Former FAA head Michael Huerta said Friday during a panel discussion at the Online Government Summit that hundreds of fatal crashes occur during training, during the actual flight, or as the result of “momentary distractions.” Yet there was only one reported death of a jetliner on Continental 1 since 2000.
Congress forced the FAA to speed up its adoption of a rule requiring physical training for first officers, and to include training for 7.5 hours. But there is still a long way to go to train airline crew. During 9 to 11 hours of training the captain will be responsible for the plane, including the first officer.
Meanwhile, the NTSB is still evaluating the probe of a crash in New York last March of a Continental Express flight, and is recommending the FAA tighten regulations to slow down the frequency of bird strikes on the wings of jets. There have been 7,331 on-board bird strikes with jets in the U.S. since 2000, or 18 per hour.
Back in October, Louis Cimino, a longtime FAA civil aviation investigator and partner with Cimino & Mosca, an aviation consulting firm, told me that there needs to be separate training for first officers and pilots. Lately there has been some shift in thinking by operators to require first officers to learn about engine failures and other conditions they might encounter during flight. It can have human consequences if a first officer malfunctions or becomes disoriented.
Another aviation analyst told me that “before you can fly your first or second generation aircraft today you must have 230 hours of air transport flight time as a first officer.”
Time has certainly made a difference in the so-called “breadth of air traffic control on a clear day.” A traffic controller in Bloomington, Indiana could handle 400 to 500 aircraft with just a union-negotiated window of two-and-a-half hours. Now at the Federal Aviation Administration’s busiest control tower at Los Angeles International Airport, in the median of the busy runway, controllers can manage 1,000 planes with about 50 minutes. Aviation safety supervisor Patricia Vereen told me FAA engineers have studied what impact this would have on safety.