A recent RAeS conference looked at the future challenges facing aircraft operators of how to recruit more pilots and a radical rethink of training methods. BILL READ FRAeS reports.
On 26-27 September, the RAeS hosted its Flight Operations annual international flight training conference which, this year, examined the problem of how the airline industry can recruit an increasing number of new pilots while at the same time harmonising and maintaining the quality of training standards. The conference featured presenters from a wide area of expertise, including aircraft operators and manufacturers, trainers, regulators and people not directly involved with airlines but who faced similar problems.
Many more pilots
255,000 new pilots will be needed by 2027. (CAE)
The scale of the problem was outlined by Capt John Billington from aviation training provider CAE who explained that the number of pilots needed around the world was expected to rise from its present total of around 290,000 in 2017 to 440,000 in 2027, an increase of 255,000 over the next ten years. The majority of these new pilots (90,000) would be needed in fast-growing Asia-Pacific region, followed by 85,000 in the Americas, 50,000 in Europe and 30,000 in Middle East and Africa. Of these new pilots, 180,000 would be captains. Billington explained how this demand could only be met by training 70 new pilots a day, adding that 50% of the pilots needed to fly in 2027 had not even begun training.
While speakers acknowledged that there was not yet an obvious pilot shortage in the UK or in Europe, it was already started to affect regional operators in the US, as well as airlines in the Asia-Pacific region which were having to ground aircraft and cut routes.
What does it take to be a pilot?
Are approved training organisations (ATO) tests robust enough? Capt Declan Donoghue from City University of London described a study based on both academic research and a survey of airline training managers and heads of ATOs which was used to explain pilot employability. The survey also included over 650 responses from employed, unemployed and retired pilots. The research indicated a need to address both essential and desirable factors, the essential factors being the licensing requirements of the competent authorities. Medical considerations were also a factor but the most major barriers to entry were financial and selection of / acceptance by an ATO. Barriers to employment (as opposed to more barriers to entry) were more-wide ranging and could include economic, geographical, financial, age and motivation.
The survey also looked at whether respondents thought that ATO tests were robust enough and whether potentially unsuitable candidates were entering the industry (no group of pilots or trainers agreed with this, with the exception of those who were considering training). Self-funded pilots were also more likely to leave their jobs that those that had had their type rating paid for by the airline. The study also concluded that 96% of sponsored cadets intended staying with their employer.
The question of the high cost of finance needed to train pilots cropped up a number of times in the discussions, including the observation that pilot training in Italy was not subject to tax while in the UK, trainees had to pay 20% VAT. However, apprenticeships were not subject to tax. The issue of age was also raised with the allegation that some airlines discriminated against older pilots.
Re-evaluating pilot training
Recent years have seen a radical rethink of the way pilots are trained and hired as an alternative to the minimum number of flying hours rules that currently govern how they are hired by airlines. John Billington from CAE explained how the past two decades had seen the introduction of new training methods which focus on evidence-based training (EBT), core competencies, interaction and teamwork and data beyond the flight envelope. These next-generation training system enablers can analyse and grade a pilot’s performance during training. Pilots would also be trained the way that airlines fly and to protect the airline’s culture.
With the present training system, there is a risk of individual instructors giving a subjective view depending on their priorities and interpretation of assessments. There were only two choices for grades - a pilot did meet the standards and they did not. However, grades in other areas - such as education or even customer surveys were marked on a sliding scale.
Mike Varney, President, EBT Foundation, explained how the principles of evidence-based training was to look at positive performance on the flight deck. “You have an experience, reflect on it, draw conclusions and then put theory into practice,” he said. “This should be measurable, so we can see what crews do well and enable them to develop resilience in the learning environment. As we get data on things we can see, we also find more things that we can’t see.”
There was a need, argued Captain Chris Warton, Director, Customer Training at Bombardier Business Aircraft, to differentiate the quality of pilot performance and define behavioural markers to describe their interpersonal competence. This would need to include such diverse factors as knowledge of technical, commercial and customer operations; aircraft handling skills, professional style; situation awareness; coping with workload; making decisions; and briefing, communicating and working with crews. Taking these into account, instead of ‘pass’ or ‘fail’, a pilot could be graded into five different categories - Below standard (no progress), Below standard (normal progress), Competent standard, Above standard and High standard.
Chris Warton said that the prerequisites for evaluating training should be appropriateness and relevance; standardisation in both contents and execution; validity with regard to the accuracy of tasks with the relevant learning goals; reliability of accuracy compared with results; objectivity in the same results were obtained by different evaluators; transparency and reasonableness; and an equal treatment of candidates.
