With the current rush to provide pilots for airline jobs, modern flight training facilities often miss essential piloting skills. Most academy-style flight training programs are not creating pilots, they are making “co-pilots” for the airlines. The current partial preparation reminds me of the Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL) of years back (2006), when pilots were partially trained to just occupy the right seat (with no eventual upgrade to captain). This effort produced very mixed results. These “partial pilots,” with minimal skills, were trained specifically to fill the right seat in a two-person crew. The theory was that the airlines, and other future employers would provide continuing “Competency-Based Training” and regulatory support to fill the gaps and make safe two-person crews. In this case the pilots were never expected (or allowed) to upgrade to captains. The current FAA academy push is creating fully credentialed pilots (sometimes without the requisite skills) and turning them loose in the NAS. A future GA pilot with that same academy-style training is certainly unprepared for the more challenging flight environment they will encounter while solo. With new PDPIC regulations, most new CFI (even with added IFR and multi-engine privileges) only have 5 hours of real solo.
Being a solo pilot in any operation creates a 7x safety penalty. And the GA flight environment offers the added safety challenges of flying diverse terrain and equipment without regulatory restraint or system support (where is my dispatcher dude?) GA flying demands greater personal skill and responsibility without providing any additional training and support personnel. Newly-graduated GA pilots have only their personal sense of caution to keep them safe; it is a largely unregulated system. If most recent academy graduates had to fly VFR solo and find an airport (especially without a GPS and pink line) they would probably need aerial refueling and a new seat cushion.
One primary reason the GA accident rate is so much higher than the airlines is probably because GA allows much greater flexibility, freedom and fun. Airline and corporate flying are designed to be intensely standardized, highly regulated and essentially boring; that is how we create safety (no surprises please!) But consider all the endless possibilities of GA flying and the lack of systemic support. GA pilots are largely on their own to create the plan and master the challenges. The most critical safety failure is managing the freedom; being able to say “no” and park it. The brief VFR training delivered by most academy programs with limited solo does not prepare a GA pilot for these challenges (though the ACS risk management is a huge step forward). It is not uncommon on pilot applications to see only 5 hours even at the CFI level (the private pilot time under 141). Consequently, most modern pilots have a serious lack of VFR skills and PIC confidence.
This is again an example of the damage done by pursuing absolute minimums in flight training. A CFI-PRO™ solves this deficiency by adding some “real solo” strategically into a flight training course at various points and covering the essential skills not in the ACS. This builds the necessary skills and confidence to create a more complete pilot in command ready for the GA challenge. Injecting some VFR in the middle of IFR training is also a great change-up and provides a psychological break to motivate your learner. (IFR test candidates are often miserable at landing due to their lack of pattern practice).
Ironically, even for airline candidates, these extra hours will be required later for their magic 1500 hours anyway. Spending a few more hours before beginning instrument training to reinforce the VFR skills is also a worthwhile investment for any pilot in training. It is amazing in a two-person corporate crew, how many new pilots have no idea (or confidence) to fly VFR (or hand fly) even for small segments even where safety might be *enhanced.* Solo flight time, hand flying and VFR skills are an essential parts of the pilot toolkit. All airline programs are reporting excessive IOE times preparing candidates to actually hand fly in command at a professional leve. Learn these skills early and keep them sharp. Fly safely out there (and often)!
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