NATA: Contract pilot rule change an ‘emerging issue’

 - May 1, 2011, 9:30 AM

In yet another case of local interpretation of federal regulations, at the Long Beach, Calif., Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) FAA inspectors have decided that contract pilots cannot fly for different Part 135 operators without undergoing full initial training on each aircraft that they fly. This means is that if a pilot wants to fly for two different operators that each operate, say, a King Air 200, the pilot must undergo the full initial training course for the King Air 200 two times, once for each charter operator. It doesn’t matter, operators told AIN, whether the pilot completed initial King Air 200 training for the first operator just weeks before. That pilot will have to undergo the exact same systems and simulator or airplane sessions to fly for the second operator. There is no provision for differences training for just the policies and procedures that differ between the two operators.

JetFlite International (formerly Air Rutter International), a Long Beach charter operator, told AIN it has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in charters that it had to cancel because the company’s FAA principal operations inspector insisted that contract pilots must undergo full initial training in each airplane they fly for each company they fly for. Hiring enough full-time pilots to cover potential charters is simply not possible, but the local FAA is not allowing JetFlite to use contract pilots unless they have undergone the full initial training under JetFlite’s training program, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, even if that pilot is current on the specific aircraft type.

Jacqueline Rosser, director of regulatory affairs for the National Air Transportation Association, said that charter operators in other areas are also experiencing this problem. “It is an emerging issue,” she said. “Right now we’ve got operators working with the FAA on a case-by-case basis.”

According to Rosser, the document to support the Long Beach FSDO’s decision seems to be FAA Order 8900.1, Volume 3, Chapter 19, which covers training programs. “There is flexibility there,” she said. “I can see where inspectors may have read it in the past and said, ‘You can have credit for this and that.’ But the catch is, how do you know what the prior operator trained?”

FAA leaders are aware of the contract pilot training issue. In a letter to JetFlite dated January 28, FAA director of Flight Standards John Allen wrote, “…the practice of one air carrier accepting the crewmember training provided by another air carrier as meeting its specific crewmember training requirements is generally contrary to the intent as well as the technical provisions of 14 CFR Parts 121 and 135. Under certain controlled conditions we do, however, believe that some training, specifically systems training, which is designed for a specific aircraft type, model and configuration, may be creditable.”

To that end, Allen explained, “AFS-210…is currently developing guidance for inclusion in the appropriate portions of FAA Order 8900.1…that will detail specific procedures and guidelines regarding the circumstances and conditions under which an operator may take credit for a portion of another operator’s crewmember training.” This guidance has not yet been published.

“The ball’s in the FAA’s court,” said Rosser. “We can’t support or oppose new guidance until it comes out.”