WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal aviation officials proposed the most wide-ranging overhaul of air crew training in decades Thursday, more than two years after a crash in western New York that was attributed to pilot error.
The Federal Aviation Administration proposal would require airlines to train pilots, flight attendants and flight dispatchers together in real life scenarios in more advanced flight simulators. That includes simulator training for pilots on how to recover from full stall in flight.
The proposal also would require remedial training for pilots with performance deficiencies such as failing a proficiency test or check, or unsatisfactory performance during flight training or a simulator course.
"The difference is that rather than just have a pilot execute a ... skill in isolation, the new training will require a more realistic and coordinated effort by the crew as if they were on a real flight," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt told reporters. "It will be a lot more lifelike."
Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed after experiencing an aerodynamic stall — a loss of lift brought on by too little speed — during a landing approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport in February 2009. The stall caused the plane to plummet to the ground, killing all 49 people aboard and a man in a house below.
The National Transportation Safety Board later determined the flight's pilots failed to monitor the plane's airspeed and thus were surprised when a safety system known as a "stick shaker" activated, alerting them to the impending stall. The captain responded by pulling back on the plane's steering mechanism when the correct action that pilots are trained to take is to push forward to pick up speed.
The plane immediately went into a full stall, triggering the activation of another safety system known as a "stick pusher" because it points a plane's nose downward to pick up speed. The captain again pulled back hard when the proper response would have been to push forward.
Safety investigators estimated that even after the stick pusher had activated, the captain still had seconds to save the flight if he had taken the correct action.
The accident is considered especially noteworthy by aviation experts because of the wide array of systemic safety concerns revealed during the crash investigation, including several involving pilot training. For example, the stick pusher had been described to the captain in classroom training, but it wasn't included in simulator training. The final seconds before the crash may have been that the first time he'd experienced its activation.
The captain had failed at least five key tests of piloting skills during his career, but was allowed to retake each test. Despite his record, the captain wasn't singled out for any remedial or special training by Colgan Air, the regional carrier that operated the flight for Continental Airlines. Colgan said it was unaware of two of the test failures, which occurred prior to the captain's hiring.
FAA proposed updating pilot training requirements a month before the accident. Officials have spent the last two years reshaping the previous plan to reflect issues raised in the Flight 3407 investigation and to meet the requirements of a law passed by Congress in response to the accident.