Lufthansa EBT timeline. (Lufthansa Group)
Capt Phil Cullen, Chair of EASA Rulemaking, explained how the introduction of evidence-based training (EBT) is a lengthy process. First the curriculum needs to be sorted out, then the trainers trained and finally the pilots. It also needs to cover pilots on a wide variety of different aircraft from commercial aircraft to helicopters. EBT for training for pilots of business jets is not expected to be completed until 2020.
Capt Richard Lenz and Capt Markus Held from Lufthansa Airlines talked about the experience that Lufthansa has had following a management decision from the Lufthansa Group to implement EBT. The introduction of EBT competency-based grading. The process of introducing EBT began in 2016 and is still in progress. One of the first tasks was to harmonise the different approaches taken by the different airlines that are operated by the Lufthansa Group. The next stage was to train 600 type rating instructors (TRIs) and type rating examiners (TREs) who will then train 6,500 pilots. The preparation for EBT has now been completed for Lufthansa’s Ab Initio and type rating training but has not yet been implemented into recurrent training and checking which is still working on the pass-fail system. The first Lufthansa Group airlines are expected to begin implementing EBT in 2018.
Training the trainers
There was also discussion over the role of trainers. The speakers agreed that the job of instructors was to observe, record, classify, evaluate, instruct and facilitate. “It’s about the process, not the outcome,” said Mike Varney. “The role of the trainer is critical,” said Capt Amit Singh. “Designers produce content for curriculum but it is the role of the trainers to transfer that content to the training. “However, competency is not enough, they also need experience. They need to know how to observe.” “The instructor’s role will be paramount throughout a pilot’s career,” added John Billington.
The role of command
Capt David Newbery, Vice Chairman of licencing and workstream division of the International Pilot Training Association (ITPA) explained how much of the focus on solving future pilot shortages was concentrating on ab initio training, while command training was being neglected. “In my job as a trainer, I don’t do theoretical training in simulators or classrooms, I work from the sharp end - I just fly,” he explained. “I do over 200 training and assessing sessions a year. A significant proportion of my flying is command training. While there is plenty of industry guidance on pilot competencies and training, there is none for command pilots. The length of airline command courses are inconsistent - varying from two weeks to seven months. The traditional career paths to command are also changing, for example, fewer pilots are coming up from the military. In certain countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, new generation pilots are being trained first on multi-crew licences (MPLs), then 1,500 hours later they get an ATPL and then could end up in the left-hand seat of a widebody. Not everyone now stays as a pilot all their lives. We are also seeing command pilots with less experience and experience used to be one of our prerequisites. Younger command pilots are not inferior but may also have confidence issues when they have to work with older crew.”
David Newbery posed the rhetorical question whether we really need a commander, making the point that aircraft commanders now have less overall authority than they used it. Other people are now responsible for loading the aircraft or for upgrading passengers while automatic aircraft systems enable the aircraft to fly itself. However, Newbery concluded that captains were still important to make decisions in the case of unforeseen events. “It’s not case a case of knowing the rules but knowing how to apply them,” he said. “A captain needs to be more than just a competent first officer. While modern commanders need to be less autocratic and more team leaders and communicators, they need to be leaders. A commander needs to be mature, confident, to be able to handle surprises and to know when to break the rules.”
Training for helicopters
Consideration was also given to the particular training requirements of helicopter pilots - an aviation sector that is also facing a future shortage of pilots. Gordon Woolley, Chairman of the IPTA Helicopter Mission Training Workstream, described how IACO is developing a task-specific manual for helicopter operations. Non-military helicopters are used for wide variety of missions, ranging from business, commercial, corporate, VIP, oil and gas transport to search and rescue (SAR), firefighting and law enforcement. These missions often involve flying in hazardous and risky environments at the edge of flight envelopes and accident rates are high. Non-pilot crewmembers (such as hoist operators) also play essential roles in operational effectiveness and safety. It is therefore difficult to devise training and regulations that will apply to all crew and situations. “We can’t train for every eventuality,” said Woolley. “Flight crews need personal and professional qualities to cope with whatever faces them. Training must take account of all involved, as well as every aspect and stage of the task.”
Helicopter task-specific competencies include knowledge, skills, attitudes and awareness. The aim of the ICAO manual is to use competency-based training to improve safety, beginning with the introduction of general safety and training guidelines and then adding mission and role-specific training later. However, to achieve this, there will need to be a comprehensive reporting and data gathering process.
