New Rules and Guidance for Using Flight Simulators, FTDs, and ATDs

On August 21, 2009, the FAA published revisions in the Federal Register* to 14 CFR Part 61 (the rules that govern the certification of pilots and flight instructors), including the use of FTDs and flight simulators for training and to maintain instrument proficiency. The new rules become effective in 60 days.

The new rules (specifically §61.51) offer greater flexibility in the use of approved FTDs (including ATDs)* and flight simulators in training for certificates and ratings and to maintain instrument currency. The FAA’s comments in the Federal Register also clarify the agency’s interpretation of the regulations.

For example, §61.51(b)(2) and §61.51(a) require that an authorized instructor must be present in the flight simulator, FTD, or ATD when instrument training time is logged for training and aeronautical experience for meeting the requirements for a certificate, rating, or flight review. The instructor must sign the trainee’s logbook and verify training time and session content.

The FAA’s comments on the new rules, however, clarify several points. First, the FAA explains what "present" means in this context.

Examples of situations in which an authorized instructor will be considered present would be where an authorized instructor is seated at a center control panel in a flight simulation lab and is monitoring each student’s performance from control panel display. Another example would be a situation where an instructor assigns a student several instrument tasks and then leaves the room. In such cases, if the flight training device has a monitoring and tracking system that allows the authorized instructor to review the entire training session, the instructor need not be physically present. Another example would be a situation where one authorized instructor monitors several students simultaneously in the same room at a flight simulation lab.

The new rules also change §61.57(c) "to allow use of aviation training devices (ATD), flight simulators (FS), and flight training devices (FTD) for maintaining instrument recent flight experience."

The FAA is allowing different means to maintain instrument currency. The pilot may use whatever method best suits his or her needs to maintain instrument currency by using the actual aircraft, flight simulator, flight training device, or aviation training device, or a combination of all.

The FAA’s comments on the new rules elaborate, thus:

Subject to certain limitations, a pilot may choose completing his/her instrument experience requirements in an aircraft and/or through use of an FS, FTD, or ATD. The simulation devices must be representative of the category of aircraft suitable for the instrument rating privileges that the pilot desires to maintain. Under new §61.57(c)(2), a person may use a flight simulator or flight training device exclusively by performing and logging at least three hours of instrument recent flight experience within the six calendar months before the month of the flight.

Furthermore:

Under new §61.57(c)(3), a person may use an ATD exclusively by performing and logging at least three hours of instrument recent flight experience within the two calendar months before the month of the flight. We have deliberately established differences between the use of an ATD, FS, and flight training devices because use of an aviation training device to maintain instrument recent flight experience is a relatively new concept. The FAA wants to further evaluate its use before we allow use of ATDs equal to that of flight simulators and flight training devices. Under new §61.57(c)(4), a person could combine use of the aircraft and FS, FTD, and ATD to obtain instrument experience. When a pilot elects to combine use of an aircraft and simulation device, we will require, under new §61.57(c)(4), completion of one hour of instrument flight time in the aircraft and three hours in the FS, FTD, or ATD within the preceding 6 calendar months. Under new § 61.57(c)(5), a person may combine use of an FS or FTD flight training, and an ATD to obtain instrument recent flight experience. When a pilot elects this combination, we will require one hour in a flight simulator or flight training device, and three hours in a training device within the preceding six calendar months.

Finally, the FAA clarifies the use of flight simulators and FTDs for accomplishing an IPC:

The revision to § 61.57(d) concerning the instrument proficiency check does not prohibit the use of a flight simulator or flight training device for performing an IPC check, nor did the proposal in the NPRM propose eliminating use of FS or FTDs for performing an IPC. An FS or FTD may be used for accomplishing an IPC if the training device is approved for performing an instrument proficiency check. The content of an instrument proficiency check is addressed on page 16 of the Instrument Rating Practical Test Standards.

*N.B. the use of “approved.” FAA doesn’t approve flight simulation software such as Microsoft Flight Simulator or X-Plane. It approves flight training devices (FTDs) and simulators, devices that include software plus displays, controls, and other features. For more information on this topic, see Flight Simulator in Aviation Training at my Web site, www.BruceAir.com

For more information about Basic Aviation Training Devices (BATD) and Advanced Aviation Training Devices (AATD), see Advisory Circular AC 61-136, "FAA Approval of Basic Aviation Training Devices (BATD) and Advanced Aviation Training Devices (AATD)." That AC was issued July 14, 2008, and it supplants AC 61-126, "Qualification and Approval of Personal Computer-Based Aviation Training Devices" and AC 120-45, "Airplane Flight Training Device Qualification."

*To see the announcement in the Federal Register, visit the Web site (it doesn’t handle archived search links well) and search for the document (available as a PDF) published August 21, 2009; Vol. 74, No. 161, beginning on p. 42500. The docket number is FAA–2006–26661; Amendment Nos. 61–124, 91–309, and 141–12. Further elaboration is provided in the corrections to the preamble and final rule, which was published on October 20, 2009 in the Federal Register.

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