Notice of Proposed Rule Making – Commercial Pilot Certification & Complex Aircraft Change

The FAA has discontinued the requirement that applicants for a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine rating or a flight instructor certificate with an airplane-single engine rating provide a complex airplane for their practical tests.

BonanzaAOPA has long urged the FAA to drop the complex-airplane requirement for the two practical tests and welcomed the change. The requirement has often proved to be a costly and time-consuming impediment to advanced certification for many pilots. Eliminating the need to fly a complex airplane was a highlight of recommendations AOPA made in 2016 informal comments on an FAA rulemaking proposal to ease the burden on pilots in training by incorporating new technologies and increasing the permitted uses of training devices.

Training providers had also raised the issue of the scarcity of single-engine complex airplanes, the agency said, adding that “complex airplanes that are available are older airplanes that are expensive to maintain.”

The FAA has received “multiple petitions for exemption” from the requirement. The petitions “are additional examples of ongoing industry concern over the lack of flexibility provided by the current requirement to furnish a complex single-engine airplane for use during testing for these certificates and ratings.”

The policy change does not eliminate the complex airplane training and endorsement requirements of § 61.31(e), or existing aeronautical experience requirements.

The FAA has updated the Commercial Pilot Airman Certification Standards and the Flight Instructor Practical Test Standards to reflect the new policy.

The agency also instructed its flight standards district offices (FSDOs) to distribute copies of the notice to designated pilot examiners (DPE) and training providers.

The policy change comes shortly after an April 4 fatal accident in which a DPE, 61, and a private pilot, 25, who was taking a commercial pilot flight test, died after the left wing separated from the 2007 Piper PA-28R-201 they were flying shortly after takeoff from Daytona Beach International Airport in Daytona Beach, Florida.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary accident report, “preliminary examination of the left wing main spar revealed that more than 80% of the lower spar cap and portions of the forward and aft spar web doublers exhibited fracture features consistent with metal fatigue.”

The aircraft was registered to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which has stopped flying its PA-28R-201 airplanes pending inspections, according to a news report.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.


2. COMPLETION OF COMMERCIAL PILOT TRAINING AND TESTING IN TECHNICALLY ADVANCED AIRPLANES

INTRODUCTION

Under the current requirements, an applicant for a commercial pilot certificate with airplane category single engine class rating must accomplish 10 hours of flight training in a complex airplane [31] or in a turbine-powered airplane.[32] 14 CFR 61.129(a)(3)(ii), appendix D to part 141. In addition, the Commercial Pilot Practical Test Standards for Airplane (as well as the Flight Instructor Practical Test Standards for Airplane) require a pilot to use a complex airplane for takeoff and landing maneuvers and appropriate emergency tasks for the initial practical test for a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane category.[33]

Many pilots seeking a commercial pilot certificate in the airplane category take the initial practical test in a single engine airplane. Training providers have noted that there are far fewer single engine complex airplanes available to meet the practical test standards requirement, and the single engine complex airplanes that are available are older aircraft that are expensive to maintain. The FAA recognizes that accomplishing the required training in either a single engine complex airplane or turbine-powered airplane has become cost prohibitive for most flight schools.

Because § 61.45(b) requires a pilot to accomplish the practical test in an aircraft that is the appropriate category, class, and type (if applicable), pilots are not permitted to use a more readily available multiengine complex airplane during the single engine practical test at the commercial pilot level to accomplish the tasks and maneuvers that require a complex airplane.[34] Currently it is permissible for an applicant to take his or her initial commercial pilot practical test for the airplane category in the multiengine class and then seek an additional rating in the airplane single engine class, thereby avoiding the difficulty of furnishing a single engine complex airplane. However, the FAA notes that many pilots often do not apply for their initial commercial pilot certificate with a multiengine class rating because of the higher cost associated with gaining the aeronautical experience required by § 61.129(b)(3) and (4) in a multiengine airplane.

