Australia May Slash Flight Time For Co-pilots

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Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) said on Tuesday that it plans to introduce a new multi-crew pilot license. The license would be issued to pilots who train specifically to become a first officer in an air-transport operation, and would require just 240 hours of total time, with 70 hours of that in an actual aircraft, and only 10 hours solo. Current rules require at least 1,500 hours total time. The change would be allowed under new international rules due to take effect in November. CASA says the aim of the rule change is to improve air safety, but Australia's aviation community already is speaking out against it.

The International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations and the Australian and International Pilots Association have expressed grave concerns with the proposal. Bryan Murray, president of the Australian Federation of Air Pilots, says simulator training is no substitute for real-world flying experience. "Simulators don't have inertia, and a new candidate would not necessarily sense a danger or a lack of a safe condition that might otherwise be sensed if he was in a real aeroplane. You know at the end of the day that you can step away from that simulator," he told an ABC reporter.

"Traditional methods of training pilots emphasize independence and individual skills," CASA wrote in a news release. "The training behind the proposed new licence is designed to embed multi-crew teamwork from the very start of training, which will lift safety standards. ... Claims that the changes will put safety at risk have been firmly rejected by CASA." Training for the multi-crew license would last a year, focusing on large-aircraft flying skills, crew resource management and threat and error management. CASA doesn't say what would happen if the multi-crew situation were to suddenly change. In the U.K. last month, a Ryanair flight had to divert and land after the captain was incapacitated due to illness. The first officer took over and landed the airplane without incident.