Monday, September 21, 2009


The FAA has proposed some interesting changes to Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulation, entitled "Aeronautics and Space." Some of the proposed modifications reflect changes in the aircraft that are available for pilot training while other changes seem to simply have commerce in mind. Here's my rundown on some of the more important changes and some of the questions they raise. The public has until midnight, November 30, 2009 to comment on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Complex Aircraft
I've written before about the problems surrounding how the FAA defines a complex aircraft, which is the type of aircraft that must be used to train flight instructors and commercial pilots. Here's what the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking had to say:
The current definition of a ‘‘complex airplane’’ in § 61.31(e) requires that the airplane have a retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable pitch propeller.

One way around this problem has been to use a twin-engine aircraft (virtually all of these meet the current definition of "complex aircraft") to train instructors and commercial pilots, then use a fixed-gear aircraft to add the single-engine rating to the candidate's multi-engine instructor or commercial certificate. Using a twin for the initial training is much more expensive for the applicant since two engines burn a lot of fuel and multi-engine aircraft are expensive to operate. Unfortunately, the new definition of "complex aircraft" doesn't do much to address the situation. Continuing to quote the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (emphasis mine):
... a number of training providers have complained to the FAA that they have had to keep older airplanes in their inventory that meet this current § 61.31(e) ‘‘complex airplane’’ definition for providing commercial pilot and flight instructor training of § 61.129(a)(3)(ii) or § 61.129(b)(3)(ii) and the additional training requirements of § 61.31(e). To remove this unnecessary burden, we are proposing to consider an airplane equipped with a FADEC system as being equivalent to one having a controllable pitch propeller.

Now if you think that the FAA is addressing the problem that there really is only one single-engine complex training aircraft (the Piper Arrow) and only one multi-engine training aircraft (the Piper Seminole) currently being manufactured, think again. Near as I can tell, the change to the definition of complex aircraft only affects one aircraft - the twin-engine Diamond DA42. The DA42 meets all the requirements of the current definition of complex aircraft, except for the fact that the propeller is not directly controllable by the pilot - it's controlled by FADEC (Full Authority Direct Engine Control). So the new definition simply allows the DA42 to be consider a complex aircraft. Unencumbered by facts, here's what the NPR says about the costs associated with this change:
Small businesses that would be affected by the revised definition of ‘‘complex airplane’’ would be schools and training providers. Many pilot schools would not have to keep an inventory of two kinds of airplanes to meet the commercial pilot and flight instructor certification requirements. This would engender cost savings, which the FAA estimates at $1,000 per
airplane annually.

With all due respect, what are they smoking? Unless Cessna or Piper has plans to manufacture a new single-engine, retractable gear trainer that has FADEC, the new definition of complex aircraft does nothing to change the fact that many flight schools will still to have to keep old Cessna 172RGs, Piper Arrows, Mooneys or other aged aircraft in order to train single-engine flight instructors and commercial pilots. And of the flight schools that train initial instructor and commercial candidates in twins, I can't imagine that many of them can afford to drop half a million-plus dollars to buy a Diamond DA42. While this change is good news for Diamond Aircraft, it doesn't seem to address the problems faced by smaller flight schools.

Combined Private & Instrument
Under the current rules, holding a private pilot certificate is a prerequisite for applying for an instrument rating. Under the proposed rules, pilots would be allowed to apply for their private certificate and their instrument rating concurrently. Here's the rationale:
Historically, accident statistics show that all weather-related accidents account for approximately 4.0 percent of total accidents. For single engine airplanes with a fixed landing gear, the airplane used predominantly by both student and private pilots, by far the largest weather-related accident cause is continuing to fly under VFR into IMC. This occurs when a pilot encounters changing weather conditions and does not land prior to encountering IMC. The proposed rule change would permit private pilot applicants to combine their private pilot and instrument training, which would improve their skills to operate in IMC and should reduce weather-related accidents. Thus, the FAA is proposing to revise § 61.65(a)(1) to allow applicants for an instrument rating to concurrently apply for a private pilot certificate.

