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New Air Carrier Pilot Rules Miss Essential Training Need

By Dr. Robert L. Gordon | 05/04/2015 | 5:51 AM | Categories: Current Affairs

Guest Post By Jerome Reitano, faculty member at American Public University


Congress passed a law in 2010 that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) implemented in August of 2014, by adopting new rules for pilots of air carriers as a result a February 2009 crash involving Continental Connection Flight 3407, operated by Colgan Air Inc. Two controversial and unpopular additions were requirements that all air carrier pilots obtain an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate and accumulate a minimum of 1,500 flight hours. This new law and its provisions can have a significant impact on the movement of air cargo.

The Colgan Air flight crashed outside of Buffalo, N.Y., killing all 49 people onboard and one on the ground. According to flight records at Colgan, the captain had 3,379 flight hours and the first officer had 2,244 hours at the time of the accident.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the crash occurred due to the “captain’s inappropriate response to the activation of the stick shaker, which lead to an aerodynamic stall.” The Bombardier DHC-8-400 aircraft’s stick shaker acts as an aid to the pilots, warning them of an impending stall through vibrations to the control column.

Why did the Congress choose 1,500 hours as a “safety threshold” when the pilots of the Colgan flight had more than the minimum hours required? In my opinion, Congress failed to identify the root cause of the problem: the incorrect response to stalls and a lack of training. Instead, the rule was reactionary after the crash instead of thought out and carefully planned.

“The aircraft got too slow and stalled” is a phrase one may hear on the news. However, this phrase is incredibly inaccurate. An aerodynamic stall is caused by an aircraft exceeding the wing’s critical angle or attack and disrupting the airflow over the wing, thus reducing the amount of lift the wing is able to produce.

Stalls can occur at any airspeed or any attitude. They are not new and are not odd events or even dangerous ones. From the beginning of pilot training, aviators are taught how to enter and exit stalls during their lessons. Early on, young pilots obtaining their private pilot license are required to recover from a full stall.

However, this is the only time in a pilot’s career that the FAA requires the demonstration of recovery from a full stall. As a pilot progresses to advanced certificates and aircraft, recovery is made either right before a stall or during the first indication of a stall. There is a large atrophy of skill by pilots over time without proper stall refresher training.

An example of eroding skill came from a study conducted by the FAA focusing on the stall recovery of 45 qualified Boeing 737 pilots, which resulted in only 10 of the 45 properly recovering from a surprise stall in a simulator.

Randall Brooks, vice president of training and business development for Aviation Performance Solutions, a company headquartered in Mesa, Ariz. that focuses on upset recovery training which includes stall and spin awareness and training said, “it is highly unlikely that any period of flight operation in the normal flight envelope alone will provide pilots with the information and skills that may be necessary for survival in an unanticipated airplane upset event.”

In other words, you have to be familiar with an aircraft in an unusual attitude or situation in order to quickly diagnose the problem and recover properly. There is no magical hour level that will absolve a pilot from ever entering into an unusual attitude or stall.

Furthermore, Brooks stated that without proper training, “pilots are not only less likely to recover correctly, more importantly they are less likely to have developed the pattern recognition that is essential to ‘see the stall coming’ and prevent the stall or spin from developing in the first place.”

With the evidence of this accident flight, as well as other flights involving loss of control in the past few years, Congress should revisit the 1,500 hour ATP rule and have the FAA place a larger emphasis instead on stall awareness and training. Failing to do so could jeopardize the safety of passengers and the movement of air cargo around the world.

About the Author

Jerome Reitano is an adjunct professor at American Public University, a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and student at Oklahoma State working to obtain a Doctor of Education degree in Applied Educational Studies with a specialization in aviation and space. He holds FAA Commercial Single-Engine Airplane, Multi-Engine Airplane, Rotorcraft and Instrument certificates as well as type-ratings in a BV-234 and BE-300.




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About Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon is program director of the Reverse Logistics department at American Public University. Dr. Gordon has over twenty-five years of professional experience in supply chain management and human resources. He holds a Doctorate of Management and Organizational Leadership and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix, as well earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from UCLA. Dr. Gordon has spent more than 14 years teaching reverse logistics, transportation, project management, and human resources. He has published articles on reverse logistics; supply chain management; project management; human resources; education, and complexity. He has also published four books on Reverse Logistics Management; Complexity and Project Management; Virtual Project Management Organizations, and Successful Program Management..

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