The Chief Pilot Made Me Do It: Does Online = On Duty?
- Erika Armstrong
"Mom, can I borrow the car?" These are the words that trigger negotiations in my head.
"Sure, but you have to take out the garbage." At this point, I don't yet realize my error.
The next morning, the garbage is still sitting in the kitchen can. When I pound on my teenager's door, grumbling that we had a mutual agreement, she rolls her eyes and says, "Well, you didn't say when I had to take the garbage out. You didn't give me a deadline. I'll take it out today…"
She won on a technicality.
Grey Rules, Muddy Regulations
Pilots and those working in the aviation industry are surrounded by rules and regulations that can change context with the addition, or omission, of just a few words. With the expansion of eLearning and the ability to study and learn at your convenience, rather than having to pull pilots in on days off to train them, the question has come up about eLearning during required rest periods.
First, we'll start with the legal jargon in the Flight Standards Information Management Systems 8900.1 CHG 7021, but don't worry, we'll give you the pilot filtered version too.
"K. Completion of Distance Learning During Required Rest Period. Completion of training required by the certificate holder is work that is assigned by the certificate holder, and thus constitutes duty. However, a certificate holder may provide for an extended period of time to complete the distance learning; and a flightcrew member may complete the training outside of a rest period or voluntarily complete the training during a rest period.
If, however, the flightcrew member is scheduled such that he or she cannot complete the distance learning outside of a rest period, then the completion of the distance learning during the rest period would not be voluntary and would act to interrupt the rest period. Flightcrew member duty periods vary across certificate holders. Whether a particular flightcrew member has a real opportunity to complete his or her certificate holder-required distance learning outside of rest periods in any given timeframe would need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. (Refer to the Legal Interpretation to Henry Putek, dated June 14, 2017.)"
So, let's back up a moment. Henry Putek (referenced at the end), member of the Allied Pilots Association Training committee, had requested clarification in the scheduling of required distance learning as it pertains to pilots at American Airlines. Yes, that's Part 121, but he was looking for a general interpretation of distance learning and required rest.
There are a series of almost comedic arguments between the FAA's legal counsel, Flight Standards, and Mr. Putek2 which would make the Monty Python crew laugh. Does it disrupt sleep? Is it voluntary or involuntary? Should a pilot choose not to voluntarily conduct his required distance learning during any required rest period, or any other duty free period, then, is a certificate holder required to schedule sufficient duty time in which the crewmember will conduct required distance learning without violating 14 CFR 117?
The legal interpretation by the Assistant Chief Counsel for Regulations basically says…it depends.
Let's now apply a little logic and common sense and see if we can find a reasonable answer and solution.
There is no cliché work/life balance for pilots. If you're in the air away from home as the basis of your employment, that teeter totter will always be on the "work" side. However, one of the peripheral benefits in the expansion of eLearning is the ability to study and keep currency at your convenience.
If, for example, you're on a two-day layover in Podunk, Nowhere, and you've been assigned eLearning, you might as well use that time to access your training. That's better than coming home and then being told you need to spend a few more days at the company hangar for your recurrent ground training.
Each flight department has its variables about putting a pilot "on duty," even during a layover, so the division of actual rest and duty blur in the real world. Some flight departments consider a pilot on duty each day at a certain time (i.e. every day at 0800 to 1700), even during a layover, so there should be no question that a pilot could get their studying done during this on-duty time while they're on a layover at a hotel.
Despite the variables, the one commonality is that all Part 135 flight crews are required to complete an Initial and then Recurrent regimen of topics and with it comes a base month – but that base month has a little wiggle room.
Let's say you get hired at a flight department and your base month of ground training is in July. Each year, your base month of recurrent ground training is now July, but if you want to, you can do it in June or whoops, they're flying you like crazy and you don't get it done in your base month. Now you can have a late grace into the end of August. It never changes your base month, but there is flexibility in training time (let's keep COVID-19 variances out of this for now).
It's All in the Planning
If a flight department plans ahead, a pilot can potentially have 90 days to complete their recurrent ground training, so the Assistant Chief Counsel for Regulations is basically saying that should be sufficient time to voluntarily finish your training. It's not just a company requirement, it's an FAA pilot requirement. An airman needs to keep themselves current and the company is providing a means to do that, not necessarily an assigned time to do that.
Now, let's put you in a flight department that is flying their pilots up to max duty and flight time and they forget, or just don't consider, the fact that a pilot needs time to complete their ground training each year. You're in your base month and no one says anything about recurrent ground training. Now you're in the third week of your grace month and you'll turn into a pumpkin on the last day. You open up your email and low and behold; there's a link to your 12-hour Basic Indoctrination Recurrent ground training and…lovely, another 8 hours for Worldwide International Operations. Oh, and they want you to fly one more trip. There's nothing voluntary about this scenario. Now you must be given time to complete your training and no, you cannot fly trips in between 20 hours of ground training.
It's easy to see the extremes, but the majority of flight departments will fall somewhere in the middle. It might be a good question to have answered in your company General/Flight Operating Manual.
Of course, there are also variables about being paid while completing training, but that’s a company argument. Not an FAA argument. A salaried pilot understands that keeping current is part of the job and will "voluntarily" complete their training, but an hourly pilot might not see it that way and ask to be paid for on-duty time to complete their training. The CEO might surmise that it's a pilot's responsibility to keep their ground training current.
Flying is complicated enough so the easy solution is to make your eLearning training plan simple.
Advanced Aircrew Academy will provide you with a FREE in-depth analysis of your training program. We will map out the modules we have that, after customization, will meet your training program requirements. We can set up the online training to meet both your required content and time requirements.
You have an opportunity to add custom content or subtract modules to tailor a set of online modules that works best for you. We complete this review at no cost or obligation to sign up with us. Why not send us your training manual? Just email firstname.lastname@example.org , call 843-557-1266 or go to Advanced Aircrew Academy's website.