The Colgan Air accident at Buffalo has certainly shaken up US thinking about what makes - and keeps - an airline pilot competent. But the Colgan crash was just the final straw - the problem has been under discussion for years.

What the issue boils down to is this: a pilot's licence is only proof of the fact that, at some stage in the past, the holder successfully passed some tests that, on the day, demonstrated at least the minimum level of competency required by law. The debate now is whether that minimum competency level is good enough for a pilot flying commercial passenger aircraft and, if it is, whether the pilot still retains the competency he/she had when the licence was issued.

At this point it seems the consensus is that a basic commercial pilot licence is not sufficient for flying fare-paying passengers. To be considered competent to do the latter, the pilot must accumulate a total of at least 1,500h doing other kinds of flying, thus upgrading the commercial licence to a transport pilot licence.

It is to be hoped that in finalising the draft of its notice of proposed rulemaking the US Federal Aviation Administration will suggest that 1,500h is not enough on its own. Recurrent training and line check records should be a part of a pilot's licence certificate without which it is invalid, and scrutiny by a hiring airline of those records should be compulsory.

Source: Flight International