University of Dubuque aviation program teaches safety first - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

University of Dubuque aviation program teaches safety first

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

The captain flying the Boeing 777 that crashed this weekend at the San Francisco International Airport had just 43 flight hours flying that particular type of aircraft.

The pilot, Lee Kang-kuk, was flying for Asiana Airlines, which said he was in a stage called transition training. Asiana Airlines considers their pilots fully qualified on an aircraft at 60 hours over 10 flights. Lee Kang-kuk had 43 hours over nine flights.

However, Asiana Airlines said the pilot had nearly 10,000 total flight hours piloting other jetliners.

It prompts questions of the tiers of experience pilots must reach.

The University of Dubuque's aviation program has about 170 flight students, including Jeremiah Ziebert, who knows safety means everything.

"This is an industry where you don't want to do something wrong," he said, sitting in the cockpit of one of the school's 15 Cessna 172s. "I mean, one small thing could lead to another small thing, and that's just kind of how accidents start up."

In the aviation industry, pilot experience is measured in flight hours, which generally include every hour spent in an aircraft with the engine turning and where flight is happening or intended.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires pilots to fly around 250 hours before giving them a commercial rating, meaning only then can they transport cargo and people commercially.

Ziebert, for example, has earned his commercial multi-engine rating. His fellow flight operations student, Sydney Kelling, is about five hours shy of her commercial rating.

"When you start carrying passengers as a pilot, that definitely puts a lot more on your shoulders because not only are you in charge of your own safety now, you've got up to, in these planes even, up to three other people's lives in your hands," she said, standing among the school's aircraft.

Although those are American regulations, foreign airlines also have to meet those standards when they're in the US, UD aviation program director Steve Accinelli said.

"To fly into the United States, you have to have the equivalent of what we require, so their crews are fairly equal," he said. "They may have been raised differently, they may have got their experience differently, but they have the very similar skills as we have."

While that 250 flight hour mark is required to commercially transport people, he said, the FAA requires some 1,500 flight hours before it allows a pilot to fly specifically for a commercial airline (i.e. get their airline transport pilot rating).

"Your minimum out there today, by regulation, is about 1,500 hours for the first officer, and, experience-wise, you're just going to have many, many more hours for the captain," Accinelli explained.

He said despite high-profile crashes, flying is a very safe method of transportation.

"There's a lot of recurrent training in the industry, both by foreign carriers and US carriers, to ensure that we provide the safest program possible."

In addition to actual flight hours, many pilots gain experience using a flight simulator. UD has several of them, including a CRJ200 simulator, which is an entry-level 50-seat aircraft an airline subsidiary like American Eagle might use.

Accinelli said UD's flight operations students generally get between 250 and 300 actual flight hours and 50 simulator hours before heading out into the commercial aviation industry.

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