AIN Blog: Could Mandatory Training Lower the Accident Rate?

 - August 31, 2017, 7:47 PM
The author flying the SF50 with Cirrus Vision Jet product line manager Matt Bergwall. (Photo: Matt Thurber)

Having recently flown Cirrus Aircraft’s remarkable single-engine SF50 Vision jet, I couldn’t help wondering about the training required by the FAA for new Vision Jet pilots and at the same time the lack of training required for pilots flying far more complex and demanding airplanes.

The FAA’s attitude about mandatory training for larger and more complex airplanes is surprisingly lackadaisical. The day I earned my multiengine rating in a tired old Piper Apache, the FAA considered me qualified to blast off IFR in a turboprop MU-2, Twin Commander, King Air or any number of then-popular piston twins that were a much bigger handful to fly compared to the Apache.

The Vision Jet is powered by a single Williams turbofan engine, and thus its pilots are required to hold an SF50 type rating. While the Vision Jet is the first modern non-military single-engine jet to be certified under Part 23 regulations, it isn’t the first single-engine jet to become available to the general aviation market. Sonex beat Cirrus to the punch with the experimental amateur-built SubSonex, which costs about 10 percent of the price of the SF50, isn’t pressurized, has far shorter range and can carry only one occupant. But it is a jet, and thus its pilot must be type-rated, which involves s check ride where the examiner doesn’t get to go along for the ride.

So yes, these airplanes are somewhat complex, and surely training is a good idea.

But what about airplanes that are more complex and more demanding of the pilot?

Under the FAA regulations, any instrument-rated single-engine private pilot with a high-performance and complex endorsement in his logbook can simply jump into a TBM 700 through 930 or Pilatus PC-12, load it up with passengers and take off into the worst weather conditions. No additional training is required.

The same is true for a multiengine private pilot who, let’s say, earned his or her rating in a Piper Seminole, one of the easiest-to-fly twins around. This pilot, fresh multiengine rating in hand, can jump into a Piper Navajo, Cessna 310 or 421, Beech Duke or turboprop King Air or Twin Commander, and the FAA can’t say no (although it certainly does recommend transition training).

This is nothing new, but this dichotomy came to mind after I flew the Cirrus Jet because of how easy it is to fly.

I have spent some time flying a late-model SR20, and I wanted to assess the transition from the SR into jet, because Cirrus was touting this as one of the key benefits of offering the jet to its customers. Many jet buyers are transitioning from the SR22, and I can attest that the transition is almost so easy that a type rating ought not to be required, at least for pilots who have been flying a turbocharged SR22 at high altitudes.

And this reminded me again of the FAA’s silly lack of regulation in this area. How can it be legal for a pilot never to have received any training in a TBM or PC-12 or King Air to just climb in and take off? Yet at least a week’s worth of training is mandatory for that same pilot moving from an SR22 into the Vision Jet.

This just doesn’t make any sense.

I know that no insurance underwriter would ever insure that untrained pilot (although after some accidents, one has to wonder whether the underwriters really understand their business).

The FAA is not entirely without sense in this conundrum. It used to be that the MU-2 was on the list of airplanes that any multiengine pilot could fly without further training. But a spate of accidents over many years, none of which could be blamed on any particular fault of the airplane, finally resulted in the issuance of special training regulations that basically amount to a quasi type rating for the MU-2. The result of these rules was a remarkable reduction in the number of accidents.

So I can’t help wondering, didn’t anyone at the FAA get a clue after the MU-2 experience? Didn’t they realize that a training requirement for a complex airplane delivered enormous benefits?

Actually, the truth is that proper transition training and regular recurrent training is essential for lowering accident rates. The FAA did address this half-heartedly with the flight review that is required every two years. But that review is a paltry attempt to make sure pilots get some recurrent training, and it barely addresses the problem.

In Europe, pilots and technicians are required to obtain type-specific training in all aircraft types.

We know what works. Why aren’t we doing it?


Turbineguy's picture

Any twin requiring a type rating like the King Air 300/350 would be off the list for a new multi pilot. But the greater point is moot; while insurance underwriters would never insure an untrained pilot, they are the ones that mandate type training.

Despite my bias as an instructor Matt, I've always wondered why we didn't demand more recurrent training from pilots. My guess is it has something to do with the fear that demanding this kind of thing might be a third-rail of sorts and drive even more people away from flying.