The FAA and the AATD

There has been some news lately about the FAA’s new approach to using flight training devices. Specifically, the FAA Legal landingDepartment wants to reduce the hours that can be counted against actual airplane time. There has been an avalanche of protests coming from every segment of flight training about this development, including the FAA Standards people. I fully expect this ruling to be changed before it goes into effect, and people with a Letter of Authorization from the FAA will be able to operate without any changes until at least Jan1, 2015, so that gives them some breathing room.

But really, it doesn’t matter. The hours a flight student saves has nothing to do with the FAA and everything to do with the transfer of knowledge. Until recently, we had a Part 141 Flight School here in Charleston, and the Director was adamantly opposed to using an AATD. His point was that since it had not been approved by the FAA for his particular school, it had no value for his students. He was right about the FAA approval, but dead wrong about the value, and here’s why: his students could have greatly accelerated their training by using the AATD, and finished their required course in much less time, and at much less expense.

Right now, the AATD can be used to replace 2.5 hours of the required 40 hours to get your Private Pilot License (the new FAA proposal does not change for the Private rating.)  But the real value is that it’s possible to replace the entire next 40 hours, maybe more- I just read last week that the estimate for the average amount of time to get a private license is 105 hours, though that seems high to me. The problem is that there is nothing in place that routinely collects the total amount of training time from all sources, including Part 61.

We just had a young man that had approximately 40 hours at a different school several months previously, and still had not soloed. In just six weeks with us, he soloed and passed his checkride. His CFI would work with him in the AATD sim, and then take him out to the airplane. Before his first solo cross-country, he flew the entire trip in the sim, and later told us the experience was invaluable. He flew approx 25 hours with us, for a total of 65, which makes you wonder what his total time would have been if he had started with us from the beginning.

Ross was fortunate to have a CFI who was both a great teacher and also knew how to use every available tool, including the simulator. Using a combination of ground school, simulator time, and the airplane, the CFI identified, isolated, and worked on each individual weakness, until Ross could put it all together for his checkride, which, by the way, was described by the DPE as “…one of the best ever.” We currently have his shirt hanging in our office, and the dates tell the story: Dec. 31, 2013 for his first solo, and Jan. 30, 2014, for his checkride.

The bottom line is this: don’t get too concerned about how many hours the FAA will allow against your rating, because every minute in the sim improves your skills, and automatically reduce your actual airplane hours, and that translates to a LOT of saved money.

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