Rep. Higgins ought to reconsider his summary rejection of FSF on Pilot Training and Proficiency

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Higgins pushes back on Flight Safety Foundation’s position on pilot training requirements

Buffalo Representative categorically rejects FSF recommendations on pilot qualification

Says NTSB Colgan Findings support 1,500 hours

NTSB did not mention lack of experience

The 1,500 hour rule draws parallels with Gladwell 10,000 hour

Shouldn’t they talk

Rep. Higgins

Having heard of Flight Safety Foundation Calls for Renewed Focus on Quality for Pilot Training and Proficiency, the Representative from Buffalo categorically rejected it by proclaiming:

Higgins responded, "There is no give-and-take on flight safety. Any effort to give up the flight safety improvements, 
based on lessons learned after Flight 3407 and recommendations made by professionals at the NTSB, threatens the lives 
of passengers. Families in our community know the pain of what happens when tired, inexperienced pilots step into the 
cockpit. We've successfully fought to protect other families from that pain and we're not going back."

Clearly and appropriately the 1,500 hour rule for ATP qualification is strongly held by the Families of Continental 3407[1].  They lobbied Chairman Oberstar to enact §§ 207-217 which prescribed 10 different standards based on that tragedy. § 217 is where the ATP hour requirement was legislated. While a rulemaking process was permitted the minimum hours (six times the previous standard) was mandated.




Here are a few thoughts which might encourage the Congressman to consider whether hearing the Foundation’s research and analysis–


  1. Safety as an Absolute vs. Relative Measure–Based on that legislative history, Higgins[2] asserted that there is “no give-and-take on flight safety.


"Flying is inherently dangerous. We like to gloss that over with clever rhetoric and comforting statistics, 
but these facts remain: gravity is constant and powerful, and speed kills. In combination, they are particularly 

— Dan Manningham, Business and Commercial Aviation magazine.

"Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety."

— William Shakespeare, King Henry the Fourth, Part One.

Safety, as applied to all areas of concern is not an absolute. There is no 100% hospital operation; there is no absolutely safe car; unfortunately, in modern life, there are no certainties as to safety – walking down a street, going to school, attending a sporting event and observing a court room involves some degree of risk.

That said, the FAA as a MATTER OF CONGRESSIONAL MANDATE and OMB requirements, assesses risks. It is axiomatic to say that the only 1000% safe airplane is one on exhibit in a museum.

The “premise” of the Congressman’s line-in-the-sand is wrong. Every safety decision involves a carefully calculated balancing of the risk in terms defined by economists. A practice, which the Members of the House and Senate, particularly those on the respective aviation committees, are well aware. [Rep. Higgins is not a member of any of these relevant legislative bodies.]

  1. Flight 3407 Recommendations– the Buffalo conservative Democrat asserts that the Flight Safety Foundation’s are contrary to the NTSB recommendations.

The NTSB record speaks for itself; there is no mention of the lack of experience:

Loss of Control on Approach, Colgan Air, Inc., Operating as Continental Connection Flight 3407, Bombardier DHC 8 400, N200WQ


The Report (185 pages)

Probable Cause

​“The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the captain’s inappropriate response to the activation of the stick shaker, which led to an aerodynamic stall from which the airplane did not recover. Contributing to the accident were (1) the flight crew’s failure to monitor airspeed in relation to the rising position of the lowspeed cue, (2) the flight crew’s failure to adhere to sterile cockpit procedures, (3) the captain’s failure to effectively manage the flight, and (4) Colgan Air’s inadequate procedures for airspeed selection and management during approaches in icing conditions.”

Even more broadly cast, the NTSB listed–


“The safety issues discussed in this report focus on strategies to prevent flight crew monitoring failures, pilot professionalism, 
fatigue, remedial training, pilot training records, airspeed selection procedures, stall training, Federal Aviation Administration 
(FAA) oversight, flight operational quality assurance programs, use of personal portable electronic devices on the flight deck, the 
FAA’s use of safety alerts for operators to transmit safety-critical information, and weather information provided to pilots. 
Safety recommendations concerning these issues are addressed to the FAA.”



