Multiengine ratings, and why they might not be needed
MAYBE NOT ASPIRING AIRLINE PILOTS
Some blame former Flying editor Richard Collins for nearly killing the market for light piston twins by relentlessly proselytizing on the superiority of singles. He owned and flew a Cessna P210 and so it’s no surprise he was biased in favor of single-engine airplanes. But he also helped dispel the myth that twins were safer than singles merely by virtue of their extra engine. It wasn’t true, but convincing people of that fact was a challenge. Pilots returning from World War II after flying multiengine transports and bombers wanted to own twins, creating a ready-made market for decades to follow.
How times have changed. Today, the market for new piston twins is practically nonexistent. Still, we’ve got to keep building new twin trainers. That’s because aspiring airline pilots are obligated to sidetrack their training to learn to fly piston twins, merely for the privilege of affixing the word multiengine to their pilot certificate. It’s a silly requirement. Acquiring the skills necessary to feather the prop, pull the correct mixture handle, and do the delicate dance of rolling into the good engine and applying proper rudder input in a simulated engine-out emergency in a piston twin will have little practical applicability to an airline pilot’s future duties flying commercial jetliners. Yet we ask students on an airline career track to spend more money and time learning skills they will need for a check ride that will be a distant memory by the time they land their first job in the right seat of a regional airliner.
We also ask flight schools that specialize in airline-pilot training to keep fleets of aging piston twins flying, or to buy new ones, merely so their students can check that box during training. There was a time when the piston twin market was bursting wide open with literally dozens of choices for new airplanes. Today, the market for new piston twin trainers includes a handful of airplanes from a couple of manufacturers. Asking flight schools to continue operating piston twins when very few of their students truly need this type of training makes little sense.
Obviously, the question I pose in the headline of this column is purposely provocative. Of course airline pilots need a multiengine rating to fly multiengine jetliners. But let the airlines handle that part of the syllabus after their new employees have acquired all the other certificates, endorsements, ratings and flight hours that naturally come during ab initio training. If an aspiring professional pilot wishes to fly piston or turboprop twins for a living, certainly they should be able to get the training. But a multiengine rating in a piston twin should be a specialized course, not part of the core curriculum for everyone, especially as we deal with the worsening effects of a global pilot shortage.
It’s all about re-examining aviation orthodoxies that dictate we do things a certain way simply because we always have. Thankfully, we’re seeing welcome signs of change already. The FAA recognized there was little benefit in making pilots take their commercial check ride in a complex airplane and so recently dropped that requirement. Last month, I wrote about the positive changes to instrument currency rules that allow the use of home flight simulators. On the agenda, we hear, is a weight-limit increase for light-sport aircraft.
Next, let’s take another look at the multiengine rating. Pilots on an airline career path should be allowed to forgo multiengine training until they really need it. Flight schools ought to be able to retire their aging piston twins unless they choose to continue offering the training. If not, let them bid their tired old twins a long overdue farewell.