At the time this was being written, word was circulating within the aviation community that as the result of the Colgan airline crash in 2009, the FAA is probably going to place new experience requirements on airline copilot new hires. They'd have to have 700 hours, as opposed to the 200 or so hours now acceptable in some quarters.
So, what's the problem? We're all for safer airlines. The problem is that, apparently at the request of Congress, the FAA is reportedly saying that the pilot must have graduated from an accredited academic program and accrued most of his flying time there: In other words, they must have learned to fly in a Part 141 school/academy, not your neighborhood Part 91 flight school. If your flight time was NOT under the umbrella of a Part 141 academy, you'll need 1,500 hours to become a copilot, the limit already imposed on the guys moving into the left seat.
To refresh your memory on the Colgan crash: It was a commuter that slowed to a near-stall on approach. The automatic stick pusher did what it was supposed to do, and pushed. According to reports, the captain, for unexplained reasons, overpowered the pusher and pulled. The airplane stalled, rolled, and 50 people lost their lives.
Congress' knee-jerk reaction to public outrage was to demand 1,500 hours for copilots (not sure why they picked on the copilot). They later let the FAA reduce that to 700 hours, providing the applicant graduated from a Part 141 academy. And therein lies the glitch.
In going through dozens of reports, I can find nothing that tells me that giving that particular copilot any amount of flying time or classroom work would have had anything to do with the prevention or outcome of the accident. I'll freely admit, however, that it's possible I don't have all the information.
The really important point is that I keep running across verbiage in the press releases that says Congress and the FAA don't think current copilot applicants are getting enough training in aerodynamics and flight theory. This must include the really complicated stuff, like lowering the nose when nearing a stall. And apparently they think the only place pilot trainees can get that kind of information is from a really big, academically oriented, Part 141 school. That's pure hogwash!
My bachelor's degree is in Aeronautical Engineering (now titled Aerospace Engineering). However, engineering school didn't teach me one damn thing that applies to flying an airplane that I can't also get out of the aerodynamics section of just about any high-quality ground-school manual. You don't need all of the minutia and theory taught in engineering school to fly an airplane.
Good flight instructors who know their stuff can take someone off the street and, using easily available course material, in an hour or two teach them everything they need to know about how and why airplanes fly. More important, they'll emphasize how, as the pilot, the student can utilize that knowledge to keep them and their passengers safe. We never got that kind of useful information in college.
There's absolutely no reason to restrict copilot applicants to those who come from a super school, when there are hundreds of smaller flight schools that are providing the same training for far less money.
There are lots of big schools that work really hard at giving high-quality flight training. Unfortunately, there are also some that fall under the popular heading of "puppy mills." They generate a steady stream of graduates, each of which has received exactly the same (read that as "standardized") training, almost word for word. Too often, there's no time to customize the presentation to the individual, so all have been taught the same way. Then, when they graduate, the school hires them, and they log CFI time in the same school. The net result is that no matter how many hours they fly in that environment, they've seen only a very thin slice of aviation.
Everyone can agree that 700 hours flown at the same flight school, beginning to end, is far different than the 700 hours flown by a "normal" pilot who's trying to climb the aviation ladder to the airlines or any other professional flying job.
By the time a pilot has gotten 700 hours outside of a flight-training environment, he has normally seen aviation from every possible angle, in a wide variety of airplanes and operating environments. Unless he's unusual, he'll do anything that puts time in his logbook, from flying freight, flight instructing, small-time charter, glider towing, whatever's available. Along the way, he'll have developed an adaptability that enables him to smoothly transition from one aviation situation to another because of what his experience has taught him. He knows what real-world aviation, as opposed to flight-school aviation, is all about.
The goal of what appears to be a new regulation in the making is to increase safety, which everyone in aviation should applaud. However, the unintended consequences could be severe, and should be analyzed carefully before yet another regulation hits the books.
A pilot can get outstanding training in both big and little schools. They also can get lousy training from the same sources. For that reason, it's dangerous to make a regulation that basically says good training is available from only one source. The danger is that people may start believing it.