Taiwan expands testing of TransAsia Airways pilots to those flying Airbus fleet: Officials

TAIPEI (Bloomberg) - Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) has expanded testing of TransAsia Airways pilots to those flying its Airbus Group NV planes after a fatal crash last month, according to officials familiar with the plan.

TransAsia's roster of more than 90 pilots flying its A320, A321 and A330 jet aircraft are currently undergoing oral tests and will need to pass if they are to keep flying, according to the officials, who asked not to be named because the details aren't public. CAA public relations officials declined to comment.

The widening of tests comes after almost 60 pilots who fly turboprop planes at the airline were checked using mandatory oral exams before undertaking tests at a flight simulator in Bangkok. Accident investigators and the aviation regulator are looking at Taipei-based TransAsia's safety and training programme after 91 people died in two fatal crashes within seven months. Both crashes involved ATR72 turboprop aircraft, with preliminary investigations pointing to inconsistencies between pilot actions and operating procedures.

TransAsia confirmed it has 68 ATR pilots, including 8 trainees, as well as 95 in its Airbus fleet, while declining to comment on the expanded testing in an e-mailed response to Bloomberg News today.

Ten ATR pilots, with an average 6,906 flight hours each, were grounded after failing a first round of oral testing last month, the CAA said at the time. Those 10 have since passed subsequent exams while the rest who hadn't yet taken the exam have also passed to the next stage of simulator training and testing, the people said.

In addition to oral exams, the Airbus pilots will also need to undergo training and testing in simulators which can be combined with pilots' annual skills tests, the people said. The A330 testing can be done in Taiwan where China Airlines Ltd. has a simulator, while those on the A320/321 will need to go overseas, said one of the people.

Oral and simulator ATR tests are expected to be finished by the end of this month, the people said. Airbus pilots are undertaking the oral exams now while the CAA has given TransAsia more time to complete the simulator exams for those flying its Airbus fleet, the people said.

GE235, a domestic flight from downtown Taipei's Songshan airport to Taiwan's outlying Kinmen island, plunged into a river four minutes after takeoff on Feb 4, killing 43 people.

Data from the aircraft's black box showed the right engine was operating normally when an engine warning went off and the propeller was automatically "feathered", a setting that turns the blades so they're parallel to the airflow to reduce drag, investigators found.

Soon after, the propeller setting on the left engine was manually reduced and the fuel flow was cut off, with investigators unable to immediately explain the warnings, engine operations or the crew's actions.

The plane's two pilots were both killed in the accident.