FAA Urges More Stick Time For Airline, Charter Pilots


Airline and charter pilots may be in for more stick and rudder time assuming a new proposed advisory circular makes it through the 30-day comment period. The FAA has issued a draft of the AC on Flightpath Management and it includes a host of measures the agency wants operators to include in training and operations to ensure pilots can get from A to B safely. The AC isn’t prescriptive. Rather, it “provides guidance and recommended practices for operators to implement operational procedures and training for the planning, execution, and assurance of the guidance and control of aircraft trajectory and energy.” Much of the document addresses monitoring and tweaking the automatic systems that do most of the work these days but there’s a big section on ensuring pilots literally keep their hands in when doing their jobs.

The AC suggests some operators demand pilots rely too much on the magic boxes and it wants them to make sure they remain current and proficient in hand flying the aircraft. In so many words, the AC says pilots may not be getting enough stick time and that “may contribute to a gap between proficiency in MFO and the ability of pilots to perform manual operations when various situations require immediate manual control,” and that operators “should ensure there are appropriate opportunities for pilots to exercise manual flying skills during line operations.”

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  1. Totally agree, many mainline pilots have the autopilot on after clean-up and leave it on until intercepting the final approach course. Typically the total “stick” time is less than 5 minutes. Adding to the degradation of skills, most of the hands-on flying is on the flight director. Stick and rudder flying is a perishable skill. When it is safe to do so, turn off the automation and fly some raw data approaches, after takeoff fly the aircraft up to cruise altitude without using the autopilot, etc. When the automation fails you will be ready to safely keep the aircraft doing what you want it to do.

  2. Absolutely. Many speak of the “Miracle on the Hudson “ but how would that flight have played out if the pilot hadn’t been proficient in flying a non powered aircraft.
    Witness the two pilots in a 777 who watched while their aircraft followed a NOTAM ‘d inop glide slope and landed short of the runway on a beautiful VFR day. Maybe a little ‘stick time’ in a Luscome or Aeronca Champ might be good for a heavy iron driver.

    • Except a Luscome or Champ have very little in common with big iron, other than having wings and an engine. Even less in common when you factor in FBW systems.

      The military apparently has a phrase “train like you fight”, and pilots should also “train like you fly”. And if that means they aren’t hand flying enough when they could, they should train to hand fly more often.

      • Well, that is something I think is missed a lot. Somewhere in the beginning of the Airplane Flying Handwork, it is emphasized that all airplanes have the same controls and a pilot who has been taught the proper way to use them can fly any airplane. Flying a simple airplane would emphasize the basic purpose and use of the controls in conjunction with basic visual and instrument references.

        • The AFH is wrong with that simplification. In fact, that simplification (or that mindset) killed a lot of people in the MU-2 because it doesn’t have ailerons yet it still has a yoke. Swept wings also behave fundamentally differently than straight wings, as do FBW aircraft.

          The concept of basic aerodynamics is generally the same across aircraft, but the means in which you manipulate the lifting surface(s) is not a universal constant.

          • Those issues could indicate weaknesses in the fundamentals. I flew a Lear once around the pattern (possible 135 co-pilot job with the PIC and instructor in the right seat). Best I can remember he adjusted the power for proper speed, but I was controlling the flight path in the entire pattern, never before having touched the controls of a Lear. I did the same thing I did daily in a Skyhawk, which was the same thing I did from day one in a Grumman American. It went well and I received praise from the instructor.

          • Gary:
            You’re conflating FBW with various “enhanced” aircraft control features.
            FBW simply means that traditional control cables and pushrods have been replaced by electric actuators.
            As is the case with hydraulically boosted controls, FBW doesn’t change the way that pilots fly airplanes. Pull back on the yoke, and the elevator moves upwards, etc. The pilot has no idea what sits between the yoke and the elevator.

          • Yars:
            Yes, I know FBW means there’s no physical connection. But with most modern FBW systems, pulling back or pushing left does not just move the control surfaces in the “normal” manner unless it’s operating in some direct mode. When you bank the plane, depending on the control laws and mode, it will also hold altitude for you. That’s fundamentally different than how a Cub operates. But you already knew that.

            Look up the SFAR for the Mu-2. It has a fundamentally different roll control method from a Cub. If you fly it like a Cub, it will kill you, hence the special flight training. And the Mu-2 is just one specific example. The F-14 (I know, not GA) also used spoiler for roll control, and it too killed people because of this (until it received a DFCS). The Ercoupe is on the opposite side, where you actually have to land it in a crab in a strong crosswind, unless you’re flying one that has been converted to a typical control method.

