The US FAA is proposing to create a new certification category for aircraft that can be used to teach airline pilots how to recover from upset situations in actual flight conditions.
The need for upset recovery training has been gaining prominence in the wake of loss-of-control elements in several high profile regional airline accidents, including the crash of Pinnacle Airlines CRJ200 in 2004 and the February crash of the Colgan Air Q400 on approach to Buffalo.
Both the US Congress and the FAA are considering updates to airline training regimes to address the issue, the Congress through new legislation and the FAA via a proposed update to crew training rules.
Pilots are typically exposed to non-ordinary situations in ground simulators, which generally cannot duplicate the gravitational forces and sensations that would accompany an actual event.
In-flight simulators, available primarily through research company, Calspan, use variable stability business jet aircraft to simulate the handling and performance characteristics of a wide variety of large jet aircraft, allowing for safe in-flight practice in the manoeuvres.
"Airborne simulation can provide aircraft dynamic responses that simulate larger, heavier transport aircraft, and result in improved safety through more-realistic upset recovery training for air carrier pilots," says the FAA in the proposed change. "The use of large transport aircraft for Upset Recovery Training is costly, and would increase the risk level of training. It is also impractical to certificate these modified aircraft in compliance with the requirements of their standard category type certificate."
Under the suggested certification change, aircraft that previously could only by flown as "experimental" category aircraft will become "restricted" category aircraft, a revision that will allay some concerns by airlines, pilot unions and others of having their pilots train in experimental aircraft.
Calspan plans to certify two of its four variable stability Learjet aircraft under the new category for anticipated pilot training programs, according to a company official.