RELATED RULEMAKING HISTORY

On August 31, 2009, the FAA published a NPRM in the Federal Register that proposed to replace the requirement for training in a complex airplane for commercial pilot applicants (both single engine and multiengine ratings) with a requirement for advanced instrument training. Pilot in command proficiency Check and Other Changes to the Pilot and Pilot School Certification RulesNPRM, 74 FR 44779. In discussing the proposed change, the FAA noted the complaints by training providers regarding the necessity to maintain older single engine complex airplanes. The FAA also acknowledged in the NPRM that general aviation aircraft manufacturers are no longer producing as many single engine airplanes with retractable gear but are instead producing aircraft with “glass cockpits,” [35] which are also referred to as technically advanced aircraft (TAA).[36]

The FAA received a variety of comments in response to the proposed change. Although several commenters supported the change based on the high cost of maintaining older single engine complex airplanes and the perceived value of requiring additional instrument training, other commenters opposed the change citing the potential for an increase in gear-up landing incidents and the fact that training in a complex airplane is essential for safety because most pilots will encounter a complex airplane during their careers. The FAA withdrew the proposed changes in the final rule citing the need to further analyze the comments received on the proposed revision. 76 FR 54096 (August 31, 2011). The FAA noted that it would consider the matter further and possibly publish an NPRM in the future.

BASIS FOR CURRENT PROPOSAL

Since the 2011 final rule, various pilot associations have made public statements on behalf of their members, expressing disappointment in the agency’s decision to withdraw the proposal set forth in the 2009 NPRM. Various individuals and pilot organizations have reiterated concern over the costs associated with the upkeep of aging complex single engine airplanes that are unavailable (or are cost prohibitive) due to the decrease or discontinuance of manufacture of these aircraft. The FAA has also received multiple exemption requests that seek relief from § 61.45(b) and the requirement to use a single engine complex airplane during the commercial and flight instructor practical tests. While these requests have been denied because they have not met the regulatory criteria for an exemption, they provide additional Start Printed Page 29730examples of ongoing industry concern over the lack of flexibility provided by the current requirement to furnish a complex single engine airplane for use during training and testing for these certificates and ratings.

With the prominence of airplanes equipped with glass cockpits (i.e., TAA) in today’s general aviation aircraft fleet, the FAA believes it is appropriate to permit the use of certain TAA to complete the training required in § 61.129(a)(3)(ii) and appendix D to part 141 as well as to meet the requirements of the commercial single engine airplane pilot and flight instructor practical test standards.

I. DEFINITION OF TECHNICALLY ADVANCED AIRPLANE

The FAA recognizes the emerging and continuing trend in general aviation aircraft manufacturing to produce most new aircraft with advanced avionics systems. The previously typical individual six-flight instrument configuration (six-pack) is becoming unavailable in current general aviation manufacturing. The NTSB safety study Introduction of Glass Cockpit Avionics Into Light Aircraft published in 2010 indicated that “the transition to glass cockpits in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-certified light aircraft” began in 2003 when Cirrus Design Corporation started delivering single-engine piston airplanes with electronic primary flight displays (PFD). Other manufacturers, including Cessna Aircraft Company, Piper Aircraft Incorporated, Mooney, and Hawker Beechcraft soon followed suit. The NTSB study further referenced General Aviation Manufacturers Association data showing that “by 2006, more than 90 percent of new piston-powered, light airplanes were equipped with full glass cockpit displays.” [37] Indeed, the Cessna Aircraft Corporation has produced “glass cockpit only” piston driven aircraft since 2006. According to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, these Cessna piston aircraft totaled 3,696, as delivered through 2012. Piper Aircraft Inc. also delivers almost exclusively glass cockpit configurations, except for some limited requests from international flight school customers for the previously traditional independent six-flight instrument configuration.[38]

This trend toward exclusive production of airplanes with glass cockpits (TAA) is due to an increase in demand for advanced avionics cockpit platforms by general aviation consumers.[39] At the same time, there has been a significant decrease in the production of single engine complex airplanes.[40] The FAA understands the decrease in single engine complex airplane manufacturing is due, at least in part, to newer airframe and power plant technologies that allow for aircraft to achieve higher performance (e.g., airspeed, reduced fuel consumption, etc.) without the manufacturing and maintenance costs associated with a retractable gear system that is characteristic of a complex airplane. Cirrus Aircraft has delivered 5,326 aircraft with this fixed gear configuration as of 2012.[41]

