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FAA proposes major revamp of airline pilot training

By Mike M. Ahlers, CNN
  • Pilots would be tested in flight simulators
  • Crews, attendants and dispatchers would have to train as a team for emergencies
  • Separate proposal would cover pilot fatigue

Washington (CNN) -- Airline pilots and flight attendants would have to learn how to respond to "real world" scenarios and demonstrate those skills in flight simulators and in emergency drills under proposed FAA rules.

Federal Aviation Administrator Randy Babbitt called the changes to pilot training, proposed Wednesday, "the most significant changes" to crew training in 20 years.

In the past, officials said, pilots were required to learn how to recognize and recover from problems such as aeronautic stalls or flight upsets. Under the proposed rule, they will also have to demonstrate their skills in flight simulators.

Additionally, flight crews, flight attendants and even ground-based airline dispatchers will have to train as a team on how to respond to emergencies.

The proposed rule is a mash-up of a rule first proposed in January 2009 and newer proposals prompted by the crash just one month later of Colgan Air Flight 3407 near Buffalo, New York. That crash, which killed 50, brought to public attention disparate training practices between small carriers and the large airlines.

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"It's clear to us in looking at (the Colgan crash) that there are things we should be doing now," Babbitt said. "My goal is to make sure that the entire industry -- from large commercial carriers to smaller, regional operators -- is meeting our safety standard."

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The FAA said the proposed rule, published Wednesday in the Federal Register, addresses changes mandated by Congress and more than 25 recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The changes "are intended to contribute significantly to reducing aviation accidents," the proposed rule states.

The FAA says 178 accidents from 1988 to 2009 were the result of inadequate training, incomplete operating manuals, inadequate training standards and operating procedures. The accidents resulted in 492 fatalities, 196 serious injuries and 615 minor injuries.

Babbitt said the rule addresses a change in training philosophy designed to produce qualified crews. Officials also said it reflects advancements in aircraft simulator technology, which create realistic flying experiences. When possible, airlines must use simulators to train flight crews, the rule says.

The proposal also would require remedial training for pilots with performance deficiencies such as failing a proficiency test or check, or unsatisfactory performance during flight training or a simulator course.

"The United States has the world's safest aviation system, but we are continually seeking ways to make it even safer," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "This proposal will make U.S. pilots and other crew members even better equipped to handle any emergency they may encounter."

A public comment period on the rule closes on July 19, after which the FAA will spend time addressing the comments before publishing a final rule.

The training rule is one of three major proposed rules at various stages of development that are expected to have a significant impact on airline training and safety. The FAA is working on a separate rule that addresses pilot fatigue by regulating flight time and rest periods, and a rule setting minimum pilot qualifications.

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