A new ruling in New Jersey may make you think twice about flying. Pilot assistants have challenged the FAA to use the term "Captain" for those members who pass their most advanced training. Initially, the profession of pilot assistants were used to help regular pilots, especially for extended flights. Under pilot supervision, the pilot assistant worked hand-in-hand with the captain and other crew members as a valuable team member. About ten years ago, the Pilot Assistant Association pushed to change regulations so that their members could cover rural and small flights unsupervised. With only 20% of the training of regularly pilots, the Pilot Assistant Association made the case that this would help fly more passengers to destinations where there weren't enough regular pilots to cover. In order to keep the costs of these small flights down, the airline industry and the government agreed to these new privileges. And now, less than a decade later, the Pilot Assistant Association has cleared another hurdle. With extra training and enough flying hours, a pilot assistant may pass some new testing in order to be called "Captain". The PAA is pushing forward to clear the way for pilot assistants to soon fly larger domestic and international passengers without any supervision of regularly pilots. The Air Line Pilot Organization or ALPO has been very critical of this move. The word in Washington, however, is that the FAA and the airline industry is receptive to this change because of the cost differential (salaries) between pilot assistant captains and regular captains. Limited studies have also shown no statistical difference in death rates or quality of flights between the two. So the next time you hear "This is your captain speaking" there is a good chance you will not be able to figure out whether the person in charge is a pilot or pilot assistant. I thought you should know.
Before you ask how this above "story" relates to health care, just sit back and think for a minute. There is a reason I have not linked any references.