Illusion of Safety Within Regional Airlines

In a previous Single Ship Logbook post titled, “Regional Airline Safety Comes Under Fire,” I questioned the efficacy of a plan to increase the number of minimum flight hours required for a pilot to apply for a job with a regional airline. A recent letter to the editor of AVweb from Doug Stewart, Chairman, Society of Aviation and Flight Instructors, highlights the potential for a serious negative impact on the overall safety of flight as a result of the increase.

Flight instructing is a common method of building flight hours as a stepping stone to a career as a professional pilot, and as such it serves an essential role for both instructors and students. But it’s a demanding job with enormous responsibility and meager compensation.

Stewart: “For a very large majority of those persons who want to fly for the airlines, the only way they can realistically gain the required hours in an affordable manner would be to serve their time in the right seat acting as instructors. Unfortunately, only a very small handful of these people will be properly trained and prepared to take their responsibilities as flight instructors seriously and endeavor to provide quality training to their clients.”

According to Stewart, even Randy Babbitt, The FAA Administrator, has expressed skepticism about the increased requirement, saying it is more important to improve the quality of the pilot training than to increase the amount of experience in the cockpit.

Stewart predicts the change will have an effect opposite of that intended by forcing pilots to serve as “reluctant flight instructors in purgatory.” They will resent having to fulfill a requirement many consider ineffective in producing the desired result, and therefore be less likely to provide the requisite quality training that all student pilots, regardless of their goal in aviation, deserve. Why, then, has the Federal Aviation Administration included the increased requirement in a safety bill?

Because the FAA is a massive government agency that exhibits all of the classic behaviors endemic to bureaucracies. And in this case, the most operative characteristic is that of overreacting to avoid subsequent criticism that they didn’t do enough. And so this knee-jerk reaction is implemented in spite of the fact that not a single improper action of the crew could have been prevented if either the captain or the first officer had spent six times as many hours as an instructor (or in any other flying position) prior to being hired by a regional airline.

Effective initial and recurrent training within the regional environment is the answer, not the application of arbitrarily expanded minimum flight hour standards prior to employment as a regional airline pilot.

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