"Evolution of Safety Through Pilot Training"
Michael Huerta, Washington, DC
July 12, 2012

ALPA Conference - Evolution of Safety Through Pilot Training


Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Lee (Moak), for that introduction.  It’s an honor and pleasure to be here with all of you today.

Our understanding of aviation and navigation has come a long way since the early days of flight.  As you know, this month marks the 75th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance over the Pacific.  She lost radio contact on
July 2, 1937, en route from Papua New Guinea to Howland Island.

That leg of her journey was 2,556 miles.  Back then it was considered an ultra-long range operation back then – the longest in her worldwide tour.  It was just slightly longer than her last scheduled leg from Honolulu to Oakland. 

Today, our aircraft and airlines have the capability of flying 9,000 miles non-stop.  Flying 18 hours, halfway around the globe is routine now.

As technology has improved, and as technology has evolved, so have our pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, and air traffic controllers.  Pilots today must possess not only the navigation, stick, and rudder skills they have always had to learn, but they must be “system managers” who are intimately familiar with the complexity of operations.  They must be able to deal with any situation that may develop from taxi-out to taxi-in.  Our training programs are what equip our pilots with those skills.

We are all here because we believe that training is fundamental to performing our jobs in a safe and professional way. 

We train because we want to raise the safety bar every day with the accumulated learning of the entire aviation industry.  Those who have come before us, like Amelia Earhart and so many others, helped to build a foundation of knowledge.  Their dedication to aviation was absolute.  And so we want to build on the base of that knowledge and do everything we can to maintain the safest aviation system in the world.

We did achieve a major milestone in that effort with the completion of the new flight and duty time rule that we completed last year.

Combatting fatigue in the cockpit is the obligation of both airlines and pilots, working together.  Every pilot has a personal responsibility to arrive at work fit for duty.  The new rule gives pilots enough time to get the rest they need.

And the rule is flexible.  It accounts for differences in fatigue based on different types of operations – long haul, or short haul, day or night.  It is not one size fits all solution.

The rule addresses cumulative fatigue and how flight schedules affect the body’s 24-hour clock.  In issuing these regulations, the FAA chose to cover all passenger operations, but removed all-cargo operations from application of the regulations.  This is because the compliance costs would have been too great, compared to the benefits gained in this portion of the industry.       

However, all-cargo carriers are free to voluntarily operate under the new regulations.  Secretary Ray LaHood and I use every opportunity we can to encourage this option with the all-cargo carriers.  I also recognize that some cargo operators are already improving rest facilities for pilots.

As you know, we are revisiting the cargo cost-benefit analysis, due to some inadvertent errors.  An outside group is currently reviewing this, and then we expect to reissue the cargo analysis for public comment.   

We know the traveling public expects an alert and rested flight crew when they board a plane, and this rule uses the latest in fatigue science to make sure pilots are able to get the rest they need.

The traveling public also expects that pilots to have the latest and best training.

You are all aware of the great deal of time and effort the FAA has spent on rulemaking to enhance safety, including pilot training. 

I appreciate that in every step of this process, ALPA has lent its expertise and assistance for these important efforts.  ALPA members have served on at least five different Aviation Rulemaking Committees – ARCs–and the FAA has taken the reports from those ARCs to inform our work.  We have reviewed the recommendations and have used them to propose changes to multiple regulations.

So, I would like to thank you for your help and collaboration on making our system safer.

It is precisely this collaboration and this willingness to listen to the voices of pilots, airlines, air traffic controllers, flight attendants, dispatchers, safety organizations, academics and the public, that makes the rulemaking process complex, but which also leads to a better result.

A normal timeframe to complete a rule that is not controversial or far-reaching is about three years.

In the case of the pilot training rule, which includes stall and stick pusher training, we are aiming for completion in 2013, which is three years after Congress passed the sweeping 2010 law that created many aviation safety directives.

Yes, we have been working on this training rule for a very long time.  This is because we revisited the rule after the accident involving Colgan Air Flight 3407.  We wanted to make sure the rule addressed the lessons learned from that accident.  We also wanted to make sure we incorporated the training-related requirements that Congress added in 2010.

The rulemaking process can be very frustrating to many, and I’ll admit that includes me.  But, believe me, it takes a community of people to determine the best public policy.  It’s important that we consult with all stakeholders so that we write the rule in a way that is most effective.

However, even prior to finalizing a comprehensive rule, we have acted to convey safety information where appropriate.  For example, we have made airlines aware of the latest information on stall and stick pusher training. And we have given guidance to airlines on how they can update their simulators, right now, so they can be approved to offer this training to their pilots today.

We want to ensure that the baseline training that pilots receive is updated and applicable to the types of environments they are going to face in their jobs. 

The rule we are working on represents the most significant overhaul of crew training in the last 20 years.  It would require pilots, flight attendants and dispatchers to demonstrate their skills in real scenarios – situations that they might encounter during operations.

We want to give pilots more and better training on how to recognize and recover from stalls and aircraft upsets.  We will be able to do this in the advanced flight simulators we have today.