To date, the FAA has primarily used the term “glass cockpits” when referring to airplanes equipped with these advanced avionics components such as a primary flight display (PFD) and multi-function display (MFD). For example, the Instrument Flying Handbook acknowledges that PFDs and MFDs “are changing not only what information is available to a pilot but also how that information is displayed.” Moreover, the executive summary to the NTSB’s Introduction of Glass Cockpit Avionics in Light Aircraft, provides that “in a span of only a few years, the cockpits of new light aircraft have undergone a transition from conventional analog flight instruments to digital-based electronic displays,” which “integrate aircraft control, autopilot, communication, navigation, and aircraft system monitoring functions, applying technology previously available only in transport-category aircraft.” [42]

In an FAA-Industry Safety Study published in 2003, the FAA defined TAA as “a General Aviation aircraft that contains the following design features: Advanced automated cockpit such as MFD or PFD or other variations of a Glass Cockpit, or a traditional cockpit with GPS navigation capability, moving map display and autopilot.” [43] The FAA is proposing to require a certain level of complexity for TAA by proposing to define TAA in the regulations and, thereby, mandating certain functionalities when used for commercial pilot training and the practical test.

Notwithstanding the previous use of terms such as glass cockpit and electronic flight instrument displays, the FAA is proposing to adopt an updated definition of “technically advanced airplane” in § 61.1 based on the common and essential components of advanced avionics systems equipped on the airplane, including a PFD, MFD and an integrated two axis autopilot. These components would be required in order to ensure the TAA used to meet the aeronautical experience requirements for commercial pilots in § 61.129(a)(3)(ii) and appendix D to part 141, as well as the related practical test standards, as amended, have the necessary level of complexity comparable to the traditional single engine complex airplane.

TAA would be required to include a PFD that is an electronic display integrating all of the following flight instruments together: An airspeed indicator, turn coordinator, attitude indicator, heading indicator, altimeter, and vertical speed indicator. Additionally, an independent MFD must be installed that provides a GPS with moving map navigation system and an integrated two axis autopilot.[44] In general, the pilot interfaces with one or more computers in order to operate, navigate, or communicate. The proposed definition of TAA would apply to permanently-installed equipment and would not apply to any portable electronic device. The FAA recognizes the continuing advancements in aircraft avionics and the need for a pilot to be proficient with modern cockpit equipment and automation. As proposed, the FAA would define the term TAA as an airplane with an electronic PFD and an MFD that includes, at a minimum, a GPS moving Start Printed Page 29731map navigation and integrated two-axis autopilot.

In addition to adding a definition of TAA to § 61.1, the FAA is proposing to amend the existing training requirements to permit the use of a TAA instead of a complex or turbine-powered airplane by commercial pilot applicants seeking an airplane category single engine class rating. In addition to the regulatory changes, the FAA would revise the practical test standards for commercial pilot applicants and flight instructors seeking an airplane category single engine class rating.

II. AMENDMENT TO AERONAUTICAL EXPERIENCE REQUIREMENT FOR COMMERCIAL PILOTS

The FAA proposes to amend the current requirement found in § 61.129(a)(3)(ii) and appendix D to part 141 to complete 10 hours of training in a complex or turbine-powered airplane. As proposed, the FAA would permit a pilot seeking a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane category single engine class rating to complete the 10 hours of training in a TAA. With this amendment, a pilot seeking a commercial pilot certificate with a single engine class rating could complete all 10 hours in a complex airplane, a turbine-powered airplane, or a TAA, or could complete the 10 hours of training in any combination of these three airplanes. The FAA believes that demonstration of proficiency in an airplane that is electronically complex (i.e., those that would meet the proposed definition of a TAA) will be comparable to the demonstration of proficiency in an airplane that is mechanically complex (i.e., those that meet the current definition of a complex airplane).

