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More stick time for 121, 135 pilots: the FAA’s newest Advisory Circular

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has recently issued the draft of a new Advisory Circular (AC) calling for more stick time for airline and charter pilots. The AC has provided guidance for part 121 and 135 certificate holders as well as part 142 training centers on flightpath management (FPM). FPM includes autopilot, autothrottles, autothrust, flight director, and flight management systems.Recommendations for operating FPM systems A 1996 analysis by the FAA's Human Factors Team determined that these systems can make pilots susceptible to gaps in both their management of the automation and their situational awareness. Following this discovery, FPM has seen significant progress in its design and use, which has been reflected in the FAA's 2013 Operational Use of Flight Path Management Systems publication. This report essentially discussed the changes in safety and efficiency of FPM systems with the continued advances in technology. In the following year, the FAA organized the Air Carrier Training Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ACT ARC), which created a space for the aviation industry to have conversations about Part 121, 135, and 142 operations with a specific focus on air carrier training. By 2015, ACT ARC became a source of recommendations for the operation of FPM systems. These recommendations address a range of topics from operator policies to Manual Flight Operations (MFO) to energy and information management. (MFO refers to a pilot's physical inputs to control the pitch, roll, yaw, and thrust of an aircraft.) This sets the background for the recent publication of the FAA's new AC regarding FPM. The FAA has defined the following expectations for FPM systems: • The flight crew is always responsible for FPM. • FPM is the utmost priority. • The pilots must be able to fly the aircraft by hand. Throughout the AC, the FAA emphasizes that part 121 and 135 operators and part 142 training centers should include these principles, alongside specific procedures, in their training of pilots. This is due to an expressed concern that pilots may view FPM as the automated systems' responsibility rather than their own. Thus, the FAA has recommended increased MFO on the line in order for pilots to retain their proficiency and uphold their responsibility for FPM. Through this, the FAA aims to teach pilots that, although FPM does provide a set of tools for flight, these automated technologies are not the only tools available in the pilots' arsenal. This prioritization of MFO can be explained by its relevance to flight in all conditions. Even when automated systems are in use, the skills and knowledge associated with MFO are applicable to flight operations. It is well-known that pilots often primarily fly aircraft by hand during the takeoff and landing portions of a flight. The FAA has pointed out that this leaves gaps in pilot proficiency in situations where a pilot may need to take urgent, manual control of the aircraft, which leads to their recommendation for more stick time during normal operations. In the AC, the FAA cites the loss of pilot proficiency as a gap that has the potential to lead to accidents, incidents, or occurrences despite the advances in FPM. The FAA also describes MFO as essential to the safety of flight.Increased stick time responsibility is not just on operators Rather than placing the responsibility of increased stick time solely on Part 121, 135, and 142 operators, the FAA has indicated that pilots themselves are also on the line for ensuring their own proficiency during MFO. However, the operators are recommended to promote a culture in which proficiency is maintained and to create opportunities for pilots to practice flying by hand. Additionally, the FAA has provided several special considerations to take into account when choosing to fly manually for proficiency purposes. For example, it is encouraged that pilots fly in various meteorological conditions as appropriate and understand which situations call for MFO over automated systems. Conversely, the FAA suggests that part 121, 135, and 142 operators avoid quotas and superlatives for MFO. Instead, the recommendation is that operators give pilots some flexibility to engage in the decision-making process to identify times when aircraft may be flown by hand to maintain proficiency. Although the aviation industry continues to move forward in technological advancements, it is imperative that pilots stay proficient in the manual operation of their aircraft so as to be prepared for any situation that may call for it. The FAA's call for more stick time is rooted in this key skill and promotes a continued commitment to safe flight.
Created 293 days ago
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