Combining private pilot training and instrument training makes sense for large part 141 schools like Embry Riddle or Middle Tennessee State University, which interestingly enough already had an exemption to do this. This rule change simply benefits other part 141 schools who wish to seek approval to do the same thing.

It's not clear to me if or how this would affect pilots who train under part 61 since one prerequisite for the instrument rating is 50 hours of pilot-in-command cross country experience. Since the only time a student pilot can log PIC time is when they are solo, they'd have to log a lot of solo PIC cross country time and receive an endorsement from an authorized instructor for each and every solo cross-country flight. Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think this is what the FAA intended and it doesn't seem to increase flight safety. In fact, it might do just the opposite.

Complex Aircraft Experience for Commercial Candidates

The current rules require commercial pilot candidates have 10 hours of aeronautical experience in a complex aircraft, but the proposal is to replace that requirement with 10 hours of "advanced instrument training" in an aircraft, flight simulator, or approved flight training device. Here's the proposed definition of advanced instrument training:
... must include instrument approaches consisting of both precision and nonprecision approaches, holding at navigational radio stations, intersections, waypoints, and crosscountry flying that involved performing takeoff, area departure, enroute, area arrival, approach, and missed approach phases of flight.
First, there isn't much about this training that would seem to warrant the adjective "advanced." All of the items listed involve basic tasks and areas of operation included in the instrument rating practical test standards. What this change will allow is for commercial candidates to save some dough by logging these 10 hours in a simulator or flight training device, but it's not clear to me that this will result in better pilot training. It will also help candidates who are training for the commercial certificate and their instrument rating concurrently. Wait, I thought that in the future some pilots were going to get their instrument rating when they got their private pilot certificate? At least the FAA's proposal continues the tradition of keeping the rules and regulations confusing.

The NPR also contains this:
The FAA proposes to revise the
Commercial Pilot Certification—Airplane Single Engine (Land and Sea) rating because fewer single-engine airplanes are being produced with retractable landing gears. Manufacturers of general aviation airplanes now produce technologically advanced airplanes with ‘‘glass cockpits,’’ but which do not have retractable landing gears. Many pilot schools have complained about the necessity to keep 30-year old Cessna 172RGs and Piper Arrows in inventory, which are less technically advanced airplanes, for the sole purpose of providing 10 hours of complex airplane training.
Call me crazy, but the Commercial Pilot Airplane and Flight Instructor Airplane practical test standards still require the use of a complex aircraft for the practical test, so these schools will still have to keep the old aircraft around for folks to take their check rides. Unless the FAA has plans to change the commercial PTS, too ...

Proficiency Checks for Single-Engine Turbojets
Even though the economy has tanked, there is the belief that soon there will be a fair number of singe-engine jet aircraft that will most likely be piloted by the owners. Sensing that these aircraft could become the next breed of so-called "Doctor killers," the FAA is proposing that the folks who pilot these aircraft should demonstrate proficiency on a regular basis. I'm sure the insurance companies will also require regular recurrent training, too, but this seems like a sound idea.

Sound off!
If you'd like to comment on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, try using this link


Julien said...

Thanks for that John. Being based in Australia these changes do not affect me directly, but our regulator draws a lot of inspiration from the way things are done in the US, so I wouldn't be surprised if similar-sounding proposed changes appeared on this side of the Pacific.

Now, I'm with you on the silliness of proposing FADEC as a solution to what is essentially a retractable landing gear problem.

No-one argues that we need to remove the requirement for a retractable, so what would be a good solution?

If we go back to the spirit of the law, what would a "complex aircraft" be if we had to come up with a definition today, unencumbered by the previous definition? Apart from cruise airspeed, there is less difference between systems and instrumentation in basic trainers and advanced single-engine piston aircraft today as there was decades ago. Compare a Skycatcher with a Cirrus SR22 for example.

What would you propose as a definition of "complex aircraft" that fits today's airplanes?