Providing the TAA alternative to the training requirements for a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane category single engine class rating is appropriate because advanced avionics in TAA create a level of complexity that would be equal to or greater than the mechanical complexity found in traditional complex airplanes. The FAA contends that, as avionics continue to advance, the need for training and checking in other categories of aircraft equipped with advanced avionics systems will continue to grow. Further, the FAA emphasizes the importance of pilot and flight instructor proficiency in the advanced aircraft systems that are essential to the FAA’s NextGen initiatives.[45]

Complex airplanes, turbine-powered airplanes, and TAA all require the commercial pilot applicant to have an understanding of aircraft systems that are more complicated than the aircraft systems found in more basic airplanes that most private pilots learn to fly. Operation of a complex airplane requires the pilot to perform advanced plans of action with the gear, flaps, and propeller control in certain phases of flight (such as takeoff, landing, and emergency procedures). Failure to perform the correct action in a complex airplane could result in a degradation of the safety of flight, such as a gear up landing or achieving maximum aircraft performance during climb after takeoff. Similarly, a TAA demands the pilot perform functions with the advanced avionics such as programing, entering flight plans and autopilot management. If not accomplished in an efficient, proper, and timely manner, there is the potential for a loss of safety during the flight.

As another example, the failure of the pilot to recognize and respond properly to a failure of either the PFD or the MFD at a critical phase of flight (especially during marginal VFR conditions or instrument meteorological conditions (IMC)) could result in the pilot losing situational awareness and possibly leading to loss of control jeopardizing the successful completion of the flight. The FAA believes that demonstrating proficiency when operating a TAA provides at least an equivalent level of complexity compared to a complex airplane. Indeed, newly hired operations aviation safety inspectors are required to complete three weeks of glass cockpit training (in TAA). This commitment to TAA training reflects the FAA’s acknowledgment of the importance of developing skills, understanding the complexity, and demonstrating knowledge required to safely operate these airplanes.

The proposed amendments to § 61.129(a)(3)(ii) and appendix D to part 141 for single engine airplane ratings do not impose any new regulatory requirements on pilots or part 141 pilot schools.[46] The FAA believes that applicants for the commercial pilot practical test or flight instructor practical test for a multiengine rating need to continue to demonstrate skill and proficiency in a complex airplane as defined in the practical test standards. For that reason, the FAA is not proposing to make any related substantive revisions to the requirement to use a complex or turbine-powered airplane to complete the training required for multiengine airplanes in § 61.129(b)(3)(ii) and appendix D to part 141, other than clarifying amendments to eliminate redundancies in the current regulatory text. As noted, the vast majority of multiengine airplanes are complex, and there should be no significant burden on these applicants to provide a multiengine complex airplane for the multiengine practical test.

III. AMENDMENTS TO COMMERCIAL PILOT AND FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR PRACTICAL TEST STANDARDS

The FAA notes that the proposed amendments to § 61.129(a)(3)(ii) and appendix D to part 141 necessitate coordinated revisions to the practical test standards for commercial pilots and flight instructors. The Commercial Pilot Practical Test Standards for Airplane require a pilot to use a complex airplane for takeoff and landing maneuvers and appropriate emergency tasks for the initial practical test for a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane category. Similarly, the Flight Instructor Practical Test Standards for Airplane require an instructor candidate to use a complex airplane for the performance of takeoff and landing maneuvers as well as appropriate emergency procedures.

Because an applicant for a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane category single engine class rating would no longer be required to complete training in a complex airplane, the FAA would revise the practical test standards to permit the use of a TAA in place of a complex or turbine-powered airplane during the single engine airplane practical test. The FAA would also revise the flight instructor single engine airplane practical test standards to permit the flight instructor applicant to use a TAA during the practical test. The FAA acknowledges that no longer requiring flight instructors seeking an airplane category single engine class rating to take the practical test in a complex airplane could result in a flight instructor not being evaluated specifically on complex airplane tasks and maneuvers.

Although under the proposed rule an instructor would not necessarily be evaluated during the practical test in a complex airplane, the FAA believes that the current training and endorsement required to act as PIC of a complex Start Printed Page 29732airplane set forth in § 61.31, in conjunction with the flight instructor’s demonstrated knowledge of the fundamentals of instruction, is sufficient to ensure that type of training is provided effectively. The FAA notes that this ability to provide training without having been evaluated on a practical test is consistent with other § 61.31 endorsements including high performance aircraft, tailwheel aircraft, or high altitude operations.

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