WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday proposed new standards for flight simulators used in pilot training, saying the upgrade is necessary so that pilots can be taught how to avoid sudden airborne upsets such as the one that led to the 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence Center.
“These changes are necessary to ensure a realistic crew training environment and to prevent incorrect simulator training,” the FAA said.
Federal investigators blamed the February 2009 crash, which claimed 50 lives, on pilot error. Flight 3407’s pilot, Capt. Marvin D. Renslow, reacted incorrectly to a stall warning, doing exactly the opposite of what he should have done and thereby losing control of the plane. Investigators said Renslow never received simulator training in how to handle such a situation.
A year later, the Families of Continental Flight 3407 pressured Congress into adopting a comprehensive aviation safety law that boosted pilot experience requirements and requires them to get more rest. In addition, the law boosts pilot training in several ways, and for the first time requires pilots to receive simulator training in reacting to airborne “upsets” such as the one that occurred with Flight 3047.
While the FAA finalized its new pilot training rules last November, the agency said training simulators need to be upgraded to make sure they can actually simulate those sudden airborne upsets.
The new simulator standards quickly won praise from both the Families of Continental Flight 3407 and federal lawmakers.
“This is very much positive progress continuing toward safety,” said Karen Eckert, whose sister Beverly Eckert, a 9/11 activist, was killed in the crash.
“I urge the FAA to act quickly to approve and implement these new simulators to comply with the law and give pilots the best possible training for the safety of the flying public,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who praised the proposed new simulator standards in a speech on the House floor.
In proposing the new rules for simulators, the FAA said leaving the current standards in place could be downright dangerous, given that they don’t require simulators to be able to mimic all sorts of airborne upsets.
The release of the proposed standards marks the beginning of a 90-day public comment period, after which the FAA will finalize the new standards. Once the rules are made final, the agency will give simulator operators three years to comply with them. That means the simulator upgrades will have to be done before the new rule requiring more simulator training goes into effect in February 2019.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who played a key role in the passage of the 2010 aviation safety law, said he will be watching the FAA “like a hawk” to make sure the new simulator standards get implemented. “I am pleased that the FAA has released this new proposal, which will help pilots be better prepared to handle difficult weather situations,” as well as other in-flight upsets, Schumer said.
Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, said, “Better-trained pilots are without question the best way to prevent a tragedy like the crash of Flight 3407 from ever happening again.”