By Darryll Benson
A new idea is blowing in the aviation wind: allowing certified flight instructors to be automatically allowed by the FAA to fly paying passengers on trips of up to 300 nautical miles in length, for compensation. Heretofore, CFIs were not allowed to carry paying passengers from one airport to another unless they were part of a Part 135 air-taxi operation. However, the majority of CFIs have, at some time or another, taken passengers somewhere and dropped them off for a fee, logging it as a "lesson." Not legal, but safe, efficient, time effective, and done often in some areas.
I live in an area where there is no air taxi operation and the closest airport to find one is more than 100 miles away. However, we have a CFII on our small airport who is a retired military transport pilot. Who better than he to give me a ride somewhere? But, can he legally fly me to the international airport? In a word, no.
Now a remedy may be at hand. Dr. Barry Creighton, who wrote the book "IFR Made Easy" many years ago, and who is a college lecturer in aviation at Butte College, has sent a proposal for a new rule to allow CFIs automatically to have an exemption to fly passengers as an air taxi, provided they have certain particulars. First, the CFI must be a U.S. citizen. I like this post-September 11 requirement.
Second, he or she must have the following: They must be a rated commercial pilot; they must have logged 1000 hours or more; they must possess a second class medical certificate (which is an FAA requirement for commercial pilots); and they must limit their activities to day visual conditions (VFR) and continue to be a flight instructor.
Why is this important you ask? Flight instructors are the foundation of flight instruction. Without flight instructors, who would train the new pilots? The military only trains the pilots they need, and even they use non-military flight instructors. Historically, flight instructors become CFIs to build time to earn an Airline Transport Pilot certificate. Then, they go off to the airlines. Because of this, people who own flight schools exploit the new CFIs by paying dirt-cheap wages: not enough to live on, have a family, or even buy health insurance. If the flight school charges $35 per hour, the CFI is lucky to see $11 per hour, and only gets paid for the time they actually fly, not while they are sitting around. If they are lucky, that adds up to 20 hours a week.
However, there are many great instructors who would just like to instruct. Many are like my instructor, the retired (Lt. Col.) military pilot instructor at our airport. They would like to be professional flight instructors for their career. If they are allowed under federal regulations to operate as small, independent air taxi services, they would earn a decent living and provide a great service to the transportation industry and their customers.
When I fly someplace, I want the most competent person at the controls. And, since CFIs train pilots to become air taxi pilots under the federal laws and regulations, who better than a flight instructor to be driving your plane? Especially when your family is with you, right?
Darryll Benson has been a pilot since 1965 and is semi-retired. He manages flight operations for a private firm in Europe and occasionally writes aviation articles.
By Eric Basile
I write to express my opinions on the recent proposal to allow certificated flight instructors to conduct air taxi operations without complying with the provisions of Part 135 of the Federal Aviation Regulations.
I submit that this proposal has serious problems and should not be adopted, for the following reasons:
1. Adequate provision already exists for VFR operations under Part 135.
Federal Aviation Regulations already address providing charters under VFR conditions. The minimum PIC requirement is 500 hours total time, which is much lower than this proposal. The difference between what Dr. Creighton proposes and what the FAA already has in place is that the FAA requires recordkeeping, inspections, and a minimum standard of safety.
This proposal offers none of these things. The proposal only serves to add a giant loophole to the already existing regulations and disembowels the provisions of Part 135.
2. The proposed experience requirements are arbitrary and capricious.
A CFI certificate has no bearing on a particular pilot's experience or skill level when it comes to flying air taxi operations. The aeronautical knowledge and pilot standards to obtain a CFI certificate are not any more specialized or unique than those for the commercial certificate.
The requirement to possess this certificate, to have two years' experience as an instructor, and to give 10 hours of dual annually have no validity or purpose in this area.
3. The proposal fails to provide an adequate standard of safety for pilot training, recency of experience, aeronautical knowledge, and safe conduct of flight operations.
Pilots operating under Part 135 undergo a comprehensive initial training program consisting of flight and ground training. This proposal offers no specialized training beyond obtaining a CFI certificate.
Pilots operating under Part 135 are subject to regular checkrides to ensure proficiency and safety. This proposal offers no regular recurrent training.
Part 135 operators are required to establish detailed operating specifications governing all aspects of flight operations. This proposal offers no guidance in this area.
Pilots under Part 135 are subject to drug and alcohol testing. This proposal fails to address this serious subject.
