• Q & A: FAA cockpit, pilot requirements

    Updated:

    An official with knowledge of the audio recordings from the Germanwings flight said one of the pilots was locked out of the cockpit when the plane went down in the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.

    A French prosecutor said the co-pilot was alone at the controls and "intentionally" sent the plane into the doomed descent.

    In light those developments, KIRO 7 asked the Federal Aviation Administration about cockpit rules and medical and psychological requirements for pilots.

    Here are the answers.

    Cockpit Access

    Q. What are the U.S. rules that apply when pilots leave the cockpit?

    A. U.S. airlines have to develop procedures that the FAA approves. Those procedures include a requirement that, when one of the pilots exits the cockpit for any reason, another qualified crew member must lock the door and remain on the flight deck until the pilot returns to his or her station. A qualified crew member could be a flight attendant or a relief pilot serving as part of the crew.

    Q. What does a foreign pilot have to do to get an FAA private pilot certificate.

    A. In general, if a foreign pilot has the equivalent of a valid private pilot certificate or higher from a foreign Civil Aviation Authority, he or she can apply to receive an FAA private pilot certificate. The FAA has established procedures for evaluating such requests.

    Psychological Screening

    Q. What kind of psychological screening does the FAA require for pilots?

    A. U.S. scheduled airline pilots must have a first class medical certificate. The pilot must renew the certificate every year if the pilot is under 40 years old, every six months if the pilot is 40 years old or older. Pilots must complete an official FAA medical application form, and have a physical examination conducted by an FAA-designated Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). The FAA medical application form includes questions pertaining to the mental health of the pilot. The AME can defer a pilot to the FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine if he or she believes that additional psychological testing is indicated. All existing physical and psychological conditions and medications must be disclosed.

    Background

    FAA Medical Requirements For Pilots

    Airline pilots undergo a medical exam with an FAA-approved physician every six or twelve months depending on the pilot's age. The FAA does not release pilot medical records, including the results of any pilot’s medical testing, because medical information is covered by privacy laws.  

    If a pilot experiences an incident that appears medically related, the FAA will request additional medical information to determine the eligibility of the pilot to hold a medical certificate.  If an FAA flight surgeon determines that a pilot no longer meets the medical standards, the flight surgeon will then recommend that FAA counsel revoke or suspend the medical certificate.

    Most scheduled airline pilots must have a first class medical certificate. Captains have to have a first class medical certificate and First Officers (co-pilots) may have a first or second class medical certificate. Most, if not all, U.S. airlines require a First Class Medical for all pilots. For a First Class Medical, the certificate must be renewed every year if the pilot is under 40 years old, every six months if the pilot is 40 years old or older. For a Second Class Medical, the pilot must renew the certificate every year.

    Pilots must complete an official FAA medical application form, and have a physical examination conducted by an FAA-designated Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). The AME will typically ask questions about psychological condition as part of his/her assessment, and the AME can defer any examination when he or she believes additional psychological testing may be indicated. Pilots must disclose all existing physical and psychological conditions and medications or face significant fines of up to $250,000 if they are found to have falsified information. AME's are approved by the FAA and complete specialized basic and refresher training.

    In addition, there are questions on the FAA medical form that inquire about any mental disorders or mental health issues that the pilot may have and any medications that the pilot may be taking. The pilot must self-disclose the information requested and give explanations to all yes answers. The AME will use this self-disclosure to ask additional questions about mental health issues.The AME can order additional psychological testing. The pilot must also report any health professional visits during the previous three years.

    Additionally, if the FAA receives information from another source that a pilot may have a mental health issue, the FAA's Office of Aerospace Medicine can direct the pilot to provide specific documentation and/or a psychiatric and psychological evaluation from a mental health care professional in order to make a determination about the pilot's suitability for certification. The medical certificate requirements are outlined in the Federal Aviation Regulations. Go to:  

    http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=213c3a6a3c490067c088b5f938b49ef6&rgn=div5&view=text&node=14:2.0.1.1.5&idno=14

    Rules that apply to cockpit doors

    http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=69e55a5004138afc961fd6f3c79fef4b&node=se14.3.121_1587&rgn=div8

    §121.587   Closing and locking of flightcrew compartment door.

    (a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, a pilot in command of an airplane that has a lockable flightcrew compartment door in accordance with §121.313 and that is carrying passengers shall ensure that the door separating the flightcrew compartment from the passenger compartment is closed and locked at all times when the aircraft is being operated.