            The flight controls used in an aircraft *does* make a difference in how it is flown. Sure, all aircraft with direct control to rudder, ailerons, and elevators will generally behave the same, but even then there are differences (like T-tail vs conventional tail vs V-tail).

          • The MU-2 is different in procedures but not necessarily in flying fundamentals. From what I understand, one example was the flaps. On any airplane the flaps cannot be raised too soon or the airplane will stall. However raising them too soon on the MU-2 is what happened. The problem was, on the MU-2, that they create much more lift than on most airplanes. In an effort to reduce drag, too much lift was also reduced. And that is something the pilot would have to be careful to avoid in any airplane.

          • As a former MU-2 pilot I can tell you that it’s not the spoilerons that were the killer. Yes there is a slight difference in how spoilerons react compared to ailerons on your first time around the pattern but that has no bearing on the issues at hand. It’s full span flaps, getting behind the power curve and letting the autopilot take it to the limit that got lesser experienced pilots in trouble.

    • I don’t see how two incompetent 777 pilots who followed NOTAM’d inop GS relate to the ability, or lack thereof, to dead-stick a jet transport to a glassy water landing. It was probably somewhat of a plus that Captain Sullenberger had a glider rating, but he also had Day VFR conditions with unlimited visibility. Any Airbus 320 pilot placed in the exact same circumstances would have likely headed for the Hudson and used basic attitude flying to maintain at least minimum clean maneuvering speed until it was time use approach flaps. And, as far as Captain Sullenberger making an immediate start of the APU sans checklist, most competent A320 pilots would have done the same.

  3. First we had a SAFO from the FAA recommending avoiding visual approaches and now the FAA wants pilots to get more “stick” time. Maybe a review of what kind of training these pilots are getting when they start flying. Hand flying is something learned at the student pilot level. If students haven’t mastered that at the initial training level how are they going to be able to hand fly a high performance jet. When I was at my company’s sim training provider for a 6 month ride, I was in on a conversation among 3 other check airman complaining about what they saw as a lack of skill in hand flying a visual traffic pattern. Once again that is student pilot stuff. I would love to see how many students learning at a pt141 school are getting their tickets at the 35 hour mark. I’ll bet it is very few.

    • Compared to the video game chore of centering needles by hand it seems obvious that a variety of hand flown visual approaches provide the transport category pilot with far & away the most bang for the hands-on time buck. I still remember riding around Alaska on Wien 737’s in the 70’s and enjoying the work of the front office guys (and a gal or two) as they maneuvered us into some of the tighter spots.

  4. Why not make it mandatory (at minimum during recurrent sim visits)? My suspicion is that many carrier ops specs require autopilot use for the non-critical flight phases, thereby limiting hands on opportunity. And folks wonder why we’re headed to single pilot (or no pilot) cockpits…

  5. Best I can remember from what I read some time ago, there were or were going to be changes made across the industry voluntarily by the airlines to ensure that pilots hand flew more in flight and in sims, as a result I think primarily of the Buffalo, San Francisco, and Air France accidents. The AC may be publishing an official stance for the FAA but I think the practice is basically already in place.

  6. This is one of those “SOUNDS like a good idea!” things, that after thinking about it, really ISN’T.

    The reality is that it really isn’t the best use of a pilot’s time. “Being ahead of the airplane” and “looking out for traffic” is a much better use of time. Just what “hand flying skills” would help in flying jet aircraft? Every takeoff and landing is hand flown–and hand-flying at higher altitudes is difficult–it’s difficult to keep within a couple of hundred feet of altitude. What “improvements” are to be had by hand-flying? By contrast, it is easy to gain or lose a couple of hundred feet. Worse yet, at jet climb rates, it is easy to blow through an assigned altitude–let the autopilot do that–it’s much more likely to bust an altitude when hand flying than to “develop/maintain hand flying skills for the few short minutes when you CAN hand fly.

    A better use of pilot time is to have one pilot flying the aircraft, while the other pilot MONITORS the flying pilot. Hand flying–some pilots hand-fly up to a predetermined altitude–typically 18,000′ (where every aircraft is on standard altitude, and everyone is on an IFR flighrt plan–to FL 250–same on descent.

    Does anyone really think that “aircraft handling” is learned or kept current with straight climbs or gentle turns? Would you have them doing steep turns and stalls? NO–flying a jet airplane is NOT like “keeping current” in a single or light twin–and the climb/descent performance, high altitude characteristics, speed, and complexity are the reasons that SPECIFIC jet type ratings are required. If you want to add any “hand flying proficiency”–make a policy change that encourages pilots to hand fly below a specific altitude–with specific weather minimums–with specified and experienced pilot crew members.

