Pilots to Require More Experience Under U.S. Safety Plan

Airline co-pilots would need almost the same qualifications as captains under rules proposed by the U.S. government, at a cost of $782 million over 20 years, to address issues that arose from a fatal 2009 crash.

All pilots would have to undergo revamped training to prepare them for hazards that have led to accidents, such as bad weather or high-altitude maneuvering, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said yesterday in the proposal made public in the Federal Register.

“We have dramatically improved safety,” Lee Collins, executive vice president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, a Washington-based trade group, said in a phone interview. CAPA represents independent pilot unions at airlines including United Parcel Service Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co.

The changes would lead to savings of $384 million as a result of fewer expected accidents, according to the rule.

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

Accident’s Legacy

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.

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

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.

It would take effect on Aug. 2, 2013. The public has 60 days to comment on the proposal.

Costs Versus Benefits

Most of the expected costs are the result of congressional requirements, according to the FAA.

“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.

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 of the Buffalo victims and CAPA 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.

Measuring Experience

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

The Washington-based Regional Airline Association, which represents carriers such as Pinnacle, issued a statement saying it “looks forward to contributing to the rule-making process.”

Regional carriers often hire younger pilots with fewer hours of experience than large airlines such as Southwest.

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. The agency. in response to one of those mandates, issued rules 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.

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