(January 2012) Last month I reported the exciting news that the training required by the FAA SFAR issued in 2006 succeeded in turning the MU-2, an airplane that had been at the bottom of the accident statistics, into one of the safest turboprops in the air and, beyond that, into one of the safest airplanes of any type. One of the keys to the success of the SFAR is that it requires every pilot who flies an MU-2 to complete the approved recurrent training program every year. The FAA had considered requiring a type rating for the MU-2 but realized that “this alternative would not fully accomplish our safety objective and would not meet the FAA’s goal of ensuring that all MU-2B pilots receive continued training in the accepted procedures for normal, abnormal and emergency operations.”
As I was researching the accident statistics for that article, I was struck by what seemed like a glaring inconsistency. If people were horrified by the MU-2 accident rate of 3.78 per 100,000 flight hours, why were they not twice as horrified by the noncommercial fixed-wing accident rate of 6.60 in 2009, or the noncommercial helicopter rate of 7.40? And that led me to wonder if requiring completion of an approved annual training program can reduce the MU-2 accident rate from 3.78 to 0.75, what would the result be of requiring completion of an approved annual recurrent training course for all noncommercial pilots?
When you think about it, the requirements to maintain legal currency are almost laughable. For example, let’s take a typical private pilot who finally earned his certificate after struggling to find the time and money for flying lessons over several years. I know this is typical, because many of my primary students would be able to fly only once or twice a month, with the result that the first part of every lesson was dedicated to trying to get them back to their level of competency at the end of the last lesson. They may have had 60 or 70 hours when they got their certificates, but a lot of that time was spent relearning what had already been learned rather than polishing those skills or learning new skills.
Once the pilot gets his certificate, he takes his family and friends for rides, but within a month or so he runs out of excuses to fly, as well as the money to pay for it. Many months can go by without a flight, and our inexperienced pilot’s skills are rapidly deteriorating. Finally, 23 months after earning his private pilot certificate, he is planning a family vacation to a distant location and realizes this is a great opportunity to use his pilot’s license. All that pilot needs to do to be considered legally current and competent to fly his family on an extended cross-country is to go out to the airport on a clear, calm day and complete three takeoffs and landings. The odds of that pilot being challenged even in good weather would be high. Throw in the pressure to get to the destination, along with the usual crosswinds, unfamiliar airports and bad weather, and it is little wonder that the noncommercial accident rate is so high.