On March 3rd, 2020 FAA issued an Advisory Circular (AC 121-43) to standardize and legislate “internal mentorship” for pilots, with the aim for this to become mandatory in April 2023 for all airline and charter operators.
What is mentoring?
The FAA has defined what mentoring means in the Advisory Circular as an experienced individual that can offer career support and development, psychological support, and role-modeling to a less experienced individual.
It is not very defined how this is going to be facilitated at this time and what function in the airline organizations that will hold accountability for the process.
Why is the FAA reacting to this now?
The FAA adjusted related regulations a few years ago, adding additional steps to get an FAA-ATP and at the same time made an FAA-ATP a minimum requirement also for First Officers in Part 121 operation. It can be assumed that they have identified a risk with the extremely quick progress of upgrading to Captain in the Part 121 world and have assessed that they need to mitigate the risks associated with this. Just a few years ago this was not an issue since the supply vs. demand of pilots with experience was different then.
The proposal may be seen as pro-active in order to stay ahead of a trend of declining experience or as a weakness (or even hazard) that has been present for some time, i.e. that operators do not have any standards for internal mentorships or any other way to support the development of First Officers towards becoming Captains. As always, there are two sides to a story and some will see this as a reactive proposal in response to two accidents linked to non-standard behavior and SOP deviations. The accidents mentioned in the FAA proposal is Northwest Airlink Flight 3701, a CRJ200 operated by Pinnacle Airlines, and Continental Connection Flight 3407, a Dash-8 Q400 operated by Colgan Air. It is reasonable to assume the Atlas Air 3591 crash outside Houston in Jan 2019 also reinforced the motivations for the proposal although the final accident investigation report was yet to be published when AC 121-43 was issued.
Historically there has been a tradition of unofficial mentorship in major airlines since the early days of the airline industry. Young and inexperienced new hires were welcomed by senior Captains who were proud of their position and felt the responsibility to pass their experience and knowledge on to the next generation of pilots in their airline. This unofficial mentorship has gradually been eroded in recent decades.
I have tried to analyze this in order to identify reasons and came to a few possible ones:
• Increasing financial strains for companies
• Training programs shaved down to regulatory minimum as published by the authorities
• Significantly degraded relationship between the pilots and the airlines, most likely contributing to less pride in the role and a lessened sense of responsibility for the future of the airline
More on this and the mentorship program proposed by FAA in the next part!
Professional Aviator, sentimental with my pen