Capt Dave Harris, Head of Flight Training and Standards at commercial helicopter operator Babcock International looked at the problems facing companies trying to recruit helicopter pilots. There were reduced number of pilots coming into from the military, fewer co-pilots from the oil and gas industry and a reduced demand for helicopter flight instructors, he explained. Those seeking pilot’s jobs were going to the airlines where the pay and conditions were perceived to be better. What was needed for the helicopter industry, he argued, were initiatives to recruit new pilots straight from school ‘before they have taken on debt in higher education’ by providing managed paths to achieve vocational and practice-based qualifications. More investment was also needed in instructors, together with improvements in pay and conditions.
Christian Müller, Accountable Manager, NGFT Consulting, presented the example of the Swiss helicopter industry which was facing a significant increase in training costs. A number of helicopter operators have tried to solve the problem by outsourcing some of their non-core activities, including operating manuals, web-based training, data storage and safety management systems.
An outside view of how aviation could learn from other organisations was given by Martin Bromiley, Chair of the Clinical Human Factors Group who looked at the subject of medical errors in healthcare. He explained how there are parallels between decision making in the cockpit and decision making in situations such as an emergency medical operation. He gave an example of a surgical operation which went wrong due to a lack of communications among surgeons and in which the nursing staff knew more about the situational awareness.
Aviation and heathcare are both high reliability organisations (HROs) which both have situations involving competency with equipment, tasks to follow, working with teams, rules and protocols, stress and alertness levels and supervision and training. Bromiley explained that strict rules were not always good and that procedural and regulatory complexity in healthcare could lead to the ‘normalisation of deviance’ in which things get done despite rather than because of the system. To operate successfully, HROs needed a ‘just culture’ where individuals should be encouraged to report mistakes; the ability to cope with unexpected events, anticipating problems in advance, mindful leadership and continuous training and review of procedures. “We need to adopt a system approach and to get away from the historical inertia of blaming individuals with the preconception that ‘Good people don’t make mistakes’,” he said.
Social and gender imbalance
As was highlighted in last year’s RAeS pilot training conference, there is still a major inequality in the numbers of female pilots compared to male pilots. Dave Froggatt from easyJet explained how gender equality was one of the aspirations of the airline but there was still a long way to go with only between 6-8% of the airline’s pilots being female. One problem, he explained, was that many of the female pilots wanted to have more flexible working conditions to fit in with family commitments and it was difficult to fit this in with a work commitments of a training captain.
Another topic addressed by the presenters was the problem of how to encourage young people from different backgrounds and ethnic groups to become the pilots of the future. Declan Donoghue said that, from the point of view of ATOs, it would be advantageous if young people interested in flying as a career could get an independent assessment as to whether they were suitable candidates before applying and obtaining finance for a training course.
The issue of pre-screening training applicants also came up in a number of other presentations. Since pilot training is so expensive, argued the presenters, would it not make be better for both airlines and individuals to discover whether a person is suitable pilot material before they take on the time and financial commitments of training. According to Rod Wren, CEO, Wings Alliance and Director Bristol Groundschool, around 50% of flight school graduates are not selected for airlines. “We need to train the right people,” he said. “Self-selection does not work. Instead, selection should be based on pilot core competences. Airlines need to engage with the flight training industry.” “We need to look at the person first before we look at their skills,” agreed Andy Smyth.
Andy Smyth, Early Talent and Apprenticeships Manager, TUI Group looked at how the Government’s new apprenticeship scheme could be used to use to help train new pilots who can’t afford the cost of training. Currently, there is no apprenticeship scheme for pilot training because the current rules have an upper limit of £27,000 for the cost of training - which is far less that the cost of training a pilot. There is also a rule than an apprentice may not contribute to cost of training. “We trying to work with Government to change the rules so that we can create an apprenticeship as a pilot,” said Smyth. “Ideally, we’d like to lift the levy cap so that apprenticeship pays the whole bill but another option could be to share the cost through a student loan - which doesn’t have to be paid off as immediately as a commercial loan. We also need to look at accessibility and social mobility, so that there is an equal opportunity for everyone to train as a pilot. Apprenticeships changes lives.”
Apprenticeships present a real opportunity to deal with some of the issues we’ve been addressing"
Andy Smyth was also in favour of pre-screening before training to ensure that the candidate was suitable before committing to the cost of training. He also predicted that apprenticeships for airline pilots would challenge existing training models. “The government will challenge the costs of training,” he declared. “Training providers will need to offer a new training model.” He concluded by saying how, if successful, pilot training apprenticeships would begin with ab initio to first officer training and move to captains later.”
