This represents the first in an ongoing series of interviews which Plane-ly Spoken (PS) will have for you with notable people from all aspects of the aviation world. Our kickoff interview is with Nick Sabatini (NS), who retired a few years ago from the FAA as the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety. Mr. Sabatini came up through the FAA system, but few know that he was a helicopter pilot with the NYPD before joining the FAA.
PS-The FAA has been criticized by many for impossibly unrealistic flight time requirements for commercial airline pilots. Your thoughts?
NS- For many years the pilot supply for the air carrier industry came from both the military and civil aviation segments. The military, for some time, has been offering incentives for pilots to stay longer in the service. This action began to dry up the military supply. In 2008, the DOD announced that their last manned fighter aircraft is the “Joint Strike Fighter.”
The Air Force Academy now has more cadets in the UAS program than they do in the pilot program. As a result, there are fewer pilots coming from the military service. Moreover, fewer pilots are coming from the civil side, most likely, because the cost of logging the additional 1000 plus hours has discouraged many young men and women from pursuing an aviation career.
PS- Did the FAA screw up by enacting the 1500 hour requirement. Is it necessary?
NS- The new FAA 1500 hour ATP pilot qualification regulation was not done by the FAA. It was imposed by law on the FAA by Congress. It requires that air carriers hire only ATP rated pilots meeting the new regulation. This new regulation has exacerbated the growing shortage of pilots.
I have one air carrier client who, because they can’t find pilots who meeting the new reg, has decided to drop a number of Essential Air Service (EAS) routes. This has significant consequences for those small communities which have air service. Another client, for the same reason, has reduced the number of new aircraft they can bring online because of the pilot shortage.
PS- Doesn’t more hours mean better pilots?
NS- Having more hours does not equate to a better pilot. The quality of the training is what matters, not the quantity of hours. The Europeans have recognized this and have had great success with the Ab Initio programs. Lufthansa is recognized as having one of the best.
PS- Are you suggesting that the FAA should move toward the European system?
NS- I think U.S. air carriers should consider adopting either the Ab Initio model or the military model.
The military model requires that a pilot candidate first successfully complete and graduate from the Officers Candidate School. Candidates there are taught leadership, command ability, decision-making and judgment. All essential competencies for airline pilots.
When they graduate, then and only then, will they be considered for a pilot slot. Once in the pilot program, they must successfully complete and pass each phase check in order to continue to graduation and earn their wings. This is unlike aviation programs in our universities, where a failure to pass a phase check does not cause termination in the program, but allows the purchase of sufficient additional flight hours until one is able to pass the phase check.
PS- What is the biggest difference between military and civil training programs?
NS- The single most significant difference between the military and civil training programs is that the military trains their pilots on the equipment they will be flying. As a result, we have the most sophisticated and complex aircraft in the world being flown by pilots who are experienced in them.
PS- Will pilots become obsolete as we move into the era of UASs?
NS- Some say that we will not need as many pilots as we have in the past because of the emerging technology for unmanned aircraft. While the technology may, in the not too distant future, be ready for prime time in the air carrier world, society will not embrace unmanned passenger aircraft for a very long time. Also, the FAR operating rules would have to be changed to allow it.
Furthermore, the OEMs design aircraft for a 30 year lifecycle. The latest Boeing and Airbus aircraft are two crew aircraft and, to the best of my knowledge, these OEMs do not have unmanned aircraft on their drawing boards as replacements for what’s in the pipeline, but who knows.
(Originally posted June 17, 2014)