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The FAA FITS Program

FAA-Industry Flight Training Standards

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Overview:

The FAA developed the FAA-Industry Training Standards (FITS) program in 2003 as a way to reduce the general aviation accident rate and address the need for a training program that would match the new technologies that were arriving.

The FITS training program is a collaborative effort between the FAA and industry members, specifically collegiate flight training programs that are introducing "glass panel" flying in Technologically Advanced Aircraft (TAA).

Because the original FAA flight training standards for private and commercial pilots hasn't really changed since 1973, the FAA saw a need to supplement existing training with a more modern system.

We know that most general aviation accidents are due to pilot error, specifically from poor decision making and judgment. The existing pilot training program is maneuvers-based, which means that as long as a student can perform specific maneuvers to a standard (within a 100-foot margin of altitude, for example) then that student will likely pass the FAA exam and go on to become a private pilot.

The FITS program incorporates new concepts like scenario-based training, with the expectation that accidents will be reduced even further if we teach good decision-making skills and judgment through situational coaching.

FITS products were created for students training in TAA (technologically advanced aircraft), but the FAA encourages all instructors to incorporate the new concepts into their training programs. The program is not mandatory.

FITS Training Concepts:
The FITS program incorporates a few new concepts that complement the original FAA training standards. In the past (and probably still), instructors teach to the test. They have their students practice maneuvers until they master them, and knowledge is sometimes no more than rote memorization. The FITS program encourages instructors to go beyond the minimums and teach students what really matters: Real world flying, decision making, risk management, and personal accountability. To do this, FITS syllabi typically focus on the following concepts:
  • Scenario-Based Training (SBT)- SBT is the bread and butter of the FITS program. The idea is that instead of teaching strictly to the FAA exam, instructors will prepare students for real-world flying. This is done by introducing real-life scenarios during pilot training and is especially helpful during instrument training.

    For example, a typical cross-country flight with a student would involve teaching the student how to navigate using his charts and basic calculations along with using the instruments in the aircraft. The instructors would ensure the student was on-course and grade appropriately based in how accurately the student flies his path. FITS training adds a situational element. The instructor might simulate a problem or two along the way to see how the student reacts. The instructor might ask the student what he or she would do if there was suddenly a thunderstorm at their destination, or which course of action the student would take if the avionics failed or the GPS was determined to be unreliable.

    Many flight instructors already incorporate SBT into their lesson plans without realizing it; the new FITS program gives those instructors more resources and encourages the use of SBT throughout the industry.

  • Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM)- SRM builds upon a widely-used professional pilot program called Crew Resource Management (CRM). Airlines and other flight departments have been training their pilots in CRM techniques for decades now, and the concept is now being applied to single pilots. Crew resource management means using all available resources to make an educated decision, specifically working with a crew that might have different ideas of how things should happen. CRM courses usually teach techniques for recognizing hazardous behavior in ourselves and others, encouraging teamwork and making sure each crew member knows his role.

    SRM involves the same concepts, but with a single pilot. This training teach single pilots to know what resources are available, to recognize personal limitations and ensures students utilize proper management of cockpit tools and resources, especially new cockpit technologies that can be more overwhelming than helpful in some cases.

  • Learner-Centered Grading- A typical flight training evaluation consists of an instructor going over the lesson plans and telling the student what he did right and wrong. In the modern world, we've learned a thing or two about how people learn, and we know that learner-centered grading can be a valuable tool in teaching student accountability and self-evaluation.

    With learner-centered grading, the student takes an active role in his own evaluation, verbally acknowledging the lesson or scenario, identifying and implementing SRM, making his own decisions, implementing a course of action and evaluating whether the course of action was the best one based on the knowledge at the time. The student is carefully monitored by the instructor, but takes a more verbal and active role in choosing a plan and making decisions.

The Problem:
As with any new program, there are critics of the FITS program. While the FITS methodology is a vast improvement from past flight training methods, there are still some issues with the training program.

First, as any teacher (or parent) knows, the concept of good judgment is difficult to teach and even harder to evaluate in a standardized way.

Second, since FITS is not mandatory, the FAA practical exam hasn't changed to incorporate FITS practices. This is a double-edge sword, as many instructors are motivated solely by what a student will be grade on during an FAA practical exam; therefore, they'll skip any additional reference to FITS training. By only accomplishing what is necessary for the test, students will save money.

Even with FITS users, there is still some degree of teaching to the test, with the focus on old methods of rote memorization and perfecting maneuvers.

FITS Users:
FITS program users are typically large flight programs that are flying TAA. Some smaller programs have had their FITS syllabi accepted by the FAA for use with TAA, as well. Currently, the FAA is urging all instructors to adapt FITS into their own lesson plans, whether or not they use technologically advanced aircraft.

Instructors can use the FAA's generic syllabi and example lesson plans to help them produce their own syllabi, and they can even send it in to the FAA for acceptance. This step is not necessary, though, as teaching FITS concepts remains optional for instructors. Instructors that do want to incorporate FITS into their syllabi can do so without without the FAA's acceptance.

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