“The Captain The captain, age 47, held an airline transport pilot certificate and a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) first-class 
medical certificate dated August 22, 2008, with a limitation that required him to wear corrective lenses while exercising the privileges 
of this certificate. The captain received a type rating on the DHC-8 on November 18, 2008.”


“Colgan’s flight records indicated that the captain had accumulated 3,379 hours of total flying time, including 3,051 hours in turbine airplanes, 
1,030 hours as a pilot-in-command (PIC), and 111 hours on the Q400. He had flown 116, 56, and 16 hours in the 90, 30, and 7 days, respectively, 
before the accident….


The First Officer

The first officer, age 24, held a commercial pilot certificate and an FAA first-class medical certificate dated January 22, 2009, 
with no limitations. The first officer received a type rating (SIC privileges only) on the DHC-8 on March 16, 2008….

Colgan’s flight records indicated that the first officer had accumulated 2,244 hours of total flying time, including 774 hours in 
turbine airplanes and on the Q400. She had flown 163, 57, and 16 hours in the 90, 30, and 7 days, respectively, before the accident. (These times do not include the accident flight.)”

There is absolutely no reference to a lack of experience, much less the 1,500 hours.

  1. The 1,500 hour rationale: It is clear that the origin of this requirement is the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010. The legislative history does not cite any specific basis for this number. Here’s the text of the statute:

H.R. 5900 (111th): Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010

  • status of all NTSB safety recommendations related to Part 121 air carrier operations.
  • an electronic database of FAA records,
  • establish a task force to review specific safety and training areas
  • DOT Inspector General to conduct a review of how the FAA is organized to oversee Part 121 carriers, and the effectiveness of this oversight
  • an Aviation Rulemaking Committee to make recommendations focused on the areas of mentoring, professional development, and leadership, and then conduct a rulemaking based on these findings.
  • industry best practices with regard to pilot pairing, crew resource management techniques, and pilot commuting.
  • rulemakings that require all part 121 air carriers to provide stall and upset recognition and recovery training, as well as to implement remedial training programs.
  • complete its current rulemaking on crewmember training, and forms a multidisciplinary panel to examine a number of issues related to various aspects of pilot training – ground school, recurrent training, assessing proficiency, etc. – and then report to Congress.
  • disclose verbally or in writing the name of the carrier actually operating each segment of a flight,and requires internet ticket sites to disclose this information in the initial display after a search.
  • on-site random inspections at a minimum of a yearly basis at all regional airlines.
  • conduct rulemaking establishing new flight and duty time regulations
  • FOQA, LOSA, ASAP, and AQP,
  • the implementation of ASAP and FOQA at all part 121 carriers.
  • implement Safety Management Systems.
  • that changes screening and qualification requirements for all Part 121 pilots, requiring ATP license/appropriate multi-engine experience. Includes default provision that ATP requirement is mandatory within 3 years.
  • Section 217: Requires FAA Administrator to conduct a rulemaking that modifies the requirements to earn an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) license. Focuses on Flight Hours (including in difficult operational conditions) and additional qualitative elements.

The specific issue raised by the Flight Safety Foundation is § 217 which states:

  • § 217.

Airline transport pilot certification


Rulemaking proceeding

The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall conduct a rulemaking proceeding to amend part 61 of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations, to modify requirements for the issuance of an airline transport pilot certificate.


Minimum requirements

To be qualified to receive an airline transport pilot certificate pursuant to subsection (a), an individual shall—


have sufficient flight hours, as determined by the Administrator, to enable a pilot to function effectively in an air carrier operational environment; and


have received flight training, academic training, or operational experience that will prepare a pilot, at a minimum, to—


function effectively in a multipilot environment;


function effectively in adverse weather conditions, including icing conditions;


function effectively during high altitude operations;


adhere to the highest professional standards; and


function effectively in an air carrier operational environment.


Flight hours


Numbers of flight hours

The total flight hours required by the Administrator under subsection (b)(1) shall be at least 1,500 flight hours.


