But that’s not how we’ve historically been tested. Until recently, the practical test standards (PTS) for the airline transport pilot (ATP) flight test called for the loss of altitude in a stall recovery to be less than 100 feet. If you’re on top of things, ready and, in some cases, strong enough, this is a doable standard. In other words, in the sim, it usually works out this way.
After Buffalo, however, the question was raised: Does the 100-foot standard send a dangerous message, that a loss of altitude is unacceptable under any circumstances? That was, after all, the direct message in the practical test. More than a hundred feet loss of altitude and you fail.
Not long ago the FAA decided to change that standard, and we think it was a great decision. Instead of aiming for that ATP level of a 100-foot maximum deviation, the new standard simply is for a “minimal loss of altitude.” One examiner told me that he is not allowed to fail an applicant, period, for a loss of altitude during stall recovery, so long as, one presumes, the pilot recovers to the initial altitude by the end of the maneuver.
In the case of Colgan 3407, the pilot responded in a way that made no sense aerodynamically. Was the training to blame?
Did the pilot’s instincts honed in the simulator kick in at the wrong time? Was he concerned about losing any altitude whatsoever for the reasons he’d flown that way in the sim, such as passing a check, impressing his examiner or not looking bad to his fellow employees in the sim. We will never know. What we do know is that his reaction to the impending stall ended with the airplane losing every inch of altitude there was to lose.
That’s a tragedy upon a tragedy. Under the circumstances, he could have lost a couple of thousand feet and still had room to recover, albeit with a lot of explaining to do and an airplane full of very shaken passengers. But in some cases, and Buffalo was surely one of them, you’ve got to choose. You can lose a little or lose a lot.
Near-New Airplane Boom?
When it comes to the way the airplane industry works over time, there’s only one word to remember: cycles. The business will go up and the business will go down.
Of course things change over time, and aviation changes too. The pace of recovery varies from recession to recession.
While this economic downturn has been unusually persistent, there’s no doubt that the industry will rebound. When it will come back is somewhat less certain. I will proclaim with absolute confidence that the bizjet segment will be back bigger and better than ever before too long. The money is there to support a vigorous and exciting market for everything from light jets to ultra-long-range models.