Charter operators are facing a costly training issue that could see pilots and fleets grounded unless a solution is found. According to operators, FAA inspectors are requiring strict compliance with an interpretation of the regulations that cover qualifications of instructors and check airmen. The result will be a lack of qualified instructors and check airmen employed by flight training organizations.
The problem stems from a 2011 change to the FAA’s Inspector’s Handbook, which now states: “Before an air carrier authorizes a contract instructor or nominates an individual to become a contract check airman, the air carrier must provide its POI [principal operations inspector] with evidence that these individuals have completed at least one air carrier’s initial training and qualification curriculum as a flight crewmember for an operator certificated under the same CFR part.” The Handbook statement clarifies FAR 135.337 and .338, the regulations governing training of instructors and check airmen who train and check pilots for Part 135 charter operators.
Many instructors and check airmen are employed by Part 142 training centers such as FlightSafety International, CAE SimuFlite and SimCom, and charter operators rely on having their pilots trained and checked by Part 142 instructors and check airmen. Few charter operators can afford to employ their own instructors and check airmen because they operate such varied fleets, and each instructor/check airman would need to be qualified on each aircraft type.
It appears that some FAA POIs are being taught to apply the Handbook statement, whereas before they had approved Part 142 instructors and check airmen without ensuring full compliance with the regulations. One operator, Volo Aviation, is facing the prospect of not being able to find a qualified check airman for its pilots, and the company’s fleet will be grounded by March if this interpretation remains in effect. Sky Limo Air Charter told AIN that one of its jets had been grounded for more than 75 days, although as of mid-November the jet was back in the air because the company was able to obtain the necessary check rides.
Another concern, said Volo director of operations Robert Tod, is that individual FAA inspectors are applying this new interpretation inconsistently. Within the jurisdiction of one FSDO, some operators are being forced to comply while others are able to continue training and check-ride activities as before.
In Volo’s case, the company has been forced to stop using previously approved instructors and check airmen at its training provider. Volo has two choices: pay tens of thousands of dollars to retrain instructors and check airmen so they qualify on Volo’s certificate or stop training at the Part 142 school and have FAA inspectors conduct check rides. If a pilot passes the check ride, pointed out Volo COO Kyle Slover, then “you’re considered to have done the training and you’re [Part] 135 current. You could go in perpetuity without having to do any training. That’s not an acceptable option to us.” Volo’s FSDO doesn’t employ any inspectors who are check airmen qualified on the company’s jets.
Training the training-provider’s employees, would be a dubious investment, with no guarantee those instructors and check airmen would stick around. This situation raises the question of whether the FAA’s previous approval of Part 142 instructors and check airmen is no longer applicable. If the FAA suddenly decides that these instructors and check airmen are no longer able to train and check Part 135 operators, does that mean that their earlier sign-offs are no longer legal? “Internally, we’re struggling with that,” Tod said. But the FAA told Volo that the agency had approved all previous instructor and check airmen, so there is no question about retroactive non-compliance with regulations.
What really disturbs Tod and Slover, however, is the overall effect on training quality. “Pilots are receiving high-quality training [at the simulator companies],” Slover said. “They train in situations that you wouldn’t want to do in airplane. That’s why that whole training industry exists. But now someone got the idea that it’s not compliant. If the industry and regulators say there’s nothing broken here, then let’s redefine how check airmen and instructors can be qualified. When I send a pilot to training, it’s for the airplane, not for Volo procedures. We send them to [training] to learn how to handle the airplane when a light goes off. That hasn’t changed. Why the FAA thinks the instructor needs to be qualified under any one operator is a huge stretch. It may have been a good intent, but that’s not how the training environment works. No one has interpreted these regulations the way the FAA now is. There was no breach of safety. Nothing was broken, so let’s allow the 142 schools to continue to deliver the product they’re delivering; obviously it’s churning out good pilots.”
Trainers, Associations Search for Solutions
FlightSafety International told AIN that it is aware of this situation and is discussing the issue with the FAA. CAE SimuFlite and SimCom are also working on this problem. All three were unable to provide more details by the time this issue went to press.
NBAA and NATA developed a proposal to the FAA to resolve this problem, according to NBAA v-p of safety, security, operations and regulation Doug Carr. “We’re trying to get dialogue going as to how we can get a resolution,” said Jacqueline Rosser, NATA senior manager of regulatory affairs. NATA’s primary concern, she added, is that some members have had to ground aircraft, but another issue is that this rule reinterpretation incentivizes operators to conduct training in the airplane instead of in simulators. “I don’t think the FAA wants to see that happen.”
Following a meeting with the FAA on November 19, NATA and NBAA stated, “FAA officials indicated their willingness to provide additional information regarding acceptable methods to document prior experience and agreed to review concepts presented by industry on appropriate methods to qualify contract instructors and check airmen that lack the necessary prior experience.