Airwork: Ours Is Not to Reason Why

A basic gear simulator in a Kitfox. Nigel Moll

(January 2011) — Our industry is at an en route intersection. One airway leads to continued reduction in student starts, lack of retention of students and pilots, decline in flight activity and security-based encroachments on our privileges. On the other airway we might be able to sustain healthy growth and an expansion of the utility and pleasure of general aviation.

In order to wend our way along that more desirable course, we, as the aviation industry, need to involve aircraft manufacturers, flight schools, training material providers, user advocacy organizations, the Federal Aviation Administration and other stakeholders in developing new and better ways of making aviation safer, less expensive and more attractive to more people.

Where to start? On my desk is a small, 31-page booklet that contains all of the civil air regulations of the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), the progenitor of the FAA, for essentially what would become Parts 61 and 91 of the federal aviation regulations (FARs). You have to wonder why today those two parts of the FARs are some 220 pages long.

Maybe one way to foster growth of the industry is to take a hard look at the FARs and reason why they contain some of the rules they do.

I hadn't thought much about complex or high-performance airplanes until, during a conversation, the owners of a flight school questioned the reason for the requirement for 10 hours of dual instruction in a complex airplane as part of the aeronautical experience for the commercial pilot certificate.

The technical definition of a complex airplane is "one having retractable landing gear, flaps and controllable propeller. … Airplanes equipped with a full authority digital engine control (fadec) system are considered to have a controllable propeller."

Private pilots transitioning to a complex airplane are simply required to have received and logged ground and flight training from an authorized instructor in a complex airplane, or in a flight simulator or flight training device that is representative of a complex airplane and has been found proficient in the operation and systems of the airplane, and received a one-time endorsement in the pilot's logbook from an authorized instructor who certifies the person is proficient to operate a complex airplane.

(There is some confusion about the difference between a complex airplane and a high-performance airplane. A high-performance airplane is one with an engine of more than 200 horsepower. Cirrus' and Cessna's Corvalis fixed-gear airplanes qualify as high-performance but not as complex airplanes; my Cardinal on the other hand, at just 200 hp, qualified as complex but not high-performance. To fly a high-performance airplane also requires a logbook endorsement from an instructor.)

While private pilots require just an instructor's endorsement, candidates for the commercial certificate are required to have 10 hours of dual training in a complex airplane. A simulator is not acceptable despite the allowance for a simulator to be used for the complex endorsement for a private pilot. A simulator can also be used to satisfy half the requirement for 10 hours of instrument training for the commercial. Not sure I see the reason why there's a distinction.

Since the definition of a complex airplane allows fadec equipment to be substituted for the required controllable propeller, I have to wonder exactly what the 10 hours of in-flight training are expected to teach and demonstrate. It would seem the only real intent of the rule is to be sure pilots know how to operate the switch to retract and extend the gear with the hope they can avoid membership in the "those who have had and those who will have a gear-up landing" club.

The cost-versus-value equation for requiring the 10 in-flight hours in a complex airplane doesn't work out to the advantage of the flight student. A quick survey of rental rates for complex airplanes comes up with an average of about $175 per hour. The addition of the instructor brings the total cost for the 10 hours of learning to make the gear go up and down to something between $2,000 and $2,500. Not to mention that flight schools need to keep a complex airplane available in their rental fleets.

If a simulator may be used for the instrument training, why not for the complex-airplane training? In fact, the simulator wouldn't have to be electronic or expensive. My friend Nigel Moll, who built a Kitfox in the early '90s and documented its construction in a series of articles in Flying magazine, elected to mount a gear-switch simulator on his panel. Initially, I was amused that he'd added the lever to a fixed-gear airplane, but he convinced me that, by pretending to raise the gear after takeoff and lower it when landing, the procedure would become habitual and reduce his chances of ever being embarrassed by a gear-up landing. In his years of flying his Kitfox — and any other airplane — Nigel has never landed gear up.

While Nigel's simulator is very basic, there are others, some from the manufacturers of fixed-gear airplanes, that are more sophisticated. For example, the Cirrus Landing Gear Simulator (CLGS) offered by Cirrus Design can "replicate the appearance, style and general function of a typical retractable landing gear system. The CLGS can be manipulated in flight [by an instructor] to simulate a variety of possible system failures including incomplete gear extension/retraction, indicator and control system failures, and the use of emergency gear extension."

So why does the FAA continue to require the 10 hours? If it insists on keeping the 10-hour complex requirement, perhaps it should create a requirement for instruction in both a "mechanically complex" airplane and in an "electronically" complex airplane.

As long as I'm at it, I don't see the reason for the high-performance definition to require more than 200 horsepower. One of the most popular engines, found in many complex airplanes, is the 200 hp Lycoming IO-360. If the definition was for an airplane with "200 horsepower or more," it would open up an impressive fleet of less expensive airplanes that would satisfy both the complex and high-performance requirements, reducing the cost for students as well as flight schools.

Now that I've started, another change I'd like to see is to what I consider the indefensible prohibition that dual training conducted by a sport pilot instructor given to a sport pilot student who then wants to go on and earn a private pilot certificate cannot be used to meet the requirements for the private pilot certificate.

According to a letter from the FAA's Office of the Chief Counsel, although solo sport pilot flight time may be credited to solo private pilot flight time if the "specific category and class of aircraft are met," logging instruction time depends on the instructor's credentials. If the instruction is received from an instructor who holds only a sport pilot rating, that instruction may not be credited toward the issuance of a private pilot certificate.

OK, that ruling might make sense if there were major differences in the practical test standards (PTS) for the sport pilot compared with those for the private pilot certificate. But the rationale seems strange, particularly when you compare the two standards.

The two PTS are virtually identical. Both require the examiner to stress the same "special emphasis areas," which include: positive aircraft control, procedures for positive exchange of flight controls, stall/spin awareness, collision avoidance, land and hold-short operations (LAHSO), runway incursion avoidance, controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), aeronautical decision making (ADM), checklist usage and "other areas deemed appropriate to any phase of the practical test."

It certainly makes sense that both sport and private pilot candidates should be exposed to those special-emphasis subjects. But the candidates for both certificates are also required to perform the same "areas of operation" to the same standards.

As an example, both are required to perform a normal landing, touching down at or within 400 feet beyond a specified point, and a short-field landing, touching down at or within 200 feet beyond a specified point.

If the requirements are the same for both sport pilots and private pilots, why can't the dual instruction given by a sport pilot-only instructor not count toward the private? It doesn't make sense to me.

As long as I'm trying to shake up the rules, what is the rationale that allows sport pilots to operate without an FAA medical, while recreational pilots must have the FAA medical imprimatur?

The whole dust-up about prohibiting "through-the-fence" access to public airports from homes that border on the airports may have been put to rest but is another example of a regulatory attempt that doesn't seem to make sense. Aside from the security boogeyman, the other reason for not allowing the practice was that it would make it difficult for airports to expand. But even if homes bordering an airport don't have access and the airport wants to expand, it would have the same difficulty, wouldn't it?

These are just some of the rules that I think need to be addressed by the industry and the FAA. I'm sure other industry folks will be able to suggest other things that need to be changed to create a brighter future for general aviation. Ours is to reason why.


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