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Rookie Pilots and the FAA: New Rules Issued After Asiana Tragedy

Friday, August 09, 2013By Richard Alexander

By Richard Alexander

PilotsAfter years of allowing commuter airline pilots with only 250 hours to serve as co-pilots, the Federal Aviation Administration has finally increased the hours flown requirement for co-pilots.

Is it a coincidence that these new rules were announced four days after the July 6, 2013 crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 by a rookie pilot in San Francisco?

As a pilot and personal injury attorney, I have followed FAA decision-making with extreme interest over the years.

In 1997, I wrote that only after the crash does the FAA take action and have provided numerous examples in other writings on this website of the FAA finally getting around to protecting the public after avoidable wrongful deaths.

On February 12, 2009, Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed near Buffalo, killing 50 people.

Colgan’s rookie pilots each had less than 750 hours of flying experience when hired by this commuter airline. FAA regulations at the time only required that a co-pilot have 250 hours of flight experience.

The rookies were flying into Buffalo [always in the top ten American cities with the heaviest snowfall], in the middle of winter, and failed to notice their plane had taken on so much ice that airspeed had decayed from 180 knots to 130 knots.

The co-pilot had never flown in icing conditions before that day.

After the Colgan crash I wrote: “The record is clear that the FAA drags its feet until after a major crash to address known and recognized hazards. This agency’s backward approach to its job has led to many wrongful deaths and personal injuries . . . .”

See: /air-crash-deaths-the-faa-could-prevent/

Should have said “really drags its feet.”

It took the FAA more than 4.5 years after Colgan to require that co-pilots have 1,500 hours of flying experience, rather than the previous 250 hours requirement. The FAA’s delay is inexplicable after the Colgan tragedy underscored the dangerous and all too common practice of hiring inexperienced rookie pilots.

But why the announcement on July 10, 2013 of the long overdue correction of a previously bad decision that endangered public safety.

In the Asiana crash, a rookie pilot, with no landing experience in a Boeing 777, on a picture perfect day, great weather, nil wind, visibility of 12 miles, landed short at SFO, hit the sea wall, tore off the gear, ripped off the tail and catapulted the aircraft in a fiery crash that left 2 dead and numerous injured.

Pilots know that once an aircraft is aligned with the runway and slowed to approach speed with flaps set and gear down, all that is needed under visible flight rules is to maintain airspeed, keep a look out for unannounced obstacles on the runway, keep your eyes on the numbers, in this case 28L, and aim for the deck.

Looking through the windshield at the runway tells a pilot everything he or she needs to know to land the plane. It is not rocket science to keep the plane aligned and maintain airspeed in order to avoid having the plane stall, i.e. stop flying and go down like a rock.

It is shear madness for a pilot with no landing experience in a Boeing 777 to be practicing a first landing with passengers on board, even if the student pilot has an instructor sitting alongside, who as it turns out was a rookie instructor.

FAA Rules require 3 takeoffs and landings in the last 90 days before carrying passengers.

The general rule is well known to all pilots. The actual rules are extremely complicated with exceptions and the legalese you would expect from a bureaucracy. See PART 61 § 61.57 Recent Flight Experience for Pilot in Command.

In the end it is all common sense.

No experienced pilot ever considers taking passengers aloft without making sure that their takeoff and landing skills are honed. The regulation requiring three takeoffs and landings in the last 90 days is a minimum.

My next after-the-crash prediction: a rule requiring minimum landing experience will be imposed on all passenger aircraft pilots, including foreign owned carriers, when landing at U.S. airports.

Rookies will be banned.

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