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FAA/Industry Training Standards - An Improved General Aviation Training Paradigm

by Thomas Glista
Reprinted with permission from FAA Aviation News

Flight training within the general aviation (GA) community has reached a critical juncture. While the industry as a whole enjoys an admirable safety record, recent statistics show an increase in both total and fatal GA accidents This fact, coupled with the proliferation of advanced technologies in new and older (traditional) small aircraft cockpits, has led the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to take a critical look at how pilots are trained.

Look into the cockpit of a traditional general aviation airplane or even a vintage aircraft and you're likely to see a panel-mounted GPS that incorporates a moving map display. In fact, most of the current major manufacturers of general aviation aircraft have, or plan to have aircraft with full 'glass panel' cockpit displays available. 'Glass panel' refers to the aircraft's primary flight information (attitude, and airspeed) and the navigation information (your relative position to airports, navaids, airways, waypoint, terrain, and data-linked weather, etc.) being displayed on two flat panel video displays - the Primary Flight Display (PFD) and the Multi-Function Display (MFD), respectively .Though these technically advanced systems have previously been the sole domain of airlines and larger corporate jets; they will soon become the standard in new small single engine aircraft and the coming very light jets.

In the past, GA aircraft cockpit displays, avionics and navigation equipment all looked the same and worked much the same no matter who manufactured the unit (i.e. a VOR head was a VOR head. You've seen one; you've seen them all.) Advanced technology systems and displays, on the other hand look different and the way the pilot uses them may differ. Programming a KLN 90B will be different from a Garmin 430. Pilot interaction with the 'full glass' Garmin G1000 will be different from the interaction with the 'full glass' Avidyne FlightMax Entegra. This means a renter who checks out in a Diamond DA 40 with the Garmin G1000 cockpit may find the transition to an Avidyne-equipped Cirrus SR-20 may be a significant challenge.

Today's regulations do not require a pilot to be formally tested or even have an instructor endorsement when transitioning from one of these airplanes to another. In order to maintain and increase flight safety, a change in the general aviation training culture needs to take place.

To understand why such a profound change is needed, consider that flight training has changed very little since the dawn of regulated aviation. In fact, a private pilot trained to standards outlined in the Civil Aeronautics Regulations, circa the 1940's, would likely do quite well in most operations required by today's FAA practical test standards. This is because many of the basic skills needed to pilot an aircraft have changed very little. However, the development of new technologies and a rapidly evolving airspace system have outpaced current training methods. Moreover, the FAA and the flight training community now have over a century's worth of experience upon which to draw when determining how best to train pilots. While the military and airline communities have leveraged this experience, the general aviation community has been slow to make use of the lessons learned.

To that end, the FAA has partnered with industry to develop the FITS program. FITS, or FAA/Industry Training Standards, offer an improved training paradigm that embraces concepts such as risk management, aeronautical decision-making, situational awareness, and single-pilot resource management. The airlines, military, and corporate aviation (who have the best safety records) have embraced these concepts for years. Instead of treating each of these concept elements as a separate or stand-alone lesson, scenario-based training will be used to efficiently integrate these important concepts into every instructional exercise. The military uses the expression 'train the way you fly and fly the way you're trained.' This is the direction in which GA needs to move.

As a result of our current training paradigm, the vast majority of fatal GA accidents were found to involve a lack of situational awareness, risk assessment/management, and poor aeronautical decision-making. Pilot training standards focus less on these factors and more on the development of mechanical ('stick and rudder') skills. While such skills are vitally important, most fatal accidents are not a result of deficiencies in these skills. The FITS program is working to take the best practices of the airlines, military, and corporate jets operators, and tailor them to the GA environment, while increasing safety and convenience and reducing the time and cost of training.

Another factor in the genesis of FITS is the development of Very Light Jets (VLJ). These small (12,500 lbs or less) jets will be certificated for operations by a single pilot. There are many VLJs in various stages of development. These include the Adam Aircraft A700, ATG Javelin, Avocet Projet, Century Jet, Cessna Mustang, Diamond Aircraft D-Jet, Eclipse 500, Honda Jet, and Safire Jet. The relatively low cost of the VLJs combined with pilot-flown shared ownership options, may result in relatively inexperienced pilots transitioning from a light piston engine twin to a VLJ, each having substantially different operational capabilities. Except for an initial type rating, VLJs do not require an annual proficiency check (Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations '61.58). They only require the standard flight review required by 14 CFR '61.56. We believe that taking a flight review every two years in a Cessna 172 and flying off in your Cessna Mustang is not the safest way to operate. So the FITS team has been working with many of these VLJ manufacturers to develop valuable and appropriate training that 'FITS' the requirements of the operator.

The FITS technical team has produced a series of generic training syllabi for piston airplanes-transition, recurrent and instructor. These, along with other FITS accepted documents, can be downloaded at http://www.faa.gov/training_testing/training/fits/

We encourage flight instructors and pilot schools to use these generic syllabi to develop a FITS curriculum for their operations. To assist in the development of these syllabi, the FITS technical team is developing a FITS training guide and a course developer's guide for instructors and training providers. To apply for FITS acceptance, you must submit your syllabus to the FITS program manager. It must be understood that an operator can receive FITS acceptance on any syllabus if it adheres to the FITS tenets. It must also be understood that an operator is not required to use the generic syllabi the FITS team developed. We developed them as a tool, not as a requirement. The FITS web site contains guidance that includes FITS acceptance criteria. This contains the FITS tenets the FITS technical team is looking for when evaluating syllabi for FITS acceptance.

