How did pilots sharp during the pandemic? What do they have to do before they can fly again?
– Diversity Man, United Kingdom
With the recent surge in air travel, more pilots who were grounded during the height of the pandemic are returning to service. But they are requalified and retested before being cleared to fly passengers again.
Pilots who have been out for more than 90 days return to the simulator for training. If they have gone than 90 days but less than 180 days without flying, they undergo extensive ground school followed by a multi-day transition course of simulator flights and a checkride and in-flight training. (If they haven’t flown for more than 180 days or if they are moving to a different airplane, they go through initial training.)
Finally, they undergo a checkride in an actual plane, known as a line check. Testing is to the initial qualification standards for competency.
Although some pilots have reported feeling rusty in the cockpit, it is important to remember that these are professional pilots who have years of experience flying. They recover their skills quickly.
What changes would you like to see included in pilot training and re-training?
– RG, Asheville, North Carolina
I would like to see the demonstration of competency in the handling of emergencies, such as engine failures, fires and flight control problems continue with an emphasis on maintaining manual flying skills.
It is essential that pilots of modern aircraft are experts at using the onboard automation but they must also be very proficient and comfortable in manually flying the airplane.
Training must include upset-recovery training, given that loss of control in flight is the leading cause of fatalities in aviation.
I would also like to see more “real world” training scenarios based on events that other flight crews have faced.
Generally speaking, airline pilots undergo retraining about every 9 months. The Federal Aviation Administration measures how well they retain this information through its Advanced Qualification Program (AQP).
Here’s the problem, though: That’s a lot of training to pack into a limited number of 4-hour training simulator slots. Perhaps it is time to increase the number of slots allocated to each pilot so that training can be expanded. This will increase costs but it could improve the quality of the training. To me, it would be worth it.
John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.