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​ALPA and US lawmakers ask ICAO to review pilot training standards

The largest US pilots' union and US lawmakers have urged civil aviation agency ICAO to review its global pilot training standards – requests coming in a wake of two deadly Boeing 737 Max crashes.

In requesting the review, the Air Line Pilots Association and lawmakers have not taken heat off Boeing but have suggested better pilot training standards may be needed.

Controversy about the degree to which pilot actions contributed to the crashes has simmered since the two accidents, as have questions about a fast-track ICAO commercial pilot license called the "multi-crew pilot license" (MPL).

"Recently I wrote a letter to… the secretary general of the International Civil Aviation Organisation asking for a global review of pilot training qualification standards," ALPA president Joe DePete told lawmakers on 17 July during a House Transportation Committee aviation safety hearing.

In written testimony to the committee, DePete mentioned the MPL, which requires no minimum cockpit hours. Rather, holders must have 240 hours of simulator or cockpit time and a private pilot license, which can be obtained with as little as 40 hours of flying.

Ethiopian Airlines, which operated one of the crashed 737 Max, is among carriers to have adopted the MPL standard, though it has not said if the less-experienced copilot of its crashed aircraft had an MPL.

Investigators have said the copilot had 361 hours total flight experience.

MPL pilots are "essentially apprentice pilots, requiring the captain to overcome any training and experience shortcomings", says DePete's testimony. "Pilots flying for airlines with an MPL do not pass through the individual licensing levels such as the private pilot license, the instrument rating, the commercial pilot license, a multi-engine rating, high-altitude operations endorsement."

In addressing lawmakers, DePete also defended the pilots of the crashed aircraft. He says they were "were at a serious disadvantage by not knowing about" the 737 Max's automated flight control system.

Not until after the first Max crash did Boeing reveal it equipped the Max with technology called the manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system (MCAS). That system caused the dives preceding both aircraft crashes.

Top lawmakers on the House Transportation Committee have also recently weighed in, urging US Federal Aviation Administration acting administrator Dan Elwell to raise pilot training issues at an ICAO meeting.

"Emphasis should be on competency-based training rather than simply amassing unrelated flight hours," says the 10 July letter from committee ranking member Sam Graves.

ICAO did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but it has defended the MPL.

"The data to date which we’re aware of reveals no specific safety concerns for pilots trained with this approach," ICAO told FlightGlobal earlier this year.

ALPA was a driving force behind a change in US regulations to require commercial pilots have 1,500 hours of flight time.

"It is clear that in nearly every other country, the training and minimum flight experience requirements to qualify as a flight crew member on a transport category airliner is less than the US, and in some cases much less," DePete's written testimony said.

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