There are other products and tools currently under development by the FITS team. These include transition, recurrent, and instructor syllabi for VLJs; new flight review guidance to provide instructors the tools needed to conduct a customized flight review (which should supercede the 13-yearold AC 61-98A, Currency and Additional Qualification Requirements for Certificated Pilots); web-based instructional resources covering aeronautical decision making, controlled flight into terrain, weather, and runway safety. These may be applied toward a new 'WINGS' option. Standards for developing avionics training; integration of FITS into the Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics; and FITS program information focused toward FAA inspectors, designated examiners, and flight instructors are also under development.

As the FITS program manager, I have worked closely with the FITS Technical Team and industry partners. The information regarding FITS has been reaching the industry. However, there still seems to be some confusion over what FITS is and what FITS isn't.

First FITS is NOT a requirement. The program works within the current regulatory framework leaving training providers to decide if FITS is appropriate to their needs. The FAA's overriding goal is to make FITS benefits driven. Those flying TAAs, can look forward to better training through the availability of more knowledgeable instructors. Pilots of traditional aircraft will also realize a benefit resulting from training that more faithfully replicates the way they fly.

FITS training can help keep insurance costs at manageable levels. Traditionally, when new aircraft and/or technologies enter the market, insurance companies have a difficult time assessing potential risk, a major determinant in establishing rates. Because GA lacks a regulatory requirement for structured transition or system-specific training, insurance companies are often forced to mandate certain conditions in order to write policies. This usually translates into expensive, often burdensome, experience (time-in-type) requirements. Also, because much of the training is not well structured, the pilot receives minimal benefits from the additional instruction. This is clearly a disservice to the owners/operators of such aircraft/avionics systems and has the undesired effect of discouraging pilots from investing in new technologies. By offering a FITS alternative, pilots will receive the training they need in less time, and with less expense. Insurance companies, recognizing the benefits of such FITS training, will be in a position to offer lower rates. This is because insurance companies recognize and reward structured training that addresses the causal factors associated with many GA accidents, regardless of the aircraft type.

FITS tenets and philosophies are NOT new. What the FITS program does is take the best training information from the safest operations and applies it to general aviation. Risk management has been around for many years. Insurance carriers have been assessing and managing risk for several hundred years to set rates and to find ways to mitigate financial and other risks for their policyholders. The airlines have also been using risk management for many years.

Aeronautical decision-making (ADM) goes hand-in-hand with risk management. Pilots must have the ability to assess a situation and make sound decisions to lower the risk to an acceptable level.

We have all heard of CRM (Cockpit Resource Management or Crew Resource Management). Air carriers are required to teach CRM in their initial and recurrent training programs (cockpit crew, cabin crew, and dispatchers). Single Pilot Resource Management (SRM) brings these principles to the single-pilot GA environment. Even in single-pilot operations, there are resources available that must be managed. For example, a non-pilot can help scan for traffic and arrange charts, Flight Watch can keep the pilot updated on changing weather, Flight Following provides radar services, and full use of the autopilot (if installed) may free the pilot to perform other cockpit duties.

Situational awareness skills have also been needed from almost the dawn of aviation. Whether you are VFR into an uncontrolled airport or IFR en route flying through clouds, situational awareness is a critical tool for safe operations. With GPS, moving maps, data link weather, etc., situational awareness is more intuitive, but with it comes possible problems. With all this information prominently displayed, a pilot may become more comfortable flying closer to hazardous weather or terrain without using the proper situational awareness and risk management techniques.

The operators with the best safety record have demonstrated that scenario-based training is an excellent way to develop skills in risk management, ADM, SRM, and situational awareness. Airlines have been doing scenario-based training for many years. They call it Line-Oriented Flight Training (LOFT). LOFT training in airlines has been going on since the 1970s. The military calls it sortie training. Military pilots train for the job they do. In the same way, a general aviation pilot should train for the operation he or she conducts. If you fly for pleasure on the weekends, such as taking your spouse and child to a nearby airport for lunch (the $100+ hamburger flight), then the training you have always received is probably the training you will need in the future. However, if you are flying a new technology glass panel airplane (i.e. Adam- 500, Cirrus SR-22, Eclipse 500, DA- 40, Lancair Columbia 400, etc.) on long cross-country flights for personal or business transportation, then your training should support that need. Fly the way you're trained and train the way you fly.

FITS are intended to raise the level of aviation safety by improving the quality of flight training. FITS will make flying safer, less expensive, and provide more practical training for the general aviation community through the development of value-added programs and new instructional resources. Not only will these systemic improvements reduce accidents, but they will also help acclimate pilots to the rapid pace of technological advancement that will surely be the norm in coming years.

For additional information on FITS please visit the FITS web site at http://www.faa.gov/training_testing/training/fits/.

Thomas Glista is an Aviation Safety Inspector in Flight Standards' General Aviation and Commercial Division and leads the FITS program.