Following its safety evaluation of the Mitsubishi MU-2 last year, the FAA has issued a proposed Special FAR that will force all current and future MU-2 pilots to obtain formal training to fly the high-performance turboprop twin. Current FARs do not require that multiengine pilots obtain any training when transitioning from one type of twin-engine (non-jet) airplane to another, or when moving from piston twins to turboprops, unless the aircraft weighs more than 12,500 pounds.
The SFAR might be a result of pressure from U.S. congressional representatives who have been urging the FAA to do something about what they say is the MU-2’s high accident rate. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) has asked the FAA repeatedly to issue a type-rating requirement for the MU-2, although more recently he has proposed legislation that would ground the airplane.
For many years, Mitsubishi has also formally asked the FAA for an MU-2 type rating, with no success. In the SFAR, the FAA notes that a type rating does not include a requirement for recurrent training. The SFAR’s requirements are therefore more stringent than a type rating and include initial, requalification, differences and recurrent training for specific minimum hours instead of training to proficiency, which is a type-rating feature.
The MU-2 training SFAR has precedent. In 1995, the FAA began requiring Robinson R22 and R44 helicopter pilots and instructors to obtain initial and recurrent training in specific operations, called “awareness training.” The FAA issued Robinson SFAR No. 73 on an emergency basis in 1995 “to respond to the number of accidents involving the Robinson model R22 and R44 helicopters,” according to the FAA. In 1997, SFAR 73 was issued in a normal rulemaking process, and it is due to expire in May 2008.
SFAR Exceeds Type-rating Requirements
The FAA issued the MU-2 SFAR as a notice of proposed rulemaking, with a 30-day comment period that expired on October 30. Congressional pressure might have played a role in the SFAR’s evolution and in the FAA’s 2005 safety evaluation of the MU-2.
As part of the evaluation, the FAA looked at more than 20 MU-2 pilot training programs and found that “there was little standardization in how these programs addressed normal, abnormal and emergency procedures. A standardized flight training program that emphasizes proper operational technique is critical to the safe operation of the MU-2B. The results of the FAA’s safety evaluation concluded that the MU-2B series airplane is a complex airplane requiring operational techniques not typically used in other light turboprop airplanes. Operationally, it is more similar to turbojet airplanes that require a type rating.”
The SFAR, which does not yet have a number, would take effect on March 27 next year and apply to any pilot flying as an MU-2 instructor, pilot-in-command or sole manipulator of the controls. Unless they have received initial/transition, requalification, recurrent and/or differences training in accordance with Mitsubishi’s formal training program part number YET 05301 (issued in July 2005), pilots will not be allowed to fly an MU-2 in the U.S. The recurrent training requirement is specific: pilots must train annually on the special emphasis items and training course final phase check items.
The rule is fairly strict for MU-2 instructors, who must have logged 2,000 hours total time, 800 as PIC in multiengine airplanes and 300 PIC in the MU-2, with 50 hours in MU-2s in the past 12 months. Designated pilot examiners and check airmen must have 100 hours in type and meet the SFAR training and currency requirements.
To maintain landing currency, MU-2 pilots have to do their landings every 90 days in an MU-2, not just any multiengine airplane. The same goes for biennial flight reviews, which must be done in the MU-2. Instrument currency, however, is not MU-2-specific.
The SFAR also includes new operating requirements, such as no single-pilot IFR or night VFR without an operating autopilot. Pilots must also make sure the current flight manual and FAA-approved Mitsubishi checklist is available and accessible during flight.
Part 135 operators will also have to comply with the SFAR as it will be incorporated in its entirety in the Part 135 regulations.
Bill White, chief pilot of MU-2 operator Keller Companies, isn’t too happy about some specific requirements of the SFAR. “I’m all for recurrent training,” he said. But the SFAR “is a feel-good thing; they’re trying to make the political hacks feel good. The requirements are just outlandish for professional pilots.” White believes that the training program’s minimum hours requirements (which are outlined in the Mitsubishi YET 05301 training program) are excessive.
The Keller flight department has logged more than 50,000 hours in its MU-2 fleet during the past 35 years. “We think it’s a great airplane,” said White. “It’s safe, efficient and fast, but it’s got to be flown by the book.” The accident statistics (see page 52) support White’s conclusions. Professionally flown MU-2s operated by corporate flight departments have the best safety record of all MU-2s.