The pandemic has caused furloughs across all industries, and the commercial airline industry is no different. Now that people are getting back to travel, and furloughed pilots are getting called back to work, there’s been some reports of pilots making mistakes. When these incidents are investigated, it’s sometimes been the case that being out of practice is part of the problem. Here’s what we know.
The list of recent flying errors by out of practice pilots include:
- Forgot to set a mechanism that keeps altitude and airspeed sensors from being blocked by ice
- Needed to take multiple passes at landing
- Forgot to disengage a parking brake when departing the gate
None of these mistakes resulted in bad outcomes. It’s also hard to directly attribute forgetfulness to lack of practice but it’s also hard not to make that connection. It begs the question: Should pilots who’ve been sidelined completely or who are flying in a much more limited manner during the pandemic be subjected to mandatory flight training?
Normally, commercial pilots are required to do three takeoffs and three landings (either in an airplane or a simulator) in a 90 day period before being permitted to fly passengers in a commercial jet.
The unprecedented nature of the pandemic caused the FAA to relax those requirements, gave pilots a 60-day grace period last September, and another grace period of 30 days in December. No public hearings were held before this change was put in place.
At least one airline (United) stepped up to let the public know they were not recognizing the grace periods, and that all of their pilots were passing the FAA’s 90-day proficiency policy before being allowed back to work.
American Airlines was also concerned about their pilots being out of practice, and started doing more frequent reviews of pilot performance. It’s great that some of the airlines have publicly stepped up to self-regulate, but it’s not consistent across all carriers, and the grace periods definitely give them some wiggle room.
The truth of the matter is that modern aircraft have backup systems in place to assure that minor errors don’t become serious accidents, but is that enough of a safety net?
What do you think? Should pilots have mandatory re-training if they’re out of practice? Do you think grace periods are concerning or not so much?