SAFETY A CONCERN
With pilots, particularly CFIs, on a fast track to the airlines, a question has arisen about the safety of less experienced flight instructors teaching new students, or as one observer put it, "babies teaching babies."
According to Mike Henry, manager of the general aviation and commercial division of the FAA’s flight standards service, "training accidents, overall, were down last year but the number of fatal training accidents and the number of training fatalities right now appear to be up." A full analysis of the raw data is underway.
"Right now," says Henry, "it looks like this past training year we had a higher number of midair collisions that were attributed to training. It also seems there were more people in the airplanes than we have historically seen. For example, the accident close to Philadelphia, I believe with a Navajo that had nine people in it, had a midair with a multi-engine trainer that had two people in it. So, eleven fatalities — that’s very unusual."
The Air Safety Foundation, an affiliate of the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, is also analyzing the data. Preliminary findings suggest that while the number of fatal accidents is indeed up, there doesn’t appear to be any trend or common thread.
"At this point," says Warren Morningstar, vice president of communications for AOPA in Frederick, MD, "there is no pattern. There is nothing to support the premise that it’s inexperienced flight instructors (who are responsible for the accidents). It’s just all over the place. Many of the accidents involved already certificated pilots, so clearly these are prime students. Some of them were solo accidents but they were called training accidents because the pilot was working on an additional rating."
Hal Shevers, founder and chairman of Sporty’s in Batavia, OH, says almost coyly, "Just a clue: It looks like the studies will show that the brand-new, green, inexperienced instructors aren’t killing people. I’m just giving you a clue as to what I’ve heard. And I definitely did not say it was the more experienced ones. The new ones are no worse than the old ones, apparently. Maybe the new instructors are a little more cautious."
Shevers says that more people are learning to fly, which will lead to the pipeline filling at the bottom end. Shevers’ optimism is cautiously shared by Drew Steketee, the new president and CEO of GA Team 2000 and the BE A PILOT program, headquartered in Washington, D.C. He reports that the program will soon announce an aggressive new plan to increase the number of student starts.
Says Steketee, "If you’re going to be optimistic about this, even though the economy is going to decelerate, it’s going to be a manageable proposition.
"I’m not sure about the airline hiring boom continuing, except that the airline forecasts show tremendous growth. If that relates to the number of units in service and the number of pilots required, that may be the answer. We’ve moved up to over 600 million airline passengers a year and it’s forecast to go over 1 billion in the future.
"The other thing is that some of these regional airline careers are more attractive than they used to be as the regionals very quickly convert to all jet fleets."
Steketee thinks part of the solution will be increasing student starts, assuming, of course, that instructors are available. He says that he can’t be sure of the number of student starts because "the FAA has some problems with student start statistics. (But) from data before now, we know that we’re climbing up from the 60,000 level (of the early 1980s) but we’re not back to the historic 90,000 to 100,000 student starts figure that is the long-running average in this business."
James Lampman, director of operations and senior vice president of Virginia Aviation in Lynchburg, VA, says, "I’m on the board of Ohio Unive-rsity, and they’re simply tooling up to produce more pilots. The institutions around the country that have the capacity to produce more pilots are simply doing that. The major players are buying more airplanes, hiring more instructors, and hiring more general staff to produce more pilots."
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