December 4, 2012
At a time when aviation has achieved an extraordinarily high level of safety, regulators and safety organizations are pushing for more improvements in pilot training to preempt future accidents and ensure that new pilots entering the ranks start off with the right approach. One of the key areas receiving extensive examination is stall training, both in the early stages of ab initio training and how it is taught later to pilots who are flying sophisticated high-performance jets.
While accidents such as Air France 447 and Colgan Air 3407 drew attention to this subject, there are many examples of stall-related accidents in which two well trained professional pilots failed to recover from low- and high-altitude stalls.
In the U.S., politicians reacted to the Colgan accident by mandating that all new-hire airline pilots have logged a minimum of 1,500 hours, as if that would magically help prevent stall-related accidents. The FAA, while forced to accommodate the politicians’ legislation by enacting new regulations, also made a major change to its advisory material to reflect changing attitudes about stall training.
That change is embodied in Advisory Circular 120-109, which was released in August this year. The changes are also reflected in the IFALPA Pilot Training Standards, Guide for Best Practices, published by the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations in September.
In the IFALPA guide, the key factor related to stalls is figuring out how to incorporate the startle factor into training. It says, “Startle helps explain why a pilot can demonstrate proficiency in a maneuver during simulator training yet fail to do the maneuver correctly when a similar situation is encountered during flight.” As the guide notes, pilots brief the maneuver before training flights, but still may be surprised when the same maneuver is encountered during normal flight. “The response of a startled pilot might include confusion, wrong identification of...