4. This proposal fails to provide an adequate standard of safety for aircraft airworthiness.
Aircraft operated under Part 135 are held to a significantly higher standard of maintenance, including more repetitive inspections, mandatory compliance with Service Bulletins, and formal procedures for maintenance including the development of a repair manual. This proposal only includes the bare minimum of maintenance under Part 91.
Maintenance conducted under Part 135 is under frequent surveillance from the FAA. This is a rarity for Part 91 operators.
Critical life-limited aircraft components such as propellers, engines, and accessories are required to be overhauled at TBO under Part 135. The proposal does not address this issue.
5. This proposal fails to provide an adequate standard of safety with respect to pilot fatigue and duty-time limitations.
Pilots operating under Part 135 are subject to stringent duty- and flight-time limitations that are enforced by the FAA. This proposal offers no limitations on pilot duty time or flight time.
6. The present state of the aviation insurance industry will not allow for the practical implementation of the proposal.
As you are no doubt aware, insurance costs for air taxi operators have increased ridiculously. Underwriters require extremely high levels of experience to fly even simple aircraft under VFR. Many operators are begging to keep pilots with many thousands of hours of experience on their insurance policy, or have to deal with astronomical premiums.
Many insurance carriers require recurrent training (often at an approved school). The proposal does not include any provisions for this.
The proposal presents an unreasonably high level of risk for the insurance carrier. I submit that no underwriter would be willing to accept this level of risk. The proposal appears to ignore this issue completely and expects that coverage will miraculously become available without any guarantees of recurrent training or checking.
7. This proposal may create a more desperate economic situation than already exists.
The proposal would create unreasonable competition for operators who are forced to operate within the constraints of Part 135. It unfairly treats operators who have invested considerable time and financial resources in maintaining safe, efficient operations in compliance with all FAA regulations.
The proposal would contribute to a continued decline in pilot wages for operations of this type. Consumer demand for lower costs could mean some operators would pay their CFIs very little or perhaps nothing for the "privilege" of building this time.
Consumer demand for lower costs may pressure operators to neglect aircraft maintenance ... this is precisely the situation Part 135 was designed to prevent!
Operators under Part 135 will not be able to compete with the lower wages and operating costs of their non-certified competitors, and may be forced to lay off pilots.
8. This proposal is not economically feasible for most FBOs or flight instructors to participate in.
The unavailability or high-cost of insurance for this type of operation will eliminate any potential profit from this operation.
The market for VFR charters of this nature is extremely limited and is already adequately covered by existing VFR Part 135 operators.
Most charter customers require their pilots to be instrument rated.
Many charter customers require two pilots for their operations.
The climate of most geographical locations in the U.S. does not allow for VFR operations to be conducted on any regular basis.
9. This proposal attempts to bypass existing regulations that create a standard of safety for commercial operations. This contradicts the FAA's statutory obligation to promote aviation safety.
10. The proposal appears to be offered only as a method for low-time CFIs to find another way to make money and build time, and not for any public benefit.
Other opportunities exist to build time and money outside of the instructional environment -- flying skydivers, towing gliders, powerline/pipeline patrol, etc.
CFIs who meet the 500-hour requirement are more than welcome to apply for employment with an established VFR Part 135 operation.
Furthermore, the type of operation proposed is not generally considered to be "valuable" to employers such as airlines or corporate aviation. These employers place a premium on IFR experience. Many employers also value CFI experience above single-pilot flying, as it develops crew coordination and improves communication skills.
11. Dr. Creighton comments: "We need to keep Certified Flight Instructors (CFI) in the occupation, and make the profession more 'desirable' as a terminal career choice for those considering a career in aviation."
This proposal is not an appropriate method to deal with that situation. It is never reasonable to expose the general public to increased risk to justify a new "opportunity" for low-time pilots.
Furthermore, as long as the opportunity to fly bigger and faster aircraft exists outside of flight instruction, it will not be possible to retain young CFIs by letting them fly VFR cross-countries in single-engine airplanes.
You will stand a better chance of retaining career teachers by addressing the fundamental issues that plague this occupation -- low wages, lack of affordable benefits, and poor working conditions.
Eric Basile is first and foremost an active flight instructor. He is presently the Chief Flight Instructor for Livingston Aviation in Waterloo, Iowa. He is a Gold Seal instructor and FAA Aviation Safety Counselor. Additionally, he is an IFR-qualified pilot in Part 135 operations.