Very light jet (VLJ) manufacturers and the US Federal Aviation Administration recognised two years ago that bringing affordable jet performance to the single-pilot general aviation arena demanded a complete rethink of training standards for non-professional pilots. So the FAA worked with VLJ makers Adam, Cessna and Eclipse, as well as Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and the University of North Dakota, to brainstorm the issue.

They produced a set of detailed training guidelines called FITS – the FAA Industry Training Standards. FITS is not a change in pilot licensing regulation – it is an optional training programme that the FAA is persuading the industry to adopt. “Several piston aircraft manufacturers, including Cessna, Cirrus and Diamond, already have FITS-accepted training programmes for their ‘glass’ singles,” says the FAA. “ We are also working with individual flight schools to incorporate the tenets of FITS into their training programmes for aircraft as simple as those certificated under the new light sport rule.”

FITS originated as a response to the fact that aircraft with high rates of climb and high cruising speeds put demands on non-professional pilots that the basic qualifications alone will not meet. It is not only an aircraft performance issue: compared with the types on which private pilots have traditionally trained, modern GA aircraft have sophisticated flight management systems. While these will make managing the flight easier, acquiring an understanding of the systems and gaining the skills needed to make the best use of digital flight management tools will require additional training.

At the Flight Safety Found­ation’s corporate aviation safety seminar earlier this year, Richard Walsh of the US National Transportation Safety Board safety committee highlighted the new types of training that will be overlaid on the basic qualification instruction. The components include:

Building single- or two-pilot crew resource management skills instead of “box-ticking”;

performing scenario-based training rather than manoeuvre-based training, like a GA version of line-oriented flight training;

building single-pilot command skills;

blending FITS with airline training methodologies;

developing autoflight skills and risk management strategies;

engendering a steadfast safety culture.

Eclipse Aviation is likely to be the launch VLJ user of FITS when its first production Eclipse 500 six-seater twinjets roll off the line next year. Fully current professional pilots with jet experience will not need FITS, only the type rating course. But further down the experience scale, elements of FITS training will be tailored to meet needs of pilots who will fly Eclipse 500s.

Because there is no legal compulsion to submit to a FITS assessment and training programme, Eclipse is going to provide more than just encouragement. If a buyer/pilot will not participate in Eclipse’s pilot qualification review and practical skills assessment, and then agree to a tailored FITS-based training programme before type-rating training, the manufacturer will refund the purchaser’s deposit and cancel the sale.

Eclipse admits that the spectre of product liability claims in the event of an accident involving an inexperienced pilot, and the threat of the insurance industry rejecting cover for non-professional Eclipse 500 pilots, were considerations in its decision. The insurers are delighted with FITS, Eclipse says, and have guaranteed to insure all pilots who complete the training programme appropriate to their individual cases. The procedure for an aspiring Eclipse 500 owner-pilot with a private pilot’s licence on non-jet aircraft will follow a logical course appropriate to the individual’s needs, says Eclipse. This will include:

A five-CD advance aircraft familiarisation package and access to web-based training;

a “paper” pilot qualification review by Eclipse to judge what additional training is required;

a simulator assessment of airmanship and flight skills at United Airlines’ Denver training centre;

assessed training needs will be addressed at the Denver centre using FITS methodologies. Pilots will also receive hypoxia recognition and flight upset training.

having proved competence through all the required stages, pilots will carry out Eclipse 500 type training. Until an Opinicus-supplied full-flight simulator is runn­ing by “mid to late 2006”, the aircraft itself will be used.

Source: Flight International