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Fri, Dec 15, 2006

ICAO Adopts New Rules Regarding Simulator Training

Less Actual Flight Time Needed For Licensing

Pilots must have a minimum amount of flight experience before they are allowed to fly a commercial aircraft. In the US a pilot must have 250 hours flight experience of which 50 may be obtained using an approved simulator while supervised by an instructor.

According to the Washington Post, new ICAO rules allow pilots to receive a commercial license with only 70 hours of actual flight experience after obtaining 170 hours of simulator training.

The new rules are a response to appeals from countries facing critical pilot shortages and no infrastructure to train new ones. In the past, many foreign countries used flight training facilities in the US, but recent changes resulting from the attacks of 9/11 increased restrictions on foreign student flight training here. That's placed many countries in a bind, especially those in areas experiencing explosive growth in their airline industries like Asia and the Middle East.

The new rules are raising eyebrows among traditionalist here in the US. "In a simulator, you have pride at stake," said Dennis Dolan, president of the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Association. "In a real airplane, you have your life at stake."

Still, many US airlines train first officers exclusively with simulators. The state-of-the-art for simulators is truly astonishing of late. Full-motion simulators with full-daylight display capabilities duplicate the actual aircraft with startling clarity and fidelity.

Proponents of the new rules say airlines will benefit because prospective new hires can learn things as the airlines would like.

Pilots in the US gaining the necessary experience to become competitive in the airline hiring market often fly many hours as a flight instructor in single-engine aircraft. Piloting an airliner as part of a flightcrew is a very different kind of flying. Airlines have many rules and procedural requirements above and beyond the basic regulations set by the FAA.

Additionally, sharing duties with another pilot adds a completely different twist. Many pilots say they must "unlearn" habits developed in the hours they spent as the sole pilot in command.

"Those hours flying in a single-engine piston airplane, they do us no good at the airlines, and we can't monitor the pilots," said Christian Schroeder, an official with the International Air Transport Association. "We are training a better-qualified and safer pilot this way."

Many US pilot groups are expressing their disdain with the new rules. They say the "white-knuckle" experience pilots gain flying the required hours in a real airplane can never be duplicated by a flight simulator. Additionally, they say replicating a dynamic air traffic environment complete with air traffic controllers of differing experience levels is almost impossible.

There is no question flight simulators can contribute to flight safety. The capability to simulate systems malfunctions and extreme weather conditions gives the simulator unique training capabilities not possible in a real airplane. But no one has studied whether a simulator might safely replace actual flight experience.

Chairman of the department of aeronautical science at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University Cass Howell says, "There is no objective proof that this will be just as safe a method of training. At this point, nobody knows if this is an effective training method."

Each country may set its own rules regarding minimum experience for pilots. ICAO sets world-wide minimums and individual countries may make theirs more restrictive. So far, there is no indication the US intends to change its rules... yet.

Some experts say if the number of pilots training in the US continues to drop the FAA may be forced to act.

FMI: www.icao.org

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