By Jaspreet Singh
The US Federal Aviation Administration is poised to shake up commercial airline pilot training standards in response to the February 2009 Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 crash on approach to Buffalo, New York that killed 50 people and raised serious questions about pilot fatigue and upset-recovery competence.
An FAA notice of proposed rulemaking expected within the next two months could go as far as requiring air carriers to confirm they consider their pilots to be competent - not merely legally licensed.
The Colgan crash has already spurred the US Senate to pass a bill in July requiring both crew members to have a minimum of 1,500h and hold an air transport pilot certificate.
Following the crash, transportation secretary Ray LaHood and FAA administrator Randy Babbitt initiated a "call to action" on pilot training standards, with National Transportation Safety Board public hearings flagging up a lack of consistency in safety standards between operators.
FAA proposals on basic pilot certification feeding the FAA deliberations include requiring pilots who transport passengers to hold an air transport pilot certificate with the appropriate aircraft category, class and type ratings, which would increase the required flight hours for these pilots to 1,500h.
The FAA also suggested accepting academic credit in lieu of required flight hours or experience, and establishing a new commercial pilot certificate endorsement that would address concerns about the operational experience of newly hired commercial pilots.
The FAA's revised NPRM will address duty time limitations and rest requirements.
Babbitt believes experience is not simply a matter of accumulated flight hours, saying: "Pilots need to have quality training and experience appropriate to the mission to be ready to handle any situation they encounter."