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ATP Helicopter Certification…Is The Bar Set Too Low?

Posted 8 years 4 days ago ago by Randy Rowles

The highest level of FAA airman certification is the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate. Upon reaching this level of certification, the airman is expected to have built a treasure trove of experiences only found through years of experience. The title alone infers that the individual holding such certification is capable of operating aircraft utilized in airline-type operations. Not as much make and model of aircraft as it is the capabilities of an airline to include operating within poor weather conditions, high density airspace, and the IFR system.

Within the helicopter industry today, most helicopter pilots holding an ATP certificate have never seen the inside of a cloud. It’s not their fault, the system has allowed this to occur. Beginning with a helicopter pilot’s introduction to the instrument environment, every aspect of instrument flight training in a helicopter is simulated. Further perpetuating instrument training void of actual experience is the ability, and expectation, that the instrument flight instructor has only theoretical instrument experience to pass along.

Why is this? Since no helicopter utilized for instrument training within the civil industry for initial certification is certified for flight into instrument conditions, the only solution is simulated instrument training. To be clear, I’m not referring to high-fidelity Full Flight Simulators or even Flight Training Devices that provide exceptional instrument training platforms. Rarely are these type devices available to students in the initial training industry.

As a lone-time FAA Pilot Examiner, I’m of the opinion that pilot examinations SHOULD NOT be permitted in aircraft not equipped with the most basic of systems associated with Air Carrier type operating aircraft. Systems such as hydraulics are now being found on lighter, more accessible training aircraft. However, complex electrical and fuel systems, auto-pilots, and integrated avionic commonly found in the type of aircraft capable of Air Carrier type operations are not available.

Simply stated, we as an industry are facilitating the initial certification of pilots at the highest level without any confirmation of their ability to manage, operate, or gain experience in critical flight operations prior to being called an Airline Transport Pilot!

Do you believe the training and experience requirements for an Airline Transport Pilot Helicopter pilot is adequate? In your opinion, are the aircraft currently approved and being utilized for FAA ATP pilot evaluations adequate or not?

About Randy:
Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award.  Randy is currently  Director of Training at Epic Helicopters in Ft. Worth, Texas.