FAA Bill Stalled At Senate Committee


After a promising start on Wednesday, the process to reauthorize funding for the FAA came to a halt Thursday when the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee indefinitely postponed markup of its bill. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed its version of the bill unanimously in a rare show of bipartisanship, but their Senate counterparts are concerned about measures to address the pilot shortage. There has been no official word on when the discussions might resume but sources told CNN it will likely be after the July 4 break. The current reauthorization ends in September.

Senate committee Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wa., said there is deep concern among some members about increasing the simulator component of airline pilot training. Current regs require pilots to have 1,500 hours to become airliner first officers and the bill would allow another 150 of that to be done in a sim. Opponents say it will water down the current requirement, which was enacted in 2010 following the 2009 crash of a Colgan regional flight near Buffalo, New York. There are other sticking points emerging from the bill. A provision to raise the mandatory retirement age for pilots from 65 to 67 is attracting opposition as is the proposal to add more slots to Reagan National Airport in Washington, which opponents say will increase the number of flight delays at DCA.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. I think the Sen Cantwell doesn’t fully appreciate the value of sim hours. 150 hours in a simulator can be worth 1000 hours of droning around in the actual airplane. If the sim instructors are on their game you can learn that emergency procedures are not a huge problem.Military pilots jump into Jets with about 300 hours of flying and maybe 300 hours of sim time. When training fighter pilots in a sim, my students often got out of the sim sweating and perhaps even laughing since they had lost one or both engines from enemy fire, complete loss of electronics, serious flight control problems, negotiating thunderstorms and finally ejecting, oh, and maybe 3 warning lights just after V1, all in a 2 hour simulator mission.

    • As with almost everything else Congress does, we can be confident that the most influential voices in crafting this bill will be those Senators who know the least about aviation, but are absolutely sure of themselves nonetheless.

  2. I have not seen the bill, but I will opine that term simulator has different meanings to different people. Certainly there should be no concern about level D or even Level C simulators. At the opposite end, Aviation Training Devices, are also useful — in my experience of providing flight instruction — the can be very useful with high skill transfer even in initial flight training. However, there are limitations, which are reflected in the current regulations. If the 150 hours refers to full simulators, there should be no “concern.” If the 150 includes ATDs, then that is something to be discussed. Please, don’t hold up funding while that issue is being studied or debated!

  3. I suggest that the senators go watch a simulator session to better understand what that means. The ability to do things that would be really dangerous in the airplane is a great advangage, as is the ability to repeatedly do the same exercise.

  4. I came of professional piloting age while airlines, Eastern, Braniff, PanAm, National, et all were dropping like flies. Even DAL had 500 furloughed during the downturn. I say that because I recognize I have a confirmation bias to actual professional flight experience, what some call drilling holes in the sky.

    I contend even if it’s giving instruction in a 172, flying tourists, banners or pipeline, this presents real world, life and death decision making regarding:

    Decisions regarding maintenance issues, weather decisions (the boss pressures you to fly), my first smoke in the cockpit, engine failures, hydraulic (gear) failures, Nav and Com radio failures, ill passengers, hysterical passengers, flight into un-forecast weather all while flying students, maintenance test flights, for at least 6,000 hours. I just hung around on days off, mow the lawn, clean and sandblast parts, scrape paint, on the chance I might get to log an hour in a Musketeer. I learned airplanes that haven’t flown for a long time were to be respected if not feared, and preflighted by myself and at least another pilot, and to try to con the mechanic to go with us.

    Heck, in an old logbook I logged 0.3 hours taking a 150 around the patch to warm up the oil for a change.

    As I look back, I realize I was learning the magnitude and basics of Aeronautical Decision Making which formed my ability to say no to a dispatcher and demand an adequate fuel load, call a chief Pilot when being pressured by crew scheduling, evaluate my fatigue and my crew members fatigue levels etc …

    Don’t get my gist wrong. My current outfits AQP scenarios, EET Training, recurrent oral exams, and multi-media training materials absolutely have taken my understanding of large airplane energy and safety management that obviously is invaluable. Not to mention the current state of standardization of procedures continuing to improve.

    I take the experience of the BE 1900 guy who survived a few winters in the North East corridor for a high pressure outfit as just as valuable, if not more valuable than regional ab-initio 1,500 hour RJ pilot.

    Like I said it might be bias on my part, but I never discount the 5,000 hour light aircraft pilots decision making. They just need to learn larger airplane energy management skills when transitioning, just like I would extensive recurrent training if I climbed into a WACO or a Stearman again.

    I suspect the sine wave that is this industry’s DNA will eventually swing back to a pilot surplus and valuable CFI jobs requiring a dark suit and conservative tie with shined shoes.

    Regardless of Sim time being given extra legal credit.

    Never discount the CFI’s skills or experience, they’re not just drilling holes in the sky.

  5. The 1500hr FO requirement was a pilot union payoff and did nothing to address the causes of the Colgan 3407 crash, whose pilot had 3379hrs and FO who had 2244hrs. Lack of experience had no bearing on this crash. The requirement broke the pilot training process in the US, creating desired pilot scarcity. Quality of FOs dropped, as the right seat had 1500hrs PIC in a Cessna instead of 250hrs Cessna and 1250hrs commercial jet.