The FAA recently proposed several significant changes to regulations that expand the use of aviation training devices, training for the commercial pilot and certified flight instructor certificates, maintaining instrument currency, and other issues of interest to many general aviation pilots and flight instructor.
Below are my comments on some portions of the proposed rules, which I have submitted to the docket.
Use of TAA for Commercial and Flight Instructor Certificates
For all the reasons outlined in the proposal, I support the option to substitute a TAA (as redefined in the proposed rule) for the training and practical tests required for the commercial pilot and certified flight instructor certificates with single-engine-land ratings.
One commenter objects that pilots won’t gain experience “with higher performing engine[s], retractable gear, constant speed propeller, etc.” But most flight schools offering training for those certificates rely on aircraft such as the C172RG or Piper Arrow, which have at most 200-hp engines. These are hardly high-performance aircraft, either as defined by FAA regulation or by their speed, sophisticated avionics and equipment, or handling characteristics. Pilots who want to fly aircraft with retractable landing gear, constant-speed propellers, turbocharged engines, and other characteristics typically associated with high-performance aircraft will still, as a practical matter, require checkouts and operating experience mandated by regulations (e.g., the endorsement required to act as PIC in an aircraft with an engine rated at more than 200 HP), insurance, flight school policies, commercial operator specifications, and common sense (a refreshing concept endorsed in the recent proposal to revise 14 CFR Part 23 aircraft certification rules—viz., “The part 23 regulations should not need to prescribe basic physical principles, sound engineering judgment, and common sense.”).
The checkout required for aircraft like the C172RG or Piper Arrow is hardly a leap from a Skyhawk or Warrior. Instead, it’s a small step, and learning to operate and confirm the configuration of, for example, retractable landing gear, is only a small part of a complete commercial pilot or CFI training syllabus, and that basic training hardly prepares a pilot to fly a truly high-performance “complex” aircraft such as Cirrus SR22 (which has fixed landing gear) or a Beechcraft Bonanza.
Similar examples: (1) Pilots with MEL ratings on their pilot certificates legally can fly any multiengine aircraft that doesn’t require a type rating. But in the real world, they must receive training and gain operating experience in specific makes and models to obtain insurance, fly rental aircraft, or act as PIC in a commercial operation; (2) Regulations require only a single logbook endorsement to fly tailwheel aircraft. But the handling characteristics of tailwheel aircraft vary widely (even among those that don’t have big engines, constant-speed propellers, etc.). Again, insurance, rental policies, and common sense oblige pilots who fly tailwheel aircraft to receive training and gain operating experience in specific makes and models.
Maintaining IFR Currency with ATDs
I applaud the proposed changes that would allow instrument-rated pilots to maintain currency with in any combination of aircraft, FFS, FTD, or ATD without requiring an instructor to be present. The current regulations are a deterrent to pilots who use ATDs. They must parse the rules and carefully review their logbooks to ensure that they have met the arcane requirements for various tasks, time limits, and calendar constraints. Instead of using training devices, today most pilots hop in their aircraft with a safety pilot (not necessarily an instructor) and repeatedly fly the same familiar procedures in their local areas, missing opportunities to practice the important skills of briefing and setting up a variety of DPs, arrivals, and approaches that include such elements as DME arcs and course reversals. They also typically don’t gain experience handling realistic equipment failures, challenging weather, and so forth. As the FAA notes, the proposed changes would encourage pilots to maintain their instrument skills.
My experience as an instructor strongly suggests that it’s the mental, puzzle-solving side of IFR flying that deteriorates most quickly over time. Use of training devices is the most effective, efficient way to hone and maintain those mental skills.
Pilots who want to use a training device at a flight school will still require at least an initial checkout on the equipment to ensure that they can use it effectively. Those checkouts are an opportunity for pilots to work with instructors to deficiencies in both their understanding of IFR flying and specific piloting skills, and those encounters will help instructors to develop relationships with pilots who otherwise might not be receiving training.
Pilots are upgrading aircraft to include sophisticated avionics (even if the panel doesn’t meet the revised definition of a TAA). They are increasingly using tablets and other devices as substitutes for charts and to provide information about weather, traffic, and other details. Allowing pilots wider, creditable use of training devices that include, for example, GPS navigators, will help them develop and maintain the essential skills described in such publications as the Advanced Avionics Handbook and Instrument Procedures Handbook. Using training devices also gives pilots opportunities to practice using new technology and develop good operating procedures.
Definition of ATD
The notice includes a new definition of aviation training device (ATD):
The FAA is now proposing to define ATD in § 61.1 as a training device, other than a full flight simulator or flight training device, that has been evaluated, qualified, and approved by the Administrator.
It’s not clear, however, if the proposed changes would eliminate the basic aviation training device (BATD) and advanced aviation training device (AATD) categories as described in AC 61-136 FAA Approval of Basic Aviation Training Devices (BATD) and Advanced Aviation Training Devices (AATD). The language in various sections of the proposed rules is ambiguous and should be clarified, and AC 61-136 and related policy guidance should be revised to ensure that both FAA and airmen throughout the system have a clear understanding of distinctions among the devices. I understand that for the purposes of FAA approval the existing categories may remain desirable—especially for manufacturers. But FAA inspectors, pilots, and instructors should not be confused about the practical application of ATDs for training and maintaining currency.