As graduates of multi-crew pilot licensing (MPL) programs gain admission to the right seats of flight decks in several world regions, the substantial data now being collected about their performance show high rates of completing courses and fulfilling airline expectations, say officials of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Moreover, comments by captains surveyed at MPL-participant airlines typically show acceptance of MPL graduates and sometimes a preference for them versus traditionally trained first officers.
The status of MPL programs and graduates, including early thinking about desirable improvements, was the focus of the ICAO Multi-Crew Pilot License Symposium in December. Many presenters compared today’s outcomes with the safety-centered philosophy on which the MPL was developed, and some pioneers predicted that this training will predominate as early as 2018.
“In October 2000, ICAO convened an industry meeting in Madrid [Spain] to review future flight crew licensing and training,” said Vincent Galotti, deputy director, safety standardization and infrastructure, ICAO Air Navigation Bureau. “The industry meeting concluded that the emphasis placed by Annex 1, Personnel Licensing, on experience hours as the means to qualify for a professional pilot license was an obstacle to implementing best practices in ab initio–level training. From there on, work began to develop a safer and more efficient training regime for the next generation of commercial airline pilots with a focus on multi-crew operations.”
When ICAO approved the provisions that launched the MPL in 2006 — the first new ICAO license in 50 years — safety was at the forefront of its lofty objectives, he said. The first was to produce a higher level of quality in graduates so they would contribute to improved safety. “Second, it provides for a closer linkage between licensing standards and training standards — and it’s built on competencies, not on prescription of hours,” he said. “Third, it uses high-quality flight simulation training devices to train in a multi-crew environment from the beginning, and introduces a framework of collaborative relationships between the [approved] training organization [ATO] and the airlines, allowing the airline environment to permeate the training.”
Despite ICAO’s confidence in concepts tested earlier, the need for a full-scale operational proof of concept — evaluating whether MPL actually would provide an equivalent level of safety to airline pilots trained under the traditional approach — was not possible without first adopting and applying the standards, Galotti said. The first results of this step, a preliminary analysis of de-identified data from states and ATOs, provided the first insights. This analysis is ongoing and will generate further reports about MPL program results.
Günther Matschnigg, then senior vice president of safety and operations for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), reminded the symposium in a video message that the IATA Training Qualification Initiative during this period has worked to implement new competence-based concepts, including MPL, and evidence-based training as part of modernizing and harmonizing airline pilot training to improve safety and attract younger generations of people to the industry.
“MPL is the first airline-dedicated professional pilot’s license,” he said. “MPL training is tailored to guide students seamlessly from ab initio training to airliner type rating using simulation designed for multi-crew training. … MPL training addresses the increasingly important issue of loss of control in airline operations through required upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT) and seeks to reduce the continuing dominance of multi-crew human factors in accidents through embedded threat and error management and crew resource management training. … Indisputable results [from about 30 airlines] prove that MPL [is] the better solution, and the outcomes mean that MPL is the way to go.”
IATA’s information at the end of 2013 showed more than 2,400 students enrolled in MPL programs and 800 MPL graduates worldwide. “Despite the small sample size, operators report average/all-around graduates’ performance as good as or better than students from traditional training,” Matschnigg said. “IATA and its members, through the Operations Committee, will push to see MPL implemented worldwide.”
Decisions about designing the MPL in the early 2000s grew out of an ICAO Air Navigation Commission meeting with industry in 1997, said Jim Dow, alternate representative of Canada on the Council of ICAO and a member of the commission. “It was a very deliberate, collaborative, transparent process — a very evolutionary process,” he said, citing relevant concepts discussed at least since the 1970s and 1980s. “What you see as you circle backward is a constant effort to look at pilot training questions … because these questions always have to be asked.”
The standards for the MPL found in Annex 1 explain the license training scheme, competency units, guidelines for program implementation, training objectives and threat and error management. Other ICAO documents provide guidance to states’ establishment and management of a personnel licensing system, including MPL as the most comprehensive training system aligned with safety management systems.
Outside the MPL, ICAO provisions still emphasize hours of experience for the commercial pilot license as the basis of training a first officer. “This is not a performance-based standard. It’s a prescriptive standard that prescribes inputs rather than focusing on outcomes, and it lacks resilience. It’s slow to respond [to change, and among regulators, it] invites tinkering with arbitrary numbers. … If 200 hours is safe, 250 must be safer,” Dow said.