    (b) The provisions of paragraph (a) of this section do not apply at any time when it is necessary to permit access and egress by persons authorized in accordance with §121.547 and provided the part 119 operator complies with FAA approved procedures regarding the opening, closing and locking of the flightdeck doors.

    [Doc. No. FAA-2001-11032, 67 FR 2128, Jan. 15, 2002]

    3-47    PROCEDURES FOR OPENING, CLOSING, AND LOCKING FLIGHT DECK DOORS.

    A.    Background.

    1)    On January 15, 2002, § 25.772, was amended to require an emergency means to enable a Flight Attendant (F/A) to enter the flight deck should the flightcrew become incapacitated. This change applies to airplanes that are newly certificated under part 25 and was not retroactive to existing airplanes. The operational requirements found in § 121.313 were also amended on January 15, 2002, to require each operator to establish methods that enable an F/A to enter the flight deck in the event that a flightcrew member becomes incapacitated. As with § 25.772(c), these methods are intended for use under emergency conditions and not for routine access to the flight deck. As such, aircraft electronic keypads or electronic pushbuttons installed in the cabin must be used only in emergency situations. (The only time the crew may use the emergency flight deck access procedure during normal operations is when the aircraft is on the ground, the flight deck door is closed and locked, and the flight deck is unoccupied.) Additionally, § 121.313(g) states, in part, “…no person other than a person who is assigned to perform duty on the flight deck may have a key to the flight deck door.” Therefore, any keys in the possession of cabin crewmembers that are used for opening bins or containers in the cabin cannot be capable of unlocking the flight deck door.

    2)    Unless an air carrier has FAA-approved procedures under § 121.587(b), the flight deck door must remain closed during flight time. In order to operate the flight deck door during flight time and permit flight deck access by persons authorized in accordance with § 121.547, part 121 certificate holders must develop and use FAA-approved procedures regarding the opening, closing, and locking of the flight deck door. These FAA approved procedures should be included in the operators’ operations and F/A manuals. Additionally,

    § 121.313 requires any associated signal or identity confirmation system to be easily detectible and operable by each flightcrew member from his or her duty station. To meet security needs of accomplishing an audio and visual identification, one person on the flight deck is required to visually identify the person seeking access through the viewing port or viewing device.

    B.    Certificate Holders’ Procedures. Certificate holders’ procedures must include at least the following:

    1)    Normal procedures for opening flightcrew compartment doors to include:

    a)    Who is authorized to have access to the flight deck.

    b)    How a crewmember verifies the identity of a person requesting access to the flight deck. This process must include a positive means for flightcrew members to identify persons requesting entry to the flight deck and to detect suspicious behavior or a potential threat before unlocking the flight deck door. To meet security needs of accomplishing an audio and visual identification, one person on the flight deck is required to identify visually the person seeking access through the viewing port or viewing device.

    c)    How flight deck door keypad access codes are disseminated (e.g., flight deck door keypad access codes may be disseminated through the certificate holder’s normal manual process).

    d)    F/A procedures to verify that there are no passengers in any forward lavatory, and that no passengers are standing in the area surrounding the flight deck door.

    e)    F/A procedures for blocking the passenger aisle when the flight deck door is opened.

    f)    Procedures for two person flightcrews, when one flightcrew member leaves the flight deck

    (i.e., a F/A must lock the door and remain on the flight deck until the flightcrew member returns to his or her station).

    2)    Emergency electronic keypad or emergency pushbutton procedures to include:

    a)    Events requiring the use of emergency procedures (i.e., pilot alerts).

    b)    Determining when the flightcrew is, or is suspected of being, incapacitated, or there is no response from the flight deck.

    c)    Keeping the flight deck door locked until an audio and visual verification of the person requesting entry is made.

    d)    How to determine whether a person requesting access is under duress.

    e)    How to determine when the flight deck door locking system may be taken out of the deny access position.

    f)    Flight deck crew procedures to follow when an electronic keypad or pushbutton is being used to gain unauthorized access to the flight deck.

    g)    When the flightcrew must take immediate action to deny access to the flight deck.

    3)    Crewmember training programs should include these procedures, associated crewmember duties and responsibilities, crew coordination, and emergency situation training modules in appropriate curriculum segments.

    C.    POI Approval Process. To comply with § 121.587(b), POIs are to review and approve their assigned certificate holders’ procedures in accordance with the current approval process found in this order and the guidance provided in this paragraph.

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