Flight hours in difficult operational conditions

The total flight hours required by the Administrator under subsection (b)(1) shall include sufficient flight hours, as determined by the Administrator, in difficult operational conditions that may be encountered by an air carrier to enable a pilot to operate safely in such conditions.


Credit toward flight hours

The Administrator may allow specific academic training courses, beyond those required under subsection (b)(2), to be credited toward the total flight hours required under subsection (c). The Administrator may allow such credit based on a determination by the Administrator that allowing a pilot to take specific academic training courses will enhance safety more than requiring the pilot to fully comply with the flight hours requirement.


Recommendations of expert panel

In conducting the rulemaking proceeding under this section, the Administrator shall review and consider the assessment and recommendations of the expert panel to review part 121 and part 135 training hours established by section 209(b) of this Act.



Not later than 36 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator shall issue a final rule under subsection (a).

The Flight Safety Foundation, after careful review by a panel of experts, found:

FSF Calls for Renewed Focus on Quality for Pilot Training and Proficiency


“Training must target real-world risk and ensure a progressive and satisfactory performance standard,” said President and CEO Jon Beatty.

by FSF Communications Staff | March 1, 2018

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — Flight Safety Foundation is urging the global commercial aviation industry to embrace a data-driven approach
to pilot training, and says that national civil aviation authorities need to have the flexibility to adopt competency- or evidence-based
training methods.

In a position paper issued today, the Foundation says, “It cannot be assumed that critical skills and knowledge will be obtained only
through hours in the air.” In releasing the paper, Jon Beatty, president and CEO of the Foundation, said, “A data-driven approach to
pilot training is an essential element in continuing to improve the industry’s safety performance. Training must target real-world risk
and ensure a progressive and satisfactory performance standard.”

The Foundation acknowledged 2017 was the safest year in the history of commercial aviation, with no reported fatalities in commercial
passenger jet operations worldwide. But with recent crashes occurring in Russia and Iran, the Foundation warned against the dangers of

The Foundation attributed the outstanding safety record of commercial aviation to “a wide variety of factors and the diligent efforts
of thousands of aviation professionals around the world who design increasingly reliable aircraft, engines, and parts; maintain, repair
and overhaul aircraft; regulate and enforce performance-based safety rules; investigate accidents and incidents; manage air traffic;
develop sophisticated avionics and navigational aids; operate airports; and fly sophisticated aircraft in increasingly complex
environments.” The Foundation noted: “It is not the result of any one factor, including any particular change in the hours requirement
for pilot experience.”

The Foundation also cited the collection and analysis of a growing pool of safety data and information, enabling the industry to more
effectively identify and mitigate risks before they lead to accidents.

Pilot experience, which also is an important safety factor, historically has been associated with the number of flight hours accumulated
over a pilot’s career. What often is overlooked, however, is the quality of flight time and how it is accumulated. Was it in single- or
multi-engine aircraft? In visual or instrument conditions? In a structured, professional environment, or in an often less intense, general
aviation environment?

“The type of experience and the flight environment must be considered to provide meaning to the [flight hours] number,” the paper says.

In the position paper, the Foundation says the industry has reached a crossroads in determining how pilots need to be selected, hired,
trained and mentored for career growth, and that changes need to be made if the industry is to continue its stellar safety performance
in an era of expected rapid growth in many regions of the world.

“Flight Safety Foundation believes the pilot career path we have today will not take us where we need to go tomorrow,” the paper says.
“It is time to take a data-driven, pragmatic approach.”

The Foundation issued several recommendations, including:
• An improved screening process and training for basic non-technical competencies that are usually obtained through experience,
such as communication, analysis, problem solving, leadership and decision making;
• A renewed focus on the competency and quality of training providers to ensure training programs are developed and delivered to
meet the safety standards of the industry, and so they can produce qualified, competent pilots;
• Training programs that are competency- or evidence-based and not solely hours-based;
• Data-driven training programs that are continually updated, based on pilot task–level performance;
• Ab initio programs with operator sponsorship/support;
• Development and sponsorship of worldwide quality/performance criteria that are universally recognized;
• A partnership with the International Civil Aviation Organization and industry to define rules, recommendations, guidelines and
the expected quality and performance required of flight academies; and,
• Programs that place a high value on the knowledge and experience of instructors.