“Apprenticeships present a real opportunity to deal with some of the issues we’ve been addressing today,” agreed Anthony Petteford, VP and Principal of the Airline Academy, L3 Commercial Training Solutions.
The shape of training to come
Jacqui Suren, Head of Regulation and Training Development at L3 Commercial Training Solutions looked at how pilot training might develop during the 2020s. There were three main trends, she explained, the first of which relates to changes in the way training is conducted. “Until recently, the system was based on practical and theoretical training in which you had to learn and recall unrelated facts,” she said. “However, recent years have seen an increasing move towards output-based holistic training systems which no longer just look at facts but utilise a wide range of learning styles.”
The second future trend is that young people entering the industry today have had different educational experience based on digital devices, the Internet, apps and social media. The third change will be in the way that training is conducted, with more emphasis on electronic manuals, diagrams, animations, videos, virtual reality, virtual reality and gamification. There may also be an increasing use of computers in enabling, monitoring and marking training courses.
The shape of training to come
Lori Brown, Associate Professor at Western Michigan University College of Aviation was unable to be present at the conference due to the hurricanes in Florida but her presentation on the use of augmented reality to improve training efficiency was given by Capt Sanjay Sapra, Manager Pilot Training Programs at Etihad Airways. Augmented reality, which operates using interactive headsets which project images inside wireless goggles and headsets which can combine the real world with virtual images, can be used to create virtual workshops or cockpits without the need for large spaces or investment in simulators. Using AR, pilots can practice procedures at any time and any place - including places where there isn’t much room. The augmented reality glasses can also be controlled by hand gestures, as well as being monitored by instructors who can see what a student is doing and interact with them. AR also be used for training cabin staff - Lori Brown’s presentation include an example of a flight attendant using AR headsets to interact with virtual anxious passengers.
Flying Training Manager Capt David Owens called for ‘disruptive thinking’ to create new ways of training pilots. He said that many organisations were restricted by barriers such as traditional ways of doing things, individuals who didn’t like change, complacency, regulations and fear of change. “Everything we do must be an enabler not a barrier,” he said. Owens explained how people learned in two different ways - by learning and by experience. He also remarked how many people now relied on the Internet as their first choice for information but they needed to filter that data with a ‘heathy distrust’, as not everything on Google or YouTube was either true or accurate.
Big data is watching you
One subject that kept coming up at the conference was the increasing role of information and how it should best be used. As already mentioned above, new training systems will be able to analyse and grade a pilot’s performance during training. As technology progresses, more and more information is being generated on how pilots behave in training courses, in simulators, while flying aircraft and even outside work. There were two views on this. One was that it was a good idea, as having more data on pilots would show how they were progressing in knowledge and skills over time and this information could be used to replace existing training methods. Harry Nelson, Operational Advisor to Product Safety at Airbus conducted an imaginary interview with ‘Commander Aviona’ who worked for a company called Interglobal Link specialising in the atmospheric, space and transportation business in 2030. In this predicted future, unmanned systems have not replaced pilots but personal data has become essential to all aspects of work. Aviana has been constantly monitored for 26 years and began her career after taking state and airline-sponsored aptitude and psychological tests. Gender is no longer an issue, as pilots are selected for their skills and competences. Every aircraft still has a commander who monitors aircraft, crew and environment and managing operational risks. However, there is now a new level of pilot above commander - the ‘master pilot’ who also has a role as a mentor and teacher to others.
However, some speakers did comment that there was also a downside to the future trend towards increased personal monitoring. During the discussion sessions, the question was raised that over-analysis of training sessions could result in more harm than good - for example playing back recordings in debriefing sessions in which a pilot made a mistake. The speakers’ opinion was that, if such analysis was used with care, it could be effective. However, there was also a risk of it being used as a tool for humiliation. It was important for both pilots and instructors to talk about things that happened but it was only in circumstances where they both missed something crucial that would be necessary to look at a recording.
There is also the question of privacy. While future scenarios show pilots happily accepting being monitored and recorded during both training and flying - and even elsewhere in their lives - some individuals may not be comfortable with being watched so closely.
Facing the challenges
Concluding the conference, Harry Nelson from Airbus expressed concerns as to whether the present approach to pilot training would achieve the three objectives of: getting the ‘biggest bang from bucks’ in terms of costs, maintain safety levels or create a sustainable quality of pilots. “I am an optimist but we need to face up to the fact that we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “The world is changing and we need to move faster than this.”