Babbitt praises RACCA efforts on pilot time

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Former FAA administrator Randy Babbitt praised RACCA on its effort in changing rules to broaden the ability of first officers to build quality time in the right seat of cargo operations. The industry has been working for years, he noted, to ensure that, like their passenger-carrying counterparts, cargo operators can staff the right seat of single-pilot operations and count that time toward a first officer goal of achieving an air transport rating and 1500 hours.

“When you think about the things this organization has accomplished,” he said. “My hat is off to you because you have not just worked for the benefit of your members, but your work has a major impact on all of aviation. This group represents the heart and sole of aviation.”

RACCA’s work, he noted, comes at a time when aviation is at a critical crossroads with many changes, including the industry’s ability to attract and retain the next generation of pilots and maintenance technicians and the integration of drones.

“With the growth projected by Boeing and Airbus, we have to review our current training so that we can ensure we have the most skilled aviators,” he said. “We are not training pilots any differently today than we were in 1940 despite the advances in technology. We are not in the same environment today, so we have got to make changes. What is needed is to constantly expose pilots in sim training to things they will encounter in the real world.”

Babbitt lashed out at those who criticize sim training. “During my time in aviation, we were trained in the aircraft and we got to the simulator, we were surprised and often remarked, ‘it flies just like the airplane’,” he said. “Today, pilots are trained in simulators and, you hear them remark, ‘the aircraft flies just like the sim.’ That’s the kind of fidelity we have. We lost a lot of good pilots who were killed flying a maneuver during training or their check ride. That’s crazy.”

He pointed to the 1500-hour rules as being harmful to safety.

“That 1500-hour rule is first and foremost on that list of recent changes that have been negative for safety and actually harmful,” he said. “Research is our friend. We have to look at the data including the pilot supply study and those from Embry Riddle, University of North Dakota and Purdue and we need to draw a bright line between the quality of experience and flight time.”

He cited studies showing graduates are “top dogs” with a lot more training that he had as they graduate. Testing them after they have built time crop dusting and flying banners shows, conclusively shows they are worse, their skills have deteriorated because there is no structure to what they were doing in the air.

“Those studies should be a wake-up call for us all,” he said. “We have simulation that is unparalleled in the history of airline training. Those who oppose using simulators or who say they don’t build real experience are misguided. Is there a pilot today who checks out in a new airplane without simulation? No. You can do a lot in simulation we’ve stopped doing in the airplane. ICAO has a requirement cap of 100 hours in a simulator for an ATP. The US cap is 25 and ICAO is already looking at raising its cap to 200 hours. It’s less expensive and better and industry ought to be pushing that to regulators.”

Babbitt cited alternative means of compliance as an answer to pilot training. “Pilots should be hired at 500 hours and then spend the next three months in course curriculum, the jump seat, line operating experience and the sim going through everything you can imagine,” he recommended. “That will lead us to a better solution, with fewer barriers to becoming a pilot. It’s less expensive and you are putting more qualified people into line operations. The FAA is receptive to the changes we are calling for but fully aware of the restraints imposed by Congress and the negative effects on pilots. We have to take the time, have the leadership and the patience for the sake of the future industry. This is not an ask but a requirement of what we need to do in the future.”

He cited other factors involved in the Colgan crash that remain unaddressed including fatigue and commuting as well as a captain who failed numerous check rides. “There comes a time when you have to say a pilot may not be cut out to be a pilot so switch them to another profession such as dispatch,” he said. “The 1500-hour rule was a tourniquet. You don’t leave a tourniquet on. You fix what’s wrong. But here we are, a decade later and we still have the tourniquet.”

Bruce Landsberg NTSB vice chair noted he was “raked over the coals” during confirmation on his stance that the 1500-hour rule is counterproductive.

“The NTSB made 46 recommendations after Colgan and nowhere did we find the first officer qualification were substandard,” he said. “The problem was the captain and in the prior 10 years of accidents we could not find a single one where the first officer was culpable. Unfortunately, Congress goes straight for the distortion.”