FAA Rapped On Pilot Skills

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The FAA isn't doing enough to ensure pilots can actually fly well enough to take over if aircraft flight management systems fail, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press. The AP says the unreleased report from the Transportation Department's Office of Inspector General is critical of the FAA's lack of oversight on pilot flying skills. "Because FAA hasn't determined how carriers should implement the new requirements or evaluated whether pilots' manual flying time has increased, the agency is missing important opportunities to ensure that pilots maintain skills needed to safely fly and recover in the event of a failure with flight deck automation or an unexpected event," AP quoted the report as saying. 

The FAA is working on the issue. In 2013 it issued a safety alert to airlines urging them to get pilots to brush up on their manual flying skills but as sometimes happens the bureaucratic baggage that goes with that kind of recommendation is bogging down implementation. The OIG says the FAA hasn't yet come up with the rules on manual flying and even when it does, airlines have until 2019 to comply. And with further automation coming into the picture with ADS-B and NextGen, there will be even less stick time for pilots in the future, the AP quotes the report as saying. "The opportunities air carrier pilots have during live operations to maintain proficiency in manual flight are limited and likely to diminish," the report said. "While the FAA has taken steps to emphasize the importance of pilots' manual flying and monitoring skills, the agency can and should do more to ensure that carriers are sufficiently training their pilots on these skills." For what it's worth, the report apparently says the FAA agrees with those sentiments and hopes to have the new rules ready in about a year.

UPDATE: The full report has now been posted at the DOT-OIG website