Recently regional airline pilots have come under fire, yet again, in the 24 hour media. The snip that caught my attention was spewed by Fox News' morning show court jester, Brian Kilmeade. Ya' know, the sports reporter who can talk about any sport, except hockey... which to Kilmeade, apparently does not exist. While watching the Fox morning show "Fox and Friends," I was treated to Kilmead's rambling and scatter-brained comments on, what he referred to as a "law" about pilots talking below 10,000 feet. This tid-bit apparently fed to the meat puppet through his ear piece by an equally clueless producer in the booth, was supposed to refer to the "below 10 rule." a.k.a. the Sterile Cockpit Rule.
Somewhere in Kilmead's ramble was the accusation that pilots... especially regional pilots... according to "the NTSB" are prone to violating the "law" by conversing below 10,000 feet. Reality check: Please- can someone find ANY airline pilot who has not violated the below 10 rule in their career? Of course you cannot- although everyone does their best to follow the rule, in aircraft such as regional turboprops that spend almost half of their time below 10,000 feet, strict adherence to the rule can lead to serious breakdowns in both CRM and moral of the crew. Of course, Kilmead has NEVER spent any time flying in the cockpit of a regional turboprop, so he has all of the qualifications to spout a story about the subject to millions of viewers.
The story that the meat puppet and his producers were referring to was from "The Buffalo News" and had little to do with the NTSB. In fact the subject was largely about some posturing of FAA administrator Randy Babbitt who was speaking in front of some "aviation safety officials" and trying to contrast the US Airways Hudson River ditching to the Continental Connection Flight 3407 Colgan Air crash. I'd like to know when the last time was that ol' Randy flew a month of trips in the cockpit of a Saab 340... in January... in the northern states.
This news story, however, goes way beyond some inter-crew chatter and directly into Babbit land.
Thus, we'll give Kilmead a pass here- because, like nearly all TV media people, his personal knowledge of professional aviation extends about as far as finding the proper seat on his next flight and stowing his carry-on... with the help of a flight attendant, of course. We'll also give a pass to his producer, who is equally aviation clueless. The person most irresponsible here is Randy Babbitt.
In one portion of his "talk" to these aviation safety 'officials" (whatever that is), Administrator Babbitt rants "Properly trained people will do the right thing the right way, and do it at the right time," as he went off to point the finger at the crew of Colgan 3407 far more intensely than at Colgan itself. Yet, he never really directed any finger pointing at FAA itself. The real issue of training, you see, resides at length with the FAA.
Airlines train the same way that they do everything else, to the minimum standards required by... the FAA. And as much as Regionals are to blame for minimal training, the FAA is to blame for setting the standards that make up those minimums. Areas such as I.O.E. are so flawed, even in many of the major airlines, that a new hire can easily be swamped. For those of you reading who are not airline pilots, I.O.E. (Initial Operating Experience) is the flying that you do directly out of training- revenue flights, with passengers... and it is mandated to NOT be training. That's right- you come to a new airline, fly the sim until you drop and once out of training, you go directly onto the line... and that flying cannot be training. Someone should find the idiot who came up with that concept and kick 'em straight in the nuts. Also, training in safety enhancing areas such as C.R.M. is often brushed over because the time and budget do not allow for in-depth activity. If the Regional airlines have any great flaw it is in this area. Did I hear Administrator Babbitt mention raising that standard? No. Why- because it would cost airlines money.
In Babbitt's "Call to Action" he says "Training has got to be more than just checking the box." Sounds really good... sounds really good... but where is the new, published, FAA required standard for that action? No place. It does not now exist, nor will it ever exist. The last thing that the airlines want to spend a single extra dollar on is training. Training does not generate revenue and if the FAA publishes an increased standard- such as an expanded, mandatory C.R.M. training section, the airlines will have to pull pilots off the line to meet the new standard, plus pay for them to stay in a hotel, plus pay for instructors, materials and non-rev travel. If the pilot's are in the classroom, the airline is not making any revenue through the use of them and even worse yet- they're having to put out expenses to accomplish the new standard. GADS! We can't have that... screw safety, get Babbitt on the phone... Suddenly Administrator Babbitt's illusion of increased safety- in a practical sense- becomes a burden on the airlines and at that moment it becomes something better treated with lip service than by the classroom. The airlines will continue to train to the current minimum standard, check off that box and move along.
Babbitt may desire to have everyone think he's imposing higher "beyond just checking the box" standards, but in fact all he is doing is generating a sound bite. He knows FULL WELL that the airlines will never go farther than checking the box for the minimum required because there is zero incentive for them to instead do the maximum possible. "Well what about avoiding another accident- isn't that an incentive?" you may ask. Get real... the airlines can always point the finger at the dead flightcrew, insurance pays, the FAA provides lip service and only the next of kin will remember the horror- that's how airline management thinks and the FAA is only too glad to go along. The FAA cannot expect airlines to change as long as the FAA is talking tough over top of the table while playing footsie with the airlines under the table.
And since Administrator Babbitt has pointed his finger toward the regional airlines and their training, let us throw a rock back toward his own glass house. You see, I was in the regional airlines in the days when Captain Babbitt was leading ALPA. The days when new pilots trying to break into the regional airlines were required to pay for their own, substandard- but good enough to just check the box, training. ALPA was in the position to stop or highly restrict this by placing a restriction against pay-for-training into the contracts of every ALPA regional. They never even tried. Instead, they told their members to simply tell hopeful new hires "not to do it." Yeah- that's real effective when said to some CFI who has spend three or four years going around the pattern in bug-smashers and spending 14 hour days at some crummy airport six days a week... real effective. Why it's almost as effective as this "call to action" nonsense.
The bottom line is that Brian Kilmead and Randy Babbitt should get together and talk about hockey- the impact on aviation safety will be the same as Kilmead's report and Babbitt's "call to action."