John Ewing said...


Excellent question! And a tough question, too.

Why not keep the current definition of complex aircraft, but add another definition: technically advanced aircraft? And here's a possible definition for TAA.

A technically advanced aircraft is one equipped with 1) an electronic primary flight display
2) an electronic multi-function display with moving map
3) an IFR-approved GPS navigation receiver
4) a 2- or 3-axis autopilot

Then change the Commercial Pilot Airplane ASE practical test standards to allow the use of either a complex aircraft or a technically-advanced aircraft.

Clearly, something substantive has to be done and the current NPR isn't enough even though it claims it solves the retractable gear aircraft conundrum.

Ron said...


I like your solution to the commercial training aircraft dilemma. The TAA airplanes are much harder to master than the traditional "complex" aircraft. In fact, the main challenges of the "complex" singles have more to do with their age than any particular system.

Regarding the proposal to allow an applicant to go for the private and instrument at the same time, I think that's a bad idea. In my experience, the post-private PIC flight time does wonders for a new pilot's confidence and experience. A lot of learning takes place at the this point, despite the lack of an instructor in the airplane.

I feel bad opposing a cost-reducing change in the regulations, but I really feel this is a poor concept. Just because ERAU does it doesn't mean it's right.

Anonymous said...

*** Commercial PTS ***

Change 2 dated 2/03/09

• Page 7, changed to reflect Notice 8000.331 (inactive, but can be found
at, Airplanes Equipped with Retractable
Landing Gear, Flaps, and FADEC Meet the Definition of a Complex

*** Instructor PTS ***
Change 3 dated 2/03/09

• Page 10, changed to reflect Notice 8000.331 (inactive, but can be
found at, Airplanes Equipped with Retractable
Landing Gear, Flaps, and FADEC Meet the Definition of a Complex


See the updated definition of "Complex" in Commercial and Flight Instructor PTS's - The controllable pitch propeller has been replaced by FADEC.

If they have already updated the PTS, what is this NPR referring to ?


John Ewing said...


I'm not necessarily a proponent of allowing student pilots to simultaneously apply for a private certificate and an instrument rating. I was just pointing out that, given the way the proposed changes are worded, it would not seem to preclude a student pilot who receives training under part 61 to attempt the same thing. They would have to log a bunch of solo cross-country flights in order to meet the 50 hour prerequisite.

I think the wording needs to explicitly state that a private pilot certificate is not a prerequisite for an instrument rating for candidates who have received training under an approved part 141 training course.

I agree that a lot is learned in those first 50 or so hours a private pilot flies and that no part 141 curriculum, no matter how well designed, can replace that experience.


I believe the FAA's intent is simply trying to codify the new definition of complex aircraft in the regulations rather than have it be part of a set of "interpretations" and PTS notes. Don't quote me on that as I am neither a lawyer nor an expert on the CFR ...

Anonymous said...

Since someone mentioned "TAA" ...
I don't believe the current definition of "TAA" is appropriate. I wouldn't consider steam gauges, moving map, IFR GPS and AP as being technologically advanced. The autopilot is getting close. That being said, the instrument (in particular) PTS needs to be changed to incorporate tasks to assure proficiency in the operation of APs when the aircraft is so equipped.

Frankly, full glass (Garmin G1000, Avidyne, etc.) come much closer to TAA. More to the point, my suggestion to the FAA is that: (1) if the instrument checkride is taken in an aircraft with a traditional six pack, an endorsement be required before the pilot can fly in IMC using a "full glass cockpit"; (2) if the instrument checkride is taken in an aircraft with full glass, the pilot is prohibited from flying in IMC using a tradition six pack until an endorsement is obtained; (3) TAA would be changed to mean "full glass" systems (not just moving map); (4) an "autopilot" endorsement be required for the pilot before AP equiped aircraft can be used in IMC; and, (5) there be a minimum transition training time between six pack and glass based systems.

Dennis Erskine, CFI/CFII/MEI
Atlanta, Georgia