Airlines and training providers will have five years to upgrade flight simulators to comply with a new FAA rule for more comprehensive and scenario-based training of pilots, including extended simulator envelopes to practice recovery from stalls.

The amendment to existing training requirements, as well as two other recent FAA rules, comes as a direct consequence of the February 2009 crash of the Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 near Buffalo after the captain inappropriately responded to a stall-warning-system alert. The update is included in the FAA's Part 121 training program and crewmember qualifications rules.

In the aftermath of the Colgan accident, the FAA published new pilot flight and duty regulations to address fatigue issues and pilot-qualification changes that require first officers as of August this year to generally have 1,500 hr. of flight time and an air transport pilot rating.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta says the updated training rules, which he described as undergoing the “first fundamental rewrite” in 20 years, will ensure that pilots receive the most-advanced training available to handle the emergencies, including upsets, that are extremely rare but can be catastrophic. Along with prevention and recovery from stall and upset conditions, the rule also requires new training for recovery from bounced landings and takeoffs, landings in gusty wind conditions and training on “Traffic-Alert And Collision Avoidance System” (TCAS) use. NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman says these rules address “many recommendations” that have been issued by the Board over the past two decades, including the 1993 TCAS guidance—its “oldest open aviation recommendation.”

John Cox, a former airline pilot turned safety consultant, notes that the update will allow training to be based “on things we have seen on the line that are problems, and not so much the rote process it used to be.” One example is the current mandate that pilots who fly Category 2 or 3 instrument approaches perform a landing, as well as a missed approach, with all engines operating. “It is a waste of simulator time,” he says. “That is something pilots do everyday and there has never been a case of a Cat. 2 or 3 accident because of this. We can better use the simulator time.” Cox explains the new rules will allow airlines to customize their programs to maximize the training experience for pilots. “It will make sure they're best equipped to deal with something that has actually occurred, and it will change from year to year.”

The FAA says the new training rules will help pilots in recognizing and recovering from stalls, upsets, crosswinds, wind gusts and loss of airspeed data, an issue in the Air France Flight 447 crash in June 2009. Huerta says the new rule also requires pilots to spend more time manually flying the aircraft, and will teach “pilot-monitoring” to ensure better oversight of the pilot flying. In part to address the 2006 wrong-runway takeoff crash of a Comair Bombardier CRJ100 in Lexington, Ky., the rule requires pilots to confirm assigned departure runways in the pre-departure brief, as well as to ensure the proper runway is entered into the aircraft's flight-management system.

Given that almost all enhanced training will take place in simulators, the FAA is readying a companion rule that will mandate a boost in simulator fidelity with “extended envelopes” to handle the new scenarios. Simulators today do not accurately represent the handling behavior of an aircraft beyond the “G-break,” where separated airflow causes a significant loss of lift at high angles of attack. Huerta says the simulator rule is in “executive review” at the FAA.

Simulator and training provider, CAE, says it has been working with the safety agency for several years in developing the new rules, which it says will be “a positive step and good news for aviation safety, even though aviation is already the safest way to travel.”

The FAA states that the costs of implementing the rule, in part due to the simulator upgrades, will be as much as $354 million, while the benefits of accidents averted will be $689 million.