WSJ: Major Changes Building In Commercial-Pilot Training


Original Article at: Major Changes Building In Commercial-Pilot Training
24/06/2011 01:46

By Andy Pasztor
Of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Wall Street Journal ArticleLE BOURGET, France –Calling for fundamental changes in aviator training, a group of international experts has recommended that new airline pilots practice certain emergency maneuvers while flying small planes rather than sitting in simulators, which is the current practice.

The proposals, already embraced by some air-safety organizations, could set the stage for the biggest shift in commercial-pilot training in decades, according to industry officials here at the Paris Air show.

Before new airline pilots receive their licenses or get behind the controls to fly passengers, according to the recommendations, they should receive instruction in small, aerobatic aircraft about how to recover from stalls and flight upsets. Today, those maneuvers normally are taught in simulators.

By stressing real-world flying skills instead of those learned in simulators, the changes also could partly reverse increasing reliance on cockpit automation by pilots, regardless of experience level.

The recommendations come from a blue-ribbon group of experts established two years ago by Britain’s Royal Aeronautical Society, an influential air-safety body. Comprising more than 80 members representing pilots, instructors, researchers, training organizations and others, the study group’s conclusions have sparked a global debate over proper training procedures.

In addition to the notion of putting starting pilots through their paces in real-life aerobatic aircraft, the group recommended more academic training for pilots about the laws of aerodynamics. It also urged stepped-up efforts to improve the realism of simulators in mimicking stall scenarios.

The study group was formed due to “a growing need to address the issue of loss of control in flight,” according to Sunjoo Advani, its chairman. “We want to learn from the past,” Mr. Advani said in an interview shortly before the air show, “not point fingers of blame.”

Bryan Burks, an Alaska Air Group Inc. (ALK)pilot and another of the group’s participants, stressed the game-changing nature of the recommendations. “If we continue to train as we always have, we won’t move the needle on safety,”

A few airlines, mainly in Europe, have voluntarily implemented parts of the recommendations, and U.S. regulators also are moving to embrace some of the group’s findings.

More broadly, recent crash reports and safety studies are pushing airlines and regulators world-wide to consider sweeping training changes. The focus is teaching pilots advanced maneuvers so they can recover from stalls and sudden flight upsets, often at higher altitudes, and confronting more-complex automation problems than typically found in earlier training courses.

The U.S. Congress passed legislation mandating more stall-recovery training in the wake of the high-profile crash of a Colgan Air turboprop near Buffalo, N.Y. in 2009, which killed 50 people. Investigators determined the plane stalled because the captain mistakenly pulled back on the controls.

Until recently, classic stall-recovery training called for pilots to first add power and then regain control with minimum loss of altitude. Revised procedures issued by the study group–and echoed by many other safety advocates–call for initially pushing the plane’s nose down, then adding power and worrying less about altitude loss.

The study group is expected to continue its work to refine some of recommendations, and persuade other air-safety experts to spread the same message.

Write to Andy Pasztor at [email protected]

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