The Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) wants the global commercial aviation industry to take a data-driven approach to training pilots. In a new position paper, it warns that pilots’ accumulated hours are not necessarily as big a safety factor as is often assumed, and that national civil aviation authorities need to adopt competence- or evidence-based training methods.

Jon Beatty, President and CEO of the Foundation, which is based in the US, said, “A data-driven approach to pilot training is an essential element in continuing to improve the industry’s safety performance. Training must target real-world risk and ensure a progressive and satisfactory performance standard.”

The safest ever year

The Foundation acknowledged 2017 was the safest year in the history of commercial aviation, with no reported fatalities in commercial passenger jet operations worldwide. However, with recent crashes in Russia and Iran, it warned against the dangers of complacency, attributing the safety record of commercial aviation to “a wide variety of factors and the diligent efforts of thousands of aviation professionals around the world”.

The Foundation noted: “It is not the result of any one factor, including any particular change in the hours’ requirement for pilot experience,”. Until now, the number of hours a pilot has flown in their career has been viewed as a key safety factor, but the Foundation argues is the quality of that flight time and how it is accumulated. For example, was it in single- or multi-engine aircraft? In visual or instrument conditions? In a structured, professional environment, or in an often less intense, general aviation environment?”

Context and meaning

The paper insists that “The type of experience and the flight environment must be considered to provide meaning to the [flight hours] number”. It cites a growing pool of safety data and information that is being collected and analysed, which should enable the industry to identify and mitigate risks more effectively before they lead to accidents.

The paper claims the industry has reached a crossroads in determining how pilots need to be selected, hired, trained and mentored for career growth, and that changes need to be made if the industry is to continue its safety performance in an era of expected rapid growth in many regions of the world.

“Flight Safety Foundation believes the pilot career path we have today will not take us where we need to go tomorrow,” the paper says. “It is time to take a data-driven, pragmatic approach.”

The position paper is available for download here.

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