What is the general competency rule for pilots?
The general competency rule is a cornerstone of safe operations. Before commencing a flight, pilots must ask themselves ‘Am I capable of conducting the operation safely?’
This is the equivalent of the medical ‘fitness to fly’ question, but relates to the technical and operational aspects of flying. It means pilots need to be sure they are fit to fly in all respects.
The rule is contained in Regulation 61.385 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations (CASR) 1998. It applies to all flight crew licence holders, from recreational pilots through to professional air transport pilots.
In addition to meeting other regulatory requirements, the rule says pilots can only fly a particular class or type of aircraft, in a particular kind of operation, if they are competent to do so. This means meeting the standards set out in the Part 61 Manual of Standards (MOS).
What does this mean in practice?
Students typically learn on one type of aircraft before sitting their RPL or later their PPL test.
Subsequently they will either want to purchase their own aircraft or rent a different type of aircraft from a flight school.
In each case the pilot is responsible for meeting regulation 61.385 before they can act as pilot in command.
How do you become competent and meet the requirements of the regulation?
The typical ways you will achieve competency are:
study the Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) and other reference material
complete the standard engineering data and perfomance questionnaire
undertake a course of ground instruction delivered by an instructor familiar with the aircraft type
undertake flight training in the type of aircraft
The level of ground and flight training required will depend on:
the complexity of the aircraft
the differences between the aircraft you are familiar with and the new type
your own level of experience
In some cases additional training will be required where the aircraft has a design feature that you are yet to be endorsed to use.
For example most pilots learn to fly in a simple aircraft with a fixed undercarriage and a fixed pitch propellor.
To step up to an aircraft like a Piper Arrow a pilot will need to be trained in and endorsed to fly an aircraft with a retractable undercarriage (RU) and a manual propellor pitch control (MPPC).
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Another example of where competency training is required is when transitioning from an aircraft with classic instrumentation to an aircraft with a glass cockpit. The Cessna 172 has been in production for over 50 years and the latest versions with the Garmin 1000 instrumentation require "differences" training for pilots only familiar with the old model C172's in order that pilots can demonstrate competence in the use of glass cockpits.
Should you do your initial training in a glass cockpit then equally you will need some training in the operation of classic instrumentation and naviads if you plan to fly an older aircraft.
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