Periodically, I have the privilege of assisting Part 135 operators with temporary management and training position services. My role may include providing instructor and/or check-pilot services for their Part 135 operating certificate. In many cases, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) inability to support an operator training and checking program is driven by their FAA inspector’s lack of experience and/or currency in the aircraft operated by the Part 135 certificate holder.
A few weeks ago, I was working with an operator to become their Part 135 instructor and check pilot. Following the guidance provided within FAA Order 8900.1, we requested an initial cadre approval and set the process to move forward. That letter was crafted and submitted in October 2017. Once our principal operations inspector (POI) received the request, we were notified that the office did not have adequate staff to conduct pilot proficiency checks in the requested aircraft make and model, so an FAA inspector from another office would conduct the checks.
The method the FAA utilizes when they do not have appropriate and/or qualified FAA staff to complete a required pilot check is to file a request through the Flight Standards Inspector Resource Program (FSIRP). In our case, we were provided an FSIRP inspector in January 2018. Due to weather issues, those checks were not conducted within the specified timeframe, so the FSIRP inspector returned to his FSDO located in Michigan. Our next FSIRP request, because we had to go through the process all over again at no fault of our own, was fulfilled in May 2018. That’s right, eight months from our original request we finally got the requested pilot checks completed!
The FSIRP inspector was very knowledgeable about the helicopter and conducted a thorough pilot check for myself. The next day the inspector observed me teaching a portion of the ground school on the helicopter, and then conduct a pilot proficiency check. During our activities, I advised the inspector that we would need a night vision goggle (NVG) pilot proficiency check very soon. His response was priceless!
I learned from the Inspector that he was NVG qualified in his life prior to the FAA. His NVG experience included chief instructor of a Part 141 pilot school teaching NVGs. It was not just any NVG school, but the Part 141 pilot school that held the NVG training contract for the FAA at the time he was there. I thought, Wow...this is fantastic! He then proceeded to explain that although he was hired with an overabundance of helicopter qualifications that were extremely relevant to the helicopter industry, including NVGs, the FAA [his employer] decided to not support his currency, so he was unable to assist with our needs.
The FAA has hired many inspectors to fulfill helicopter specific roles, However, they continue to hire pilots with little-to-zero experience in the most utilized helicopters in the commercial industry. For the pilots that do have industry relevant experience, it appears the FAA does not place emphasis on keeping them current.
It isn’t the aircraft or customer base that provide the greatest challenges to sustain a thriving and healthy helicopter business today. In many cases, it’s the FAA’s failure to provide effective and timely support so that operators can do what they do best—manage their business!
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