I’m also distressed with the initial training concept developed by the FAA, academia and industry. (C’mon, anything cooked up by the FAA and academia is inherently suspicious). Anyway, this FAA/Industry Training Standards (FITS) program (I know, another acronym, but you ain’t seen nothin’ yet) replaces maneuver-based lessons with scenario-based training. From the get-go the student pilot “acts like a private pilot,” planning and flying missions like he would a golf outing or a business trip. In the process he learns instrument flying, use of the autopilot and glass cockpit technology. Traditional maneuvers (stalls, slow flight, ground reference, etc.) are inserted or incorporated somewhere along the way. It sounds suspiciously like professor Harold Hill’s “think system” for teaching the River City High School Boys’ Marching Band how to play their instruments in The Music Man.
I don’t know how many schools strictly adhere to one manufacturer’s Integrated Private Pilot and Instrument Training Syllabus, developed under the FITS concept, but I painfully plucked the following from the introductory section — and I promise I didn’t make this up:
“FITS training is conducted in FTDs and TAAs equipped with FMS, GPS and MFDs and PFDs. The facilitator interacts with the PT in SBT which is similar to LOFT and CRM and encompasses the ‘5 P’s’ of SRM ... TM, AM, RM, ADM, SA and CFIT. Learning is experiential.
“Learner Centered Grading is an evaluation based on the terms ‘explain,’ ‘practice,’ ‘perform’ and ‘manage/decide’ in place of the traditional ‘satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory.’ The facilitator and PT evaluate lessons separately and then compare their assessments in a debriefing session.”
We’ve seen, in the Buffalo commuter accident and the Air France 447 tragedy over the Atlantic, situations in which flight crews were trained from the beginning on and “flying” only sophisticated, glass-cockpit airplanes that depend on autopilots. In modern, preprogrammed, fly-by-wire airliners, hand-flying is not only discouraged but also prohibited. A recent statistic put the average hand-flying time per leg of a commuter flight at 80 seconds.
Last year, in a “safety stand-down” after a series of incidents and accidents, one TAA manufacturer specifically addressed airspeed control on approaches and landings, telling pilots and owners, “It is critical that you understand the energy management of your aircraft to assure the proper speeds are used throughout the traffic pattern to achieve a safe and comfortable landing for you and your passengers.”
I began to write this piece before all the publicity surfaced about piloting skills — or the lack of — in airline cockpits. Most of the pilots I’ve known are unhappy with their role in modern airliners; at least the older ones have basic (but rusty) hand-flying and stall recognition skills, but younger pilots train from the beginning on TAA equipment and in “flight simulator” cockpits.
AOPA’s Bruce Landsberg put it best when, referring to technologically advanced airplanes, he said they were no place “for low-time pilots or complacent aviators.”
Things do malfunction or fail, and pilots find themselves in tight situations because of these failures or poor decisions or mismanagement of resources. We don’t stop being human when we get smart enough and rich enough to buy a technically advanced airplane.
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