    As for “maintaining flight proficiency in jets by flying small airplanes”–there is little crossover. It’s been said that in some instances, “You can’t average UP”–the same can be said for “can’t average DOWN.”

    • I agree with this up to a point. RVSM rules discourage hand flying above FL290 so I am not advocating hand flying at that altitude. But what happens when all that automation fails? The jets I have flown have an MEL allowing flight with the autopilot inop. Perfectly legal below FL280. Am I going to tell my boss I can’t fly because the autopilot is inop, but legally signed off per MEL? I would be out of a job if I did that. What about maneuvering in the traffic pattern to land? The SFO crash of a 777 with 3 “qualified “ pilots in the cockpit should have never happened. I once had a FO who could not fly a visual approach without help. When he protested when I turned off any automation aids, I told him we had an dual gen failure 30 minutes ago so all the displays are dark. I asked that FO that with the clear VMC weather he was actually going to crash a perfectly flyable airplane because he was unable to figure out how to land just by looking out the window? Flying a visual traffic pattern is student pilot stuff. If an ATP rated pilot with a type rating can’t make the speed and maneuvering adjustments flying a larger and faster airplane then something is really wrong!

    • I think Matt’s thoughts are on point. As a company check pilot back in the olden days, we flew a night BUF-BOS leg. Prior to the first leg, the LoranC failed and was pulled and was not an MEL item. He did not want to take the trip despite the severe clear VFR all the way to the coast and a full complement of instruments state of the art in the day. He flew the first leg VOR-VOR and landed just fine at BUF. On the next leg, I turned off all the nav radios and had him fly the leg. He was in near panic until I explained to him, that the route took us down the center of the Finger Lakes region past Albany and it got very dark past Boston, so when it got dark make a turn toward the lights and he’d find the airport. I flew the first 1/3 of the trip, tuned the radials for Rome/Utica and had him turn the radios on at that point and watch the needles center. They did. While dead reckoning is a thing of the past, the 5G and ease of disruption of GPS signals, including for military testing, stick time including visual navigation in clear air occasionally is a valuable redundancy for when the gadgets don’t work. My personal airplane autopilot is an old Cessna 300 which mainly tracks a course +/- 30 degrees so I’ve hand flown the airplane for 30 years. I will see if my attitude changes once I get the new glass panel and autopilot in this year.

  7. I’m sure they will be a lot of pushback from the major carriers. It’s going to be interesting to see what the GA side has to say. Either way, I totally agree with this request….fly the plane, fly the plane, then fly the plane, and only then do you play with automation. We have a flight deck full of wonderful gadgets nowadays but you still must learn to fly the plane before relying on any one of them.

    I’ve heard that the SR-22 gent told the FAA investigators his ADS-B didn’t indicate close proximity to the SA226 that collided in mid-air. From the photos of the crash, it appeared to be VFR that day.

  8. How about THIS……..FREE TIME IN A SURPLUS T-38 to “improve pilot skills”–loops,rolls, vertical climbs! It makes about as much sense as what is to be gained by slow and smooth “hand flying” with a load of passengers behind you. The skills are NOT the same.

    If you want “positive transfer” of skills, hand-fly the sim. It improves the instrument scan, and give the “tactile feedback” that those who espouse hand-flying seem to want.

    I like flying as much as anybody, but find little correlation between flying jets, a King Air, my Cessna 120, a helicopter, a Lake Amphibian, a glider, and an ultralight that I own. They are all fun, but as far as increasing safety by hand-flying–“not so much”–as they are all different. To be really good at hand-flying, you have to do it in the specific aircraft you normally fly–doing touch and goes in a taildragger doesn’t make you a better “jet driver”–and you likely won’t be doing any 60 degree banks in your Boeing. You don’t become a better race car driver (or truck driver) by practicing in the family car. The industry recognized this, and produced very good simulators–where an action can be taken to its logical conclusion. You can’t make the “positive transfer” argument by flying an aircraft that is totally different in handling, power loading, glide, inertia, roll rate, and engine response.

    To make that claim would mean that you could gain aerobatic proficiency by flying your Cherokee. As much fun as it is to dream about it–it isn’t going to happen. A BETTER (and more FUN!) solution is to fly EVERYTHING more! (smile)

    • I completely disagree. I started in a Grumman American, then progressed through most of the Cessna, Grumman, Piper, Beech models, single and multi, taildragger, Cirrus 20/22, several King Air models, and a Lear once. All of had to do was use the controls the same way I was taught originally in the Grumman American. It’s like driving cars – one may have power steering and another not, but you still do the same with the controls. If the fundamentals are taught correctly in your first airplane, you’ll know what has to be done in all of the rest.