Simulator line checks proposed

 - September 20, 2006, 7:18 AM

An ATP corporate pilot who is a Gold Seal CFI and safety counselor is currently working on a rulemaking petition to allow pilots to accomplish the FAR 135.299(a) line operational evaluation in an approved level-C simulator in lieu of a line check in an aircraft.

Eric Basile told AIN that after soliciting comments from NBAA members, he received more than 40 responses, and the majority of those respondents supported his proposal.

Section 135.299 ensures that each pilot used in Part 135 operations accomplishes line checks and that each certificate holder establishes procedures in its manual outlining company policy concerning the manner in which pilots are expected to keep current on routes and airports.

“This discussion particularly concerns paragraph (a) of this section,” Basile wrote, “which requires that a pilot-in-command (PIC) must accomplish a line check every 12 months in at least one of the aircraft types the PIC is to fly. These line checks must be conducted in an airplane and can be conducted by an approved line check airman or by an FAA inspector.”

He acknowledges that the FAA has consistently denied every petition on this issue. In particular, he said, the FAA feels that the range of activities evaluated during a line check extends beyond the capabilities of a simulator and encompasses an environment that a simulator cannot replicate. The Air Line Pilots Association also strongly opposes any exemptions to this rule, he added.

Cost-effective Line Checks
But Basile argues that many Part 135 operators (particularly those who do not employ line check airmen) feel the current requirement to conduct this check in an airplane is inconvenient, wasteful and unnecessary given the current level of fidelity in flight-simulator technology.

Since most operators cannot conduct these checks on a revenue flight, they must dispatch a flight for the sole purpose of conducting a pilot line check. Often, the aircraft must be repositioned a considerable distance to reach a location where the check can be conducted. As an example, Basile’s company must reposition its Learjets from Wisconsin to South Bend, Ind. And the aircraft and crew must be taken out of revenue service to accomplish the check.

The on-demand air carrier, therefore, must bear the total cost of the flight (repositioning the aircraft, wear and tear, lost revenue). On the other hand, scheduled airlines can conduct this check during revenue operations at much less expense. According to Basile, the FAA fails to recognize the economic burden this process imposes on smaller on-demand operators.

Basile also notes that FAA manpower resources at the local level remain limited due to unfilled positions and inspectors on leave. And although the 135.299 recurrent checks require that the inspector be qualified only in the category and class, on-demand operators often face great difficulty in scheduling FAA inspectors for the checks.

“This causes significant hassle to these operators, since they use a training facility such as FlightSafety or SimuFlite to accomplish the 135.293 and 135.297 checkrides in a simulator but must track down an FAA inspector and use the actual airplane for the .299 check,” he wrote.

In addition, the nature of the on-demand air carrier industry makes it difficult for an FAA inspector to adequately observe actual line operations, because the customers generally object to having a third party on board, scheduling is typically on short notice and trips often involve lengthy ground waits and can extend over several days.

Basile notes he is not suggesting that the FAA eliminate the line check. In fact, he concedes that an effective line check program can detect deficiencies and adverse trends and establish the need to revise old procedures or initiate new ones.

Numerous operators have submitted proposals to permit these 135.299 checks to be conducted in an FAA-approved, level-C or -D flight simulator by a Part 142 training facility. “Most operators feel the checks would have much more value if conducted in a supervised, realistic simulator environment as opposed to the often cursory checks presently conducted in the airplane,” Basile maintains. “They could also be accomplished more cheaply, and in less time, since they could be performed while the pilots were already attending annual simulator training.”

He asserted that the language of the regulation is so broad that it makes the check almost worthless, and it contains no specific detailed standard for the outcome. Essentially, it is simply a check to make sure a pilot can start, taxi, take off and land at another airport and requires no special maneuvers or skill, he contends.

“Consequently, the majority of these checks amount to little more than a brief ‘airplane ride’ for the FAA inspector from one airport to another nearby airport,” Basile maintains, “with little practical evaluation or input.”