Pilots Would Need More Experience Under U.S. Proposal

(Corrects hours under current rules in seventh paragraph.)

The U.S. government proposed increasing the required amount of experience and training for airline pilots to address issues that arose in a fatal crash three years ago.

Co-pilots would need close to the same qualifications as captains, with at least three times more flight hours than under current rules, the Federal Aviation Administration said today in the proposal made public in the Federal Register.

All pilots would have to undergo revamped training designed to prepare them for hazards that have led to accidents, such as bad weather or high-altitude maneuvering. The public has 60 days to comment on the proposal.

“This proposed rule reflects our commitment to the safety of the traveling public by making sure our pilots are the most qualified and best trained in the world,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood said in a written statement.

The proposed changes result from the Feb. 12, 2009, crash of a regional turboprop plane operated by Pinnacle Airlines Corp. (PNCL)’s Colgan unit that was blamed on pilot errors. The crash, near Buffalo, New York, killed all 49 people aboard and one man on the ground.

Congress in 2010 ordered the FAA to update its requirements for airline pilots to better prepare them for flying in difficult conditions, such as icing or an unforeseen emergency. The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents, issued similar recommendations.

Compromise Over Hours

A co-pilot must have at least 250 hours at the controls before flying for a U.S. airline under the current rules. The proposal would require that co-pilots obtain the same license as captains, known as an Airline Transport Pilot certificate. It requires at least 1,500 hours experience and specific training and testing on the aircraft model they fly.

Reflecting a compromise sought by airlines, the proposal would allow co-pilots to fly with fewer than 1,500 hours when they have received other education. Pilots who have flown for the military would need 750 hours, according to the statement. Those with a college degree in qualified aviation programs would need 1,000.

Pilots with fewer than 1,500 hours would be prohibited from becoming captains, according to the release.

An advisory committee made up of representatives of the airlines, pilot unions and family members of people killed in the Buffalo crash couldn’t agree in 2010 on the number of hours flight crews needed.

Families Object

Families of the Buffalo victims and the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, which represents independent pilot unions at United Parcel Service (UPS) Inc. and Southwest Airlines (LUV) Co., said co-pilots should be required to have 1,500 hours of flight experience.

Families of the Buffalo victims are “very pleased” with the proposal, Scott Maurer, whose daughter Lorin, 30, was aboard the flight, said in a phone interview.

While it didn’t require 1,500 hours of experience for all pilots as Maurer and others had sought, the proposal added most of what they wanted, he said.

Industry representatives and the Air Line Pilots Association union, which represents 53,000 pilots in the U.S. and Canada, said that flight time by itself was a poor measure of a pilots’ skills, according to the group’s report. They said advanced training on aviation issues at a university could be more valuable than total hours.

The captain on the Colgan flight, Marvin Renslow, overreacted to a cockpit warning and pulled the plane into a steep climb, which prompted it to gyrate out of control, according to the NTSB. Renslow had failed several tests of his piloting skill, the investigation found. Both pilots had more than 1,500 hours experience.

Congress following the accident ordered the FAA to make several safety improvements. In response to one of those mandates, the agency issued rules on Dec. 21 requiring passenger airline pilots to get more rest.

Congress also ordered the agency to make broader changes in pilot training and to establish a mentoring program for new pilots. The FAA hasn’t issued rules in those areas.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Levin in Washington at alevin24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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