There has been a lot of debate recently about pilot experience, with an FAA initiative to increase the amount of flight experience needed to be eligible for flying in an airline cockpit. Some recent experience has got me thinking about this.
I recently had a chance to work with a CFI candidate who is a graduate of a Big Name Aviation University. At first we were only doing ground instruction, and his depth of knowledge is absolutely amazing! I can't remember the last time I talked with anybody, at any level, who had as much knowledge about aircraft, weather, regulations, procedures, well, everything! If by some bizarre chance I ran across some fact or concept that he hadn't seen, he absorbed it immediately.
Then we moved on to flying. His regular instructor had not done short field operations with him, and this is one of my favorite "tests."
When I was a Chief Instructor this is what I asked people to do on the interview flight. Very few (maybe none) did a a good job. There many kinds of mistakes. Some dragged the airplane in, forgetting that a short-field approach needs to be steep in order to pass over the obstacle. Some were too slow to get the airplane configured for landing. Some were flustered by the presence of a control tower. Most had inadequate airspeed control and floated excessively. Many forgot to brake. Nobody applied aerodynamic braking.
And nobody knew how to correct for gusts (add half of the gust term and expect extra float).
You get the picture.
Our BNAU graduate was better than all of these, but still not perfect, and that surprised me. The patterns were erratic, and aircraft configuration varied too much. But the final approaches were appropriately steep, and the touchdown was on the touchdown point.
I was confused by the disconnect between book knowledge and practice, although in retrospect I should not have been. The candidate just doesn't have enough flight time to smooth this maneuver out. Nobody with his level of experience really could.
I was reminded by the examiner's comment as he handed me the pink slip for my ATP: ``You fly much better than someone with 200 hours of multi time." And that was for a bust!
Head knowledge enhances hand knowledge, but hand knowledge only comes about in one way: practice. Practice. Practice!
They say that it takes a rookie NFL quarterback 20 games to become effective. Think about that: a rookie NFL quarterback has spent his whole life as the best athlete he knows. His talent is enormous. But time behind center is like time at the yoke, and it takes a certain amount to get there.
So, should airlines allow pilots with 250 hours into the cockpit as first officers? That's 250 flight hours, Commercial, multiengine, instrument rated. Maybe 10 hours of multi time? No actual IFR time? No approaches to minimums? No missed approaches? Maybe even no winter flying experience?
My answer: No!
But your mileage may vary...