“[Our December report] is an analysis of the data that we received as a result of replies to state letters,” said Mitchell Fox, chief, ICAO Flight Operations Section. “It is not the only part of this proof-of-concept exercise.” ATOs were instructed to furnish the state licensing authority with de-identified information concerning each of four phases of their MPL training program — core, basic, intermediate, advanced (type-rating) — for each student during and following the program, including any corrective actions that were necessary.
This first-time analysis on the ICAO website <icao.int> covered how programs are structured and planned, data from each graduating class to date, and individual student performance. “First off, we wanted to see [if] states actually were implementing regulations in conformity with the ICAO standards for the MPL,” Fox said. “Having graduated from an ATO in collaboration with an airline, how did they actually perform in their initial operating experience or line experience? … We’ve analyzed 15 MPL programs to date.” All of these involved their sponsoring airline in the student-preselection process, and every ATO implemented qualification requirements for evaluators as recommended by ICAO.
“These [factors have] figured prominently in the success of this particular license,” he said. “For the final phase of training — the type rating — the evaluators and the instructors were very well-qualified. In the programs that we analyzed, nine had airline transport pilot license–qualified evaluators, and two did not. … All of the evaluators in the final phase of training were type-qualified, and the majority were currently qualified on type.”
Graphs of these data showed that states introducing the MPL typically have enabled its use by incorporating it into their national regulations. The ATOs thus have state approval. States that have not implemented MPL-enabling regulations tend to conduct this training only for pilots who will work in other states.
“This is a graphic representation [Figure 1] of the training hours by ATO that we analyzed,” Fox said. “What we find is that the amount of training hours is fairly consistent. [With the exception of one discontinued program,] the programs pretty well averaged out to about 300 hours, with a minimum training time of about 240 hours and a maximum training time of around 330 hours.”
In the final phase of training, actual takeoffs and landings are required in the aircraft type in which the applicant would be type-rated. ICAO’s PANS-TRG (Procedures for Air Navigation Services–Training) specifies 12 takeoffs and landings. “That can be reduced by the state authority once the proof of concept has been proven,” he said. “The vast majority of the ATOs conducting MPL training have a programmed takeoff and landing [requirement] of about 12 takeoffs and landings. A couple of the ATOs have been authorized by their authorities to conduct [fewer] takeoffs and landings.”
Graphs of other data showed that typical airplanes used for most core-phase training comprise Cessna, Diamond and Piper models. The responding ATOs also indicated that some use flight simulation training devices in this phase. Data also show that many ATOs use aerobatic aircraft “in the core flying phase of the MPL … based on [the anticipated] requirement for UPRT [although this] is not an absolute requirement. In the MPL, we do strongly recommend training in inverted flight but we have found through the research that we’ve done, and the further development that we’ve done on upset prevention training, that it may not be something that’s necessary — and many states do not do that, or they do not have access to aerobatic airplanes.”
The first set of data from states and ATOs also showed that the “vast majority” of the airlines and ATOs have been training students for the right seat of the Airbus A320. “The average class sizes so far have been about 13 trainees, a minimum of two … and a maximum of 27,” Fox said. “The MPL [students’ high final-check] pass rate is quite exciting, [but] I do have to put a little bit of a proviso in this. We do not have data, nor did we collect the data, on how many people wash out of training programs [i.e., fail and disenroll]. In retrospect, that probably would have been a good number to collect, but we just don’t have that data.”
All but one of the reporting ATOs had a 100-percent pass rate; the other had a 98-percent pass rate. “‘Train for success’ [in a competency-based system] makes a big difference,” he said. “We had 586 datasets, meaning trainees. … In actual hours for completion, the average was about 286 hours actual flight time and flight simulation training device time. …The deviation from the planned/programmed amount of hours … was certainly within an acceptable tolerance. … In terms of the total flight time average — including solo or pilot-in-command time, sole-[control]-manipulator time and dual — the average amount of actual flight time on type was approximately 85 hours. Remember, the only actual time on type is that which is required for the takeoffs and landings.” Fox acknowledged the incongruence of programming specific amounts of hours in performance/competency–based training, and he called it a temporarily needed concession to achieve stakeholder consensus at the time.
“The actual takeoffs and landings required to train to competency was [about 14,] actually a little bit above the 12 takeoffs and landings,” he said. “But we did see deviations. In one case, we saw [a] maximum of 36 takeoffs and landings required in type. Three of the ATOs that we analyzed actually required at-or-above 24 takeoffs and landings to reach full competency.”
Students’ scores on airline transport pilot license–level theory testing were typically 80 percent to 90 percent correct answers. Another area reviewed was the ICAO English language proficiency level. “Most ATOs require that the entrants enter with ICAO proficiency Level 3 … but they have to graduate at the full operational Level 4.”
