New FAA Policy Expands Pilot Training Evaluations

Credit: Boeing

The FAA has codified new protocols that expand how proposed pilot training for new aircraft is evaluated during certification, issuing guidance based on procedures used during the Boeing 737 MAX’s re-approval effort that also satisfies a U.S. Congressional mandate. 

The revamped policy, issued Dec. 27 in a notice to Aircraft Evaluation Division (AFS-100) safety inspectors, outlines how line pilots are to be used during Flight Standardization Board (FSB) evaluations for transport-category airplanes.  

Line pilots participate alongside test pilots during FSB “operational evaluations,” which the FAA uses during certification of larger aircraft to determine pilot type ratings and minimum training. Up until the 737 MAX’s grounding and related evaluation of its training requirements, the FAA’s goal during the FSB process was to develop training for carriers it regulated. Line pilots on FSBs were typically from U.S. carriers, and did not necessarily represent a range of skill levels. The FSB’s product is a final report that the FAA uses to set minimum standards for U.S. operators. Other regulators around the world could adopt the report’s minimum requirements or modify them as they saw fit. Often, however, the FSB was adopted verbatim, even though general pilot training requirements are not uniform globally.

As regulators examined 737 MAX training as part of their broader review, they determined revamping the FSB process to include pilots from multiple countries would yield better results. During the evaluation of 737 MAX, the FAA applied the new lessons, bringing in pilots from around the world, with varying skill levels.  

Congress in the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act of 2021 (ACSAA) included a section mandating the move as part of all aircraft certification projects, ordering the FAA to “ensure ... that the air carrier and foreign air carrier pilots used for [FSB] include pilots of varying levels of experience.” ACSAA was signed into law in December 2020 as part of a larger appropriations bill.  

The bill gave the FAA a year to draft its new FSB policy.  

“ACSAA directed the FAA to revise existing policies to ensure pilot operational evaluations during certification utilize pilots from air carriers that are expected to operate transport airplanes,” the policy said. “The legislation directed that the air carrier pilots used in these activities have varying levels of experience.”

The policy does not specify how many pilots will be used, nor provide specific requirements for experience.  

“All identified FSB test subjects must be trained, current (in accordance with the appropriate regulatory requirements), and proficient in the base aircraft, if applicable,” the policy said. “The FSB chairperson will coordinate industry participation for all activities with the manufacturer.” 

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.