Instructors blow whistle on safety concerns at U.S. flight schools
By Miriam Raftery
November 19, 2013 (El Cajon ) – An investigative report by an NBC TV station in the Bay area adds fuel to concerns raised by East County residents over the safety of foreign pilot training at Gillespie Field. The NBC investigation, titled “Foreign Airline Pilots, U.S. Flight Schools: Do they get enought raining time in cockpit?” has prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to announce tighter regulations of training of foreign pilots at American flight schools.
In the U.S., pilots train for years in either the military of general aviation, or both, to gain at least 1,500 hours of flight time before being allowed into the cockpit of a commercial jetliner. But the FAA gave out 4,820 license to foreign pilots last year alone – pilots who came here from Asia or other places to train, many with zero flight experience.
The FAA earlier this month announced new requirements for training of foreign pilots following the crash of a Continental flight into a house in Buffalo, New York raised serious questions. The plane was flown by a recent graduate of the Aviation Cooperation Program; the crash killed 49 people and was attributed to pilot error. An Asiana flight that crashed in San Francisco occurred after two new graduates of the foreign pilots program set the speed too slow for landing. TransPac Aviation Academy in Arizona, which trains foreign pilots, has had three separate fatality accidents in recent years. Flight schools have also had numerous non-fatality accidents, heightening safety concerns.
NBC interviewed an instructor who said he quit his job over safety lapses and that instructors were pressured by flight schools and foreign airlines to pass students who were not ready. Within a year, the students were flying wide-body commercial airliners. A second instructor called the process a “indecent hurry” to graduate students.
Student training typically lasts a year or less, with 180 to 200 hours of flight time in U.S. flight schools, followed by 40 to 60 hours more flight time back in their homelands overseas.
Sue Strom heads up Advocates for Safe Airport Policies (SAFE), a citizens group in East County that has been advocating for more attention paid to safety and a halt to testing of foreign pilots at Gillespie Field.
“ASAP ahs been concerned for years that our freedom to enjoy clear skies and livable communities has been preempted by the little known Aviation Cooperation Program (ACP) run by the FAA to train international students over our neighbors,” Strom said in an email sent to Gillespie Field neighbors. The NBC investigation “proves that we are not alone,” she said.
Scandinavian Aviation Academy in El Cajon trains foreign pilots. The flight school has been involved in its own share of issues. In 2006, a Cessna owned by the academy collided with another plane and crashed over a residential area in El Cajon and La Mesa, killing three people. More recently, neighbors have complained of low flight patterns over homes as the Academy has boosted its enrollment of Chinese student pilots, though the Academy has denied this.
The new FAA requirements aim to improve pilots’ ability to manually fly the planes including handling mid-air stalls and wind gusts. The FAA also ordered tracking and remedial training for pilots who inadequate performances, training for better pilot monitoring, and improved runway safety procedures.