just flying hours, and the simulator is all problem hours.”
“You can hire an instructor for a full type rating,” said John Hayes, president of the Citation Jet Pilots organization. “They are pretty good, but the people who have done that have shortchanged themselves and have not been in an approach at night in a snowstorm with an engine out. You can only do it in the sim.
“I have seen one operator who transferred from a single-engine, fixed-gear Cirrus to a [Cessna] Mustang to a [Cessna] CJ3 and he has done very well. He did close to 100 hours of mentoring before he flew the jet on his own. Another couple of pilots bought a Mustang out of a TBM, and they trained only with mentors.
“I think people who don’t go to FlightSafety miss out on an opportunity to work on their skills. For a lot of pilots, they tend to find at FlightSafety that they have significant trouble with instrument work and single-engine work. A lot of pilots can get into a jet and fly it, but without a full simulator course, they could have trouble with single-engine work in bad weather. That is where they run into the most trouble. You are in an airplane that is a lot more capable.
Cyrus Sigari, the president of jetAVIVA—a training and jet sales company in Los Angeles—gives type ratings in actual aircraft but tells his first-time jet customers they also need some simulator training.
“I absolutely believe that simulator training is an important and required step in the transition training process. Each client has different requirements and there are different scenarios that work best for each individual transitioning,” Sigari said. He is a FlightSafety customer.
“I don’t think there is one right way to do it, because each client has different circumstances. I don’t think you are getting people saying ‘I don’t want to fly a simulator.’ I think what is happening is that people don’t necessarily want to spend two weeks or three weeks flying a simulator in a place that’s far from their home. That doesn’t necessarily work well for a lot of individuals who are buying these sorts of airplanes.
“You’re asking a lot of them. You’re asking them to learn how to fly a jet, you’re asking them to learn how to fly a new flight deck, and to learn the nuances of the plane they are getting a type rating in—all at the same time.
“Some clients have no problem going through a full type-rating course in a simulator. Other clients require a little bit more time,” Sigari said. “We’ve had some clients who have had 5,000 hours or 10,000 hours of flight experience who really struggled with the initial type rating for the Mustang or Phenom, primarily because of the avionics.
“What have we seen that worked when [simulator training] hasn’t worked? For some clients, it’s to do training in the airplane to the point that they can take the checkride in the airplane, and from there, go to simulator training. They can train [in the simulator] not for the purpose of getting a type rating, but really for the purpose of getting an education. The end goal is the same, to have the same level of proficiency. The path I am suggesting is probably more work, time, and money, than somebody just going to simulator school.
“After they’ve completed the simulator curriculum, we then have clients go out and do real-world mentoring. Real-world mentoring is a different experience than the first two objectives. So, the first objective is to pass a checkride. Second objective is to simulate the things that you just can’t simulate in the real world, like decompression, dual generator failures, icing on a runway, and wind shear. In the mentoring component, we put the client in real-world situations where they’re going to be thrown bogies, and watch how they react, allowing them to make mistakes and ultimately learn from them.”
Randy Groom, Piper Aircraft executive vice president, wants future Piper Altaire single-engine jet customers to complete a three-pronged training program before starting mentoring. “My belief is that it is critical to have great professional ground school training, simulator training, and in-aircraft training. It takes all three to do a really good job.
“The ground training is critical to understand the systems, the systems being more complex than what they’re used to perhaps coming out of piston-engine aircraft. The simulator training—critical because you can certainly do things in a simulator that you can’t do in a real aircraft environment.
“The in-aircraft training [is essential], because there are experiences in the actual aircraft that you cannot totally replicate in a simulator. Most notably, that has to do with landings. A simulator does a fantastic job of displaying the systems, the instrumentation, the IFR proficiency and doing an instrument approach. But for the actual landing itself, I believe there’s no replacement for the actual aircraft,” Groom said.
“Some of the accidents that have occurred are tied to landings and runway overruns, for example. We really need to impress upon customers to make sure they are making stabilized approaches, that they are on the proper ref speeds, that they’re not landing long, that they recognize the real impact of contaminated runways. A jet aircraft is less forgiving for deviations from good practice than a piston engine airplane or even a turboprop airplane. I think it is vital that a transitioning pilot have a structured mentoring program from a professional. It shouldn’t just be a casual friend who has some experience.”
In a previous position, Groom helped design programs for pilots transitioning to what is now called the Hawker Beechcraft Premiere 1 and 1A.
Officials at FlightSafety’s Cessna Learning Center in Wichita were asked about a rumor that a small percentage of pilots who got type rated only in the aircraft and show up for a three-day recurrent course in the classroom and simulator are unable to meet FlightSafety’s training standards. They are asked to take additional days.
“What we’ve noticed is that for clients that trained in the aircraft, not having received simulator training, the three-day course did not include enough time to train them to the FAA and FlightSafety proficiency standard,” said Randy Burke, program manager for Mustang training. “For those clients, we can offer a more customized training path. We just need more than three days.” The company offers a five-day “prior experience” course for those with training in the aircraft. The course focuses on normal and abnormal operations of every system, as required by the FAA.
“What it comes down to is that we, at FlightSafety, will not compromise when it comes to safety,” said FlightSafety spokesman Steve Phillips. “We’re not going to cut a program in order to accommodate a schedule. We will work with the customer and make whatever adjustments are required, but we will in no way compromise safety.”
Burke said the center’s two-week course to complete a Mustang type rating is already a condensed course, but he does hear from those who still can’t work it into their schedule.
“As far as the Mustang goes, I do get that type of phone call from time to time. FlightSafety is happy to look at schedules, and depending on availability, we make some adjustments to training courses to accommodate special concerns,” he said.
“But for the most part, it is usually educating that pilot to let them know the comprehensive syllabus that we provide. Many times they just need to know a little bit more about what they are getting into. In every case we find a solution.”
Prior to taking FlightSafety’s Mustang training course in Wichita, pilots are asked to fill out a proficiency index. The index provides pilot background and experience information that allows FlightSafety to make training recommendations and to establish the best training path. Working on the weak areas in pre-course training, prior to the simulator course, gives students a better chance of success. A typical Mustang simulator course includes 26 hours in the classroom, 13 hours in the procedures trainer, and 27 crew hours in the full-motion simulator.
“We will work with a customer and do what is necessary to work around their schedule,” said Mike Croitoru, director of business development for Cessna programs. That’s why we came up with the G1000 online course. We know people are busy. There are several things they can do before coming to the center that may enable them to spread their training out over a period of time. They can take our G1000 online course. They can come in over one weekend and take the turbine transition and accelerated experience courses, and then schedule their initial [type rating course] a month later.”
Burke said the word is getting out about the need for pre-course training. Participation is up in such courses. To date, 900 pilots have taken the type rating course. Some of those pilots were company demo pilots, FAA pilots, and instructors.
Pilots are catching on, too. Once they see the level of professionalism and training provided, former skeptics are signing long-term training contracts.
E-mail the author at alton.[email protected].