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Report: FAA ‘Missing Opportunities to Ensure Pilots Maintain Skills Needed to Safely Fly’

Are pilots up to the task of… flying? A new government report casts doubt on manual flying skills.

The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is not ensuring that airline pilots are maintaining their manual flying skills or receiving training on monitoring cockpits’ sophisticated automated control systems.

“FAA does not have a sufficient process to assess a pilot’s ability to monitor flight deck automation systems and manual flying skills, both of which are important for handling unexpected events during flight,” said the January 7 report titled “Enhanced FAA Oversight Could Reduce Hazards Associated with Increased Use of Flight Deck Automation.

In addition, FAA is not well positioned to determine how often air carrier pilots manually fly aircraft,” the report said. “FAA has also not ensured that air carrier training programs adequately focus on manual flying skills.”

The OIG report noted that only five of 19 airline flight simulator training plans reviewed by investigators mentioned pilot monitoring.

In January 2013, the agency issued a safety alert to airlines encouraging them to promote opportunities for pilots to practice manual flying in day-to-day operations and during pilot training. But the FAA hasn’t followed up to determine whether airlines are following the recommendation, the report said.

The FAA published new rules in 2013 that require airlines to update training programs to specifically enhance pilot monitoring and manual flying skills. The agency is currently working on a detailed implementation plan – and airlines are not required to comply with the new rules until 2019.

“Because FAA has not determined how carriers should implement new requirements or evaluated whether pilots manual flying time has increased, the Agency is missing important opportunities to ensure that pilots maintain skills needed to safely fly and recover in the event of a failure with flight deck automation or an unexpected event,” the report said.

The OIG recommended that the Federal Aviation Administrator develop guidance defining pilot monitoring metrics that air carriers can use to train and evaluate pilots. It also recommended creating standards to determine whether pilots receive sufficient training opportunities to develop, maintain and demonstrate manual flying skills.

The report said that FAA partially concurred with OIG’s recommendations to develop guidance defining pilot monitoring duties and responsibilities that airlines can use to create a pilot monitoring training curriculum.

“While defining pilot monitoring duties and responsibilities is important, we believe it is critical that FAA also develop metrics or measurable tasks that air carriers can use to evaluate pilot monitoring proficiency,” the report said. “Therefore, FAA’s response does not meet the full intent of our recommendation. As a result, we consider this recommendation open and unresolved pending additional information from FAA.”

[Photo: Getty Images]

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