Journal of Aviation/Aerospace Education & Research


Glenn L. Harmon






Walking across the ramp of almost any general aviation airport ramp it is easy to spot an array of high performance aircraft like the Cirrus or Diamond that have joined the ranks of Cessna and Pipers with capabilities of flying at altitudes above 18,000 feet. With the current popularity of new personal Very Light Jets (VLJs) capable of reaching 41,000 feet, a growing number of pilots are flying at altitudes for which they have little understanding or training, especially in the event of loss of pressurization. If you diligently search the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 61.31g and Advisory Circular (AC) 61-107A, you will find some regulatory guidance for high altitude ground training, but there is a lack of specific standardization in training skills for flight at these altitudes. Pilots are not adequately trained to understand their personal and equipment limitations at altitudes above 10,000 feet. Military aircrews receive initial and recurrent academic and hypobaric chamber training in the recognition and recovery from hypoxia as part of their flight training. General aviation and even airline training only requires an academic and procedural knowledge of high altitude operations, but does not require a pilot to ever experience their symptoms of hypoxia or recovery effectiveness of 100% oxygen. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) lists hypoxia as a factor in many altitude related accidents, and these accidents represent a wide range of pilot skills and levels of expertise. In a 1991 study, the U.S. NTSB documented at least 40 aircraft accidents related to hypoxia between 1965 and 1990. More recently, hypoxia was determined to be the cause of a Greek Helios Airways B-737 crash that killed 121 people in 2005 and the Learjet crash that killed professional golfer Payne Stewart and five others aboard a Learjet in 1999. The consensus of the study was that "a more complete knowledge of high altitude physiology issues relevant to civilian flight is needed." But how and where do civilian pilots get this training?

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