“The industry needs to be courageous and bold to make these changes and not simply rely on the ways of the past,” said Beatty.
“Through these changes, the industry can continue to serve the needs of the airlines while enhancing safety standards on behalf of the traveling public.”

The position paper is available for download here.


Those are not words of “give-and-take on flight safety” but reflect the thoughtful consideration by Subject Matter Experts and their assessment of the entire field of pilot qualifications. Some of their recommendations expand the level of safety above the current regulatory regime.

It should be noted that the FSF opinion is not the sole expression of this opinion.[3]

Furthermore, the FAA and industry have taken numerous steps which have demonstrated improvements to the reduction in aviation risks. The combined impact of those highly regarded improvements should provide a basis to support a different standard.

  1. The 1,500 hour rule and Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 rule




In “Outliers,”  a 2010 New York Times best seller, Malcolm Gladwell posited a thesis that after 10,000 hours of practice, an individual  contended that there is “an extraordinarily” high correlation “in an incredible number of fields … you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.” Gladwell’s message — people aren’t born geniuses, they get there through effort — was seized upon by popular culture. His primary examples:

  • “the Beatles to become the greatest band in history (thanks to playing all-night shows in Hamburg) and
  • Bill Gates to become one of the richest dudes around (thanks to using a computer since his teen years).

The proof of the 1,500 hour rule seems to have a similar origin; both quickly developed a high level of credibility without much scientific proof.

Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions: A Meta-Analysis, by Brooke N. MacnamaraDavid Z. HambrickFrederick L. Oswald found that the Gladwell hypothesis failed. Their conclusion:


 In a meta-analysis of 88 studies on deliberate practice, the researchers found that practice accounted for just a 12% difference 
in performance in various domains.

What's really surprising is how much it depends on the domain:
  • In games, practice made for a 26% difference
  • In music, it was a 21% difference
  • In sports, an 18% difference
  • In education, a 4% difference
  • In professions, just a 1% difference
The best explanation of the domain dependency is probably found in Frans Johansson's book "The Click Moment."

In it, Johansson argues that deliberate practice is only a predictor of success in fields that have super stable structures. For example, 
in tennis, chess, and classical music, the rules never change, so you can study up to become the best."

The Higgins 1,500 hour argument has the same flaws as the Gladwell 10,000 hour conclusion. Safety is a matter of the exercise of expert judgment. Flight Safety Foundation is a well-regarded, independent organization and it rarely takes a position of advocacy. Its judgment may not be unquestionable, but it should not be summarily dismissed.


Rep. Higgins, you might consider opening a dialogue with FSF.




[1] Mary F. Schiavo’s firm, Motley Rice, represented families of people who lost their lives in the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407, and investigated the legal responsibility that Continental Airlines, Inc., Colgan Air, Inc., Pinnacle Airlines and aircraft manufacturer Bombardier may have had to the families.


[2] Prior to his election to the House, Brian made his career serving in state and local elective office, as well as and in education. Brian served as an instructor in the History and Economics departments at SUNY Buffalo State College, where he taught a course of his own design entitled, “The Economic History of Buffalo & Western New York.” A graduate of Buffalo State College, Brian also earned an advanced degree in Public Policy and Administration from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Brian has been awarded an honorary Doctorate degree in Humane Letters from Daemen College, and an honorary Doctorate degree in Laws from Medaille College. [from Rep. Higgins’ website]

[3] Richard Collins’, a respected aviation expert,    comments on the 1,500 rule:

“The 1,500 hour requirement for first officers is purely ludicrous when you consider how little good light airplane time might do in a heavy airplane cockpit. I heard a USAF training person once say that light airplane training is valuable to them, up to a point. Past that point, it has little additional value. The USAF actually uses GA airplanes in a 25 hour screening/introductory program…Consider the fact, too, that a USAF pilot does not have many more than 200 hours when winged and I am sure there are many who fly out a tour of duty without amassing that supposedly magical 1,500 hours.”


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