Teen’s Suicide May Prompt New Rules on Student Pilots

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Four days after a 15-year-old flight student committed suicide by flying a plane into a Florida building, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued recommendations to tighten rules for student pilots. The recommendations, distributed to flight schools and training centers, include requiring a youth’s medical certificate before he or she begins flight lessons, denying flight students access to plane keys before lessons, and supervising students at all times.

Some members of the flight instruction industry were relieved that the FAA did not suggest raising the minimum age for flight training after the Jan. 14 crash. Two days before the FAA’s action, the president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Phil Boyer, responded to that suggestion by a correspondent on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer by saying, “It isn’t age alone. There are probably many confident airline captains today, that are flying, that started their lessons at 14, 15 and 16 under the supervision of an instructor.”

Raising the age requirement would have devastated youth flight instruction programs such as the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), which has more than 26,000 members in its cadet program, ranging in age from sixth graders to 21-year-olds. The CAP says 6 percent to 10 percent of every class entering U.S. military academies are former Civil Air Patrol cadets.

Retired Col. Ray Bean, director of Cadet Programs at the CAP (headquartered at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala.), acknowledged the difficulty in setting an age limit. “It’s tough on someone [trying to set the age requirement] to hit that magic time line because some people at 21 or 22 don’t have the maturity and the judgment necessary for training, while some people are mature enough at 14,” he said. “You don’t want to make it too hard on kids to get involved.”

Contact: Civil Air Patrol (800) 359-2338, www.cap.gov; the FAA, www.faa.gov.