But the difference is, rather than have a pilot execute a recovery in a highly choreographed event, the new training will be conducted as if the pilots were actually on a flight.  This is timely in light of the French Government’s recent release of the Air France 447 accident report.  One of the fundamental contributing factors of the accident was that stall recovery was not effective.  We currently see extensive training on our sophisticated equipment.  But, we must not lose sight of the importance of training on the core aspects of flying, such as crew management, stall recovery, or other events that might occur when there is a change or loss in automation.  And, training must keep pace with the ever-changing technologies that we are seeing in aircraft.

We believe scenario-based training will enhance safety for the kind of emergencies that we all acknowledge are extremely rare – but we want pilots to have sufficient knowledge, experience and confidence so they can appropriately handle any situation that gets thrown at them.

Of course, many of you are familiar with AQP, the Advanced Qualification Program.  This is a voluntary FAA crew member training program which incorporates many of the safety enhancements in the proposed rule. 

Today, 75 percent of Part 121 pilots and flight attendants in the U.S. are either using AQP or transitioning to it.  So, I would like to thank you for participating in AQP.  I know many of you have benefitted from this kind of training, and we want everyone to do so.

Now, in addition to the pilot training rule, we are also addressing pilot certification and qualification.  We are raising the baseline qualifications for first officers who fly for U.S. passenger and cargo airlines.  The proposed rule, which we introduced in February, would require first officers to hold an ATP certificate, and it would make other changes.  The public comments came back in April and we are currently reviewing them.

Not only do we want to require an airline transport certificate for first officers, but we propose to greatly increase the training to achieve it. 

For example, we believe that it’s necessary to have both academic and flight training in critical operating skills. This includes learning more about high altitude aero-dynamics, handling stalls and upsets, and knowing how to perform in multi-pilot operations.

As part of the same rulemaking initiative, we are also proposing to increase the experience to become the captain of a U.S. passenger or cargo airline.  You would need at least 1,000 hours in airline operations before upgrading to captain.

Our intent with all of this effort is to enhance the safety of the traveling public, and to ensure that pilots have the training, skills, experience, and tools necessary to excel at their jobs.

We believe that the FAA’s voluntary reporting systems are a critical tool to help evolve training requirements.  We are trying to prevent an incident or accident by collecting and analyzing real time flight data to recognize precursors.

You are all familiar with ASIAS (pronounced ah-sigh-as), the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing System.  This one program connects 131 separate safety databases and information sources across the industry.

There has been a significant increase in the number of airlines that have joined ASIAS and are sharing their data. Participation, in fact, has doubled in the last three years.   This improves the data we receive and helps us mine data on more locations and aircraft types.

One example of a database you are acquainted with is the Aviation Safety Action Program, or ASAP.  It permits individuals to report errors and safety-related information with reasonable protection from company discipline or FAA enforcement.

The result is an abundance of safety information that otherwise would probably not come to light. 

Our goal here is not to punish.  We want to know about possible shortcomings and we want to correct them.

At the FAA, we also have a voluntary reporting program for our air traffic controllers, called ATSAP, or the Air Traffic Safety Action Program.  We modeled ATSAP on the ASAP programs that have been so successful in the industry.  And recently, we have begun combining ATSAP and ASAP information to create an even more powerful safety database.

Let me share an example from the West Coast that shows how combining ATSAP and ASAP data solved an issue before it became a problem.

Last year, pilots and air traffic controllers both reported problems with navigation when some aircraft took off from San Francisco International Airport.

This is because the FAA implemented a slight change to an existing departure route, and this change was not showing up automatically in the computerized navigation system onboard one particular airline.

Several flight crews bypassed a fix on the new departure route.  The controllers asked the crews if they were aware of any changes to their flight plans.  The crews reported that they were not.

The controllers submitted ATSAP reports and the pilots also submitted ASAP reports.  By studying the two, it became apparent that pilots did not know that the route had changed.

By comparing the reports from the two points of view, both pilot and controller, we realized this was a systemic problem at not only San Francisco, but also at Oakland and Sacramento airports.

The airline discovered the routing discrepancy by requesting information from their dispatch department. They then promptly updated the onboard navigational database and fixed the problem.  No more missed fixes. 

I’m sure Amelia Earhart could not have imagined the kind of precision navigation we have today, and the detail of our maps and databases we use.  Modern technology is in fact helping in the newest phase of finding her last whereabouts. 

As we evolve, I expect that pilots of the future, perhaps on routine flights into commercial space, will look back and wonder how we made do in the early part of the 21st century.

Aviation safety evolves as technology evolves, but it also evolves when we all know the best way to handle the technology.

The goal here for all of us is to enhance safety. We can make our machines as safe as possible, but without pilots who are trained, it won’t get us where we need to go. Training is an area where we can make very significant advances.

So I want to thank you for your dedication and for your professionalism in doing the job right, every day and all the time, even when no one is looking.  I also want to thank you for passing your knowledge on to the next generation and doing your utmost to help aviation move to the next level of safety and efficiency.

Thank you.

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