US regulators have adopted new measures intended to improve pilot skills by providing leadership and mentoring training for captains, as well as opportunities for new-hire pilots to observe flight operations before becoming a crew member.

The US FAA says the intention of the change, which also includes curriculum revision, is to “mitigate” incidents of “unprofessional pilot behaviour” and reduce the risk of potentially catastrophic errors.

Its adoption follows proposals originally put forward over three years ago, and which have origins dating back more than 15 years.

The FAA cites the fatal accident involving a Pinnacle Airlines Bombardier CRJ200 in October 2004 – attributed to poor airmanship, unprofessional behaviour and deviation from standard procedures – in its justification for establishing the new rules.

Investigators noted at the time that the airline provided only 2h of leadership training during the upgrade to captaincy, and that there was a high initial upgrade failure rate. Pinnacle subsequently expanded the training to 8h with specific detailed modules, and substantially improved the upgrade rate.

The FAA says a “problem still exists” within the industry with respect to some pilots not adhering to operating procedures including the ‘sterile cockpit’ – which requires crews to limit discussion and attention exclusively to aircraft operation below 10,000ft.

Its amendments include additional carrier training for captains, including leadership and mentoring, and further qualification for new-hire pilots including operational familiarisation through sitting on the observer seat, with a headset, for at least two cycles.

Recurrent leadership training for captains will be required every 36 months. But initial plans to require operators to establish and maintain a pilot professional development committee, to administer and oversee mentoring schemes, have been ditched.

Little opposition was presented to the FAA over its general proposal, but a number of airline and pilot association respondents suggested changes, some of which have been incorporated into the final regulation. The rule becomes effective from 27 April.