Other graphs from the data analyzed in time for the symposium showed the nature of graduates’ deficiencies during their initial line training/line check, also called initial operating experience, at their airline. ATOs furnished data on trainees who failed a check (but subsequently passed the check and the full course) or had to be debriefed for skill-enhancement purposes following a particular maneuver.
“Of [586 dataset] files that we received, we had about 21 incidents where graduates of the MPL program had some challenges in the execution of a maneuver in actual line training,” Fox said. “That’s not a high percentage but it is notable. The next [highest-reported] area was related to workload management. … The vast majority of these were performance that didn’t quite meet the full-line requirements and required a debrief; of the debriefs, only about 1 percent per airline actually resulted in failure on that particular maneuver. That doesn’t mean to say that the [airline] trainees didn’t go on to succeed in their line training, but they failed that maneuver on one occasion.
“What we found surprising is that the graduates [also] had some challenges associated with monitoring the flight progress in cruise. … The next area where the graduates were most challenged had to do with precision approaches and normal landings. … These are either a failure, which represents about 1 percent of the numbers, or a debrief, which is the vast majority of those numbers.”
Comments on the new first officers’ post-line evaluations showed that a few of the graduates had pilot–air traffic control communications problems — possibly related to English language proficiency.
These MPL graduates also varied somewhat in the number of sectors they flew before attaining the airline’s full qualification to line-performance standards. The average was 105 sectors, with a minimum of 70 to 72 sectors and a maximum of 281 sectors. The average sector length was about 1.5 hours, with the line trainee performing about half the pilot-flying duties.
“What we show so far is the MPL works,” Fox said. “It’s sound. One of the factors that we attribute that success to is [the airline-involved student] preselection. We feel that has been a marked factor in the success of the MPL. The failure rate is low [because they train until they achieve] the individual’s competency … the individual’s need. The goal is train to success. … Really, the mark of MPL success is ‘Do the graduates go on to an airline career as a professional pilot?’ The vast majority of [these] graduates went on to the sponsoring airlines. … It’s not really surprising.”
Some captains were apprehensive about flying with graduates of the MPL program, he said. “They found, however, that they preferred to fly with them, as opposed to graduates of conventional training programs. I think that’s also a mark of success.” He noted that ICAO so far has no data on the number of MPL graduates that have upgraded to captain, or their performance in command.
UPRT in Core Phase
Harmut Fabisch, a captain representing IATA as a consultant on UPRT and on loss of control issues in MPL programs, told the symposium that although ICAO standards and guidance do not specify the phase where this subject is to be covered, there are several reasons for including this training early, at the core flying-skills phase.
“I’m quite proud about the fact that we already had thought about UPRT in 2001 during the design phase of the MPL,” he said. “At that time, loss of control–in flight was not yet on everyone’s lips but we had the feeling that this was of essential importance and that we should include [what was then called upset recovery training] in the course. … MPL is the only course under ICAO Annex 1 which mandates UPRT.”
The primary reason for providing this in the core flying-skill phase is because this phase, in great measure, deals with human factors and pilots’ career-long foundation of confidence in their own capability.
“UPRT worldwide varies from very professional, all-attitude recovery training [to] misunderstandings like [teaching] aerobatics or spin training [or] classic unusual-attitude maneuvering in normal-category aircraft with regular flight instructors who never received any specific qualification in this field,” Fabisch said.
The MPL course uniquely embraces all recommended areas of UPRT — from generic on-aircraft and simulator training at the core and basic phases to UPRT in type-rating training.
“[UPRT elements] that exclusively can be trained in the real aircraft are mainly related to the psychophysiological effects — such as the handling of surprise and startle, maintaining the ability to act during reduced and increased g loads [multiples of the standard acceleration of gravity] and enabling pilots to perform counterintuitive actions such as applying forward elevator in nose-low or even in inverted attitudes,” he said.
“The special value of on-aircraft UPRT lies primarily in the human factor … to build confidence in a pilot, trust in [her/his] own ability to determine the situation correctly and recover any aircraft from any attitude or any energy state as long as this is possible … [and] there is no way around using an aerobatic-certified aircraft for this type of training. Developing handling skills to recover from upsets is also very important, but this can all be trained in the simulators. … Most experts among us consider a certain maturing process and psychological aspects as most important [in the core phase]. … This means that UPRT and the core phase are closely connected because they share the same fundamental value. Core-flying confidence phase would be a better name.”