FAA regulations aim to keep pilots competent in flying

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- In the last three weeks, two single engine airplanes have crash landed on area beaches. So what does it take to become a pilot of a small plane and how does the FAA make sure those pilots know what they're doing?

The first of the recent Suncoast crashes happened on Caspersen Beach in Venice late last month, resulting in the death of a U.S. Army Sargeant and his 9-year-old daughter. The second beach crash left a small plane upside down on Siesta Key Tuesday, just north of Turtle Beach.

Nate Barrett is the operations supervisor at Lift Air and oversees the charter flight business and the flight training offered by Lift Air. He says before a pilot in training ever gets near an airplane they learn the basics about flying on the ground.  “We typically recommend between 20-40 hours of ground training, and most of that is done one-on-one with an instructor,” said Barrett.

Once a pilot in training learns the book knowledge, the next step requires a minimum of 40 hours of flight time, 20 of those hours with an instructor in the cockpit.  "Those are just the minimum numbers,” said Barrett.  "What we typically see for our students is 65 to 85 hours.”

Once a student is ready to advance, Barrett says they have to pass two tests, a written exam and a flight exam with “a flight examiner from the FAA who inspects your flying capabilities and will either say you are now approved as a private pilot or who can deny you and say you need to go back and receive additional training.”

He says becoming a pilot is a rigorous process that also includes passing a “third class” medical exam.

“It is very similar to a physical but a little more thorough.”

Barrett says the FAA also requires that strict maintenance be performed on the aircraft.  “They are required to do a 100 hour inspection every hundred hours of flying, and once a year it goes in for what is called an annual inspection.”

In order to maintain a pilot's license, the pilot must keep a detailed log book, actively fly, and log three takeoffs and landings every 90 days and pass a flight exam with an instructor in the cockpit every two years.

Despite the recent crash landings on the Suncoast, flying is still one of the safest ways to travel. According to the Federal Aviation Administration human error is the most common of all accident themes and exists in one form or the other in nearly every accident.