Flight Safety Foundation issues expert recommendations on drones and pilot qualifications which are likely to create debate

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Foundation Urges ICAO, Governments to Accelerate Regulation, Oversight of Recreational Drones

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

FSF = independent, international & impartial

Drones = Risk

Pilots– quality of training> hours

The Flight Safety Foundation’s tagline, “We are an independent, international, and impartial non-profit that exists to champion the cause of aviation safety”, really describes its role in its aviation talking headschosen arena of competence. You will not see FSF’s leadership on NBC, Fox, ABC, etc. talking heads segments in a post-accident news broadcast. That’s not their job nor is it a proper forum for resolving aviation safety issues.

You will, however, see these professionals involved in research, helping define best practices, designing and holding highly regarded safety symposia, offering opinions on flight/maintenance/training/navigation/etc. techniques. Their views are truly independent and considered the bible of the profession.

The above two headlines are important messages and deserve careful consideration by all in this business.





 FSF presidentFSF President and CEO Jon Beatty took the unusual step of writing a letter to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Secretary General Fang Liu, urging the UN safety organization to accelerate the promulgation of appropriate Standards and Recommended Practices to regulate recreational drones – also known as unmanned aircraft systems. As an NGO participant in Montreal, Beatty cited “a number of recent incidents, we are increasingly concerned that uncertificated, untrained recreational drone operators are flying small UAS near airports and manned aircraft. … The proliferation and operation of small drones by people without aviation experience is becoming one of the most significant hazards to manned aviation. This poses unacceptable risks to aviation safety.”

One of the incidents was a helicopter crash near Charleston, SC. The preliminary information, as-of-yet unverified:

  • a student was practicing low-altitude hovering in a remote area,
  • as the aircraft was turning around to continue the lesson, a small white drone appeared,
  • after maneuvering away from the drone, the copter’s tail hit brush or a tree as the instructor attempted to land,
  • the helicopter then fell on its side.


SC drone and helicopter

This warning by FSF is likely to cause considerable controversy her and around the world. Drone nation includes many of a new breed. Some come to flying with no formal aviation education. Their attraction to the UAS derives from the unbridled excitement. The traffic on the internet as the FAA proposed Part 107 bridled at the restraints. Libertarians and others attacked the regulatory scheme as unnecessary.

Several Members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, have joined the chorus for more drone safety. Legislation reversing an earlier prescription has been introduced.



Should be an interesting political/regulatory battle in the US and around the world.




 avi trngThe second headline involves repetition of an issue which has been at the forefront of aviation safety for a while—the qualifications which are critical determinants of safe piloting. Instead of a letter, FSF issued a paper, which stated

 “It cannot be assumed that critical skills and knowledge will be obtained only through hours in the air. 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.”

There has been, however, debate over what qualifications are needed to maximize safety. Some in Congress, the unions and several vocal aviation consumer organizations point the hours spent in the cockpit is the keystone to better performance in the cockpit.

Here are the recommendations provided by FSF’s paper:


“Flight Safety Foundation believes the pilot career path we have today will not take us where we need to go tomorrow. It is time to take a data-driven, 
pragmatic approach and, therefore, to support the following:
  • 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;
  • Training programs that maximize the use of simulation and are customizable to air carrier operations;
  • 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 a worldwide quality/performance criteria that is universally recognized;
  • A partnership with the International Civil Aviation Organization and industry to define rules, recommendations, guidelines and expected quality 
    and performance required of flight academies;
  •  Proficiency/qualification standards that cannot be compromised; 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. Through these changes, pilots graduating
the industry can continue to serve the needs of the airlines while enhancing safety standards on behalf of the traveling public.

Expert advice, but it will be interesting to see whether this technically based standard overcomes the simplistic selection of a number of hours.




FSF is not known as an active advocate on aviation issues, but these two expressions of safety judgment may draw them into the debates.



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