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Another Voice: More flight time may not add up to better pilots

By Faye Malarkey Black

The Buffalo News editorial Nov. 1, “NTSB nominee’s dangerous notion on pilot training,” contains errors. The editorial states “the NTSB decided years ago that 1,500 hours of flight time for pilots would improve safety,” when the NTSB has repeatedly rejected this notion, beginning Feb. 25, 2010, when Chairwoman Deborah Hersman testified: “We’ve investigated accidents where we’ve seen very high-time pilots, and we’ve investigated accidents where we’ve seen low-time pilots. We don’t have any recommendations about the appropriate number of hours for different categories.”

The editorial cites Chesley Sullenberger’s claim that 1,500-hour pilots have “more people screening them over a longer period of time.” However, there is no guarantee these additional flight hours allow more oversight. When a pilot rents a small aircraft to build hours, we rely on a self-reported logbook. There is no observation and no screening associated with this time.

There is also no additional training required during this time-building phase. Yet, the editorial mischaracterizes RAA’s position by conflating “flight hours” with “training” – two distinct aviation terms that cannot be used interchangeably. Defined by federal aviation regulations, “training time” means “training received in flight, on the ground, or in a flight simulator or flight training device from an authorized instructor.” “Training time” is only a portion of a pilot’s flight hours. The notion that pilots are “training” when they build flight hours toward their certificate is unfounded.

The distinction between training and flight time is central to RAA’s position. RAA has never nor will ever advocate reducing training. We are advocating additional supervised training pathways that provide credit toward a portion of the unsupervised flying a pilot would otherwise gain. Like existing pathways, new pathways would be certified by the FAA as achieving a higher level of safety than other means of pilot qualification.

The editorial asserts “more flights” have factored into regional airlines’ hiring challenges, yet DOT data shows fewer daily departures now vs. 10 years ago. As the pilot shortage curtails the ability to preserve all of today’s routes, larger communities are seeing fewer flights with more passengers on larger aircraft. At smaller airports throughout the country, consequences are more severe. Many communities have too few daily passengers to support larger aircraft and have lost or will lose all of their air service.
The State of New York has felt these effects: 16 airports have experienced air service reductions between 2013 and 2016. Buffalo lost 16 percent of its air service during that time.

Fortunately, bolstering the pilot pipeline and advancing aviation safety are not mutually exclusive objectives. RAA emphatically agrees that airline first officers must receive appropriate training. We will continue working in support of this outcome by promoting more of the structured training pathways that produce well-qualified first officers and a higher level of safety for the traveling public.

Faye Malarkey Black is president of the the Regional Airline Association.

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