A few of the world’s airlines already are taking steps to refine traditional ab initio pilot training programs after comparing the performance of these cadets to that of counterparts qualifying as first officers through multi-crew pilot licensing (MPL) programs. Airline representatives described these steps as seizing opportunities to provide the best aspects of both program types in light of the high MPL success rate reported by a proof-of-concept data analysis (ASW, 5/14) for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Airline case studies, other regulator analysis, perspectives of approved training organizations (ATOs) and positions taken by the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) comprised much of the December agenda of the ICAO Multi-Crew Pilot License Symposium. The accounts of airlines’ experiences in overcoming MPL deficiencies and impediments encountered during implementation (Table 1) influenced an informal working list of improvement priorities — some tied to industry safety objectives, such as upset prevention and recovery training — that could accelerate launches of new MPL programs.
A number of presenters and attendees stressed that any performance level by MPL cadets and graduates that merely matches that of traditionally trained first officers eventually will be deemed insufficient, despite ICAO’s good-news proof-of-concept. This redoubles the need for careful selection of additional performance metrics, they said.
Dieter Harms, a captain who consults as a senior adviser to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Training and Qualification Initiative and the Civil Aviation Administration of China on MPL implementation, said that his improvement priorities merely reflect a growing consensus. He also is member of the European Aviation Safety Agency’s MPL Advisory Board, and he chaired IATA’s MPL Implementation Working Group,
“First, solve the ‘competency confusion’ … when people speak about [ICAO’s similar-sounding Procedures for Air Navigation Services–Training (PANS-TRG)] competencies and pilot core competencies,” he said. “We have to improve course-approval guidance [on the process by which state authorities approve an MPL course]. There is also a lot of confusion [about this] around the world. We have to link EBT [evidence-based training] and the MPL. … We have to follow what we call the ‘total systems approach.’ We have to adjust theoretical training to the competency principle. We have to adjust the base training to competency-based principles. We have to remove the ‘European license restriction’ [for MPL holders]. We have to clarify and finalize the [solution to] uncertainty about where and when we need motion [simulators during MPL Phase 3]. We have to clarify the air traffic control [ATC] simulation. … [We have to] improve the qualification requirements for MPL instructors, especially for Phase 2. Last, not least, [we have to] improve and continue the data collection and analysis process.”
Symposium sessions generated examples of misunderstandings that actually should be fairly simple for ICAO to clarify, said Mitchell Fox, chief, Flight Operations Section, ICAO Air Navigation Bureau. “There was a lot of concern expressed on the part of several of the speakers that we might be out there to get rid of solo time; that was never included in the MPL provisions,” he said. “There is no intent to eliminate the solo time, not from an international perspective. The other point that was raised was the use of aerobatic airplanes for the purpose of upset prevention and recovery training. … The provisions do not dissuade the states and the ATOs from using aerobatic airplanes, but do not establish it as a requirement.” Scarce availability of aerobatic aircraft in some states and regions was cited, as was the possibility of negative transfer of training on recovery techniques from inappropriate instruction in small, utility-category airplanes to large transport category airplanes, he said.
A number of MPL-implementation lessons provided by the first 30 airlines now can be applied globally. “I think that we all agree that this proof-of-concept has been completed … that the MPL at this particular juncture has met the expectations of the global community,” Fox said.
Leading explanations for MPL successes, as cited in the case studies, are: stringent cadet-selection process; competency-based training; competent instructors; integrated threat and error management; learning-management systems and record keeping; continual feedback about programs from cadet pilot performance data, cadets and sponsoring airlines; and robust global MPL data sharing and analysis. “The MPL needs to be sustainable, it needs to be repeatable, and it needs continuous improvement,” Fox said.
As in the evolution of other performance-based training in aviation — MPL presumes far more from regulators than checking airlines’ compliance with regulations — government oversight can be a serious challenge for some states. “The MPL is a very good example of the performance-based requirement,” Fox said. “[Oversight is] going to require some additional skills, and I think we need to promote the skills for the regulators. … [There is] need for better inspector and examiner qualifications, for sure, and that might be [in] improved guidance material” such as amendments that increase the overall level of detail on this subject in PANS-TRG.
Ironically, several presenters said, the qualifications for instructors under the MPL provisions are prescriptive — i.e., requiring hours of experience in specific areas rather than evidence of the specific competencies — so they clash with the basic idea of performance-based training.
A number of presenters and attendees shared the opinion that MPL programs would be enhanced simply by tighter integration of knowledge, practice and testing. An example would be interspersing activities focused on theoretical training with activities that require almost immediate practice in practical scenarios. Another is conducting mastery tests along the way that progressively measure each cadet’s progress rather than conducting an all-encompassing test at the end of a training course.
Another enhancement yet to be considered — especially in Europe, where an MPL holder only can fly for his or her sponsor airline — is a defined, internationally agreed path to employment for MPL graduates who do not obtain a first officer position from that operator.
Differences in how airlines and ATOs attempt to provide MPL cadets a balanced ratio of actual flight time (including solo time) and simulator training also need further study. A similar variation arises when balancing time spent on instrument flying using raw data against time spent on instrument flying with automation.
Another area where variations among MPL programs stood out was the number of full-stop takeoffs and landings that different national regulators require MPL cadets to perform in the actual aircraft in which they will be type-rated. ICAO provisions call for a minimum of 12, a number that the regulator can reduce but that in many cases has been increased significantly. Fox said this is another program aspect that needs closer harmonization to be predictable from one state to another state, and to support eventual recognition of MPLs among states.
IFALPA takes the position that MPL-specific data collection and analysis should be expanded greatly and be uniform for comparisons over time, said Tanja Harter, an Airbus A320 captain and presenter representing the federation. “We need to collect data from after the license [issuance] and not stop at the license [issuance but rather include] data beyond — up to captaincy — and maybe even beyond that, including feedback not only through [line-]check data but also from the day-to-day ops [i.e., routine flight data monitoring of operations to look for root causes],” Harter said. “Where did the strengths come from, and what’s causing the weaknesses? And, if possible, correct those.”
A Vulnerable Flower
Many other data-collection possibilities were advanced. “The ATPL [airline transport pilot license] in the current training system has led to fairly good safety data, so already we know that’s a good starting point,” added Stéphane Clément of CAE. “It would be good if we eventually could compare the MPL graduates to today’s reality.”
Clément added that some recognized deficiencies, along with the complexity of MPL implementation, are “right now a barrier to adoption of MPL worldwide, and the more clarity and the more simplicity … the smoother the adoption will be and the faster the benefits will come.”
Doug Farrow of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said that one of the most sensitive performance metrics is line operational evaluations in actual line conditions. ICAO’s Fox noted that to his knowledge, airlines with MPL programs have yet to use that tool to track MPL cadet/graduate performance.
“We need better data, so we have to reengineer the questionnaires, and we have to include the [MPL first officer] upgrade issue because I think, in the next years, we will see more and more MPL graduates upgrading to captains,” Harms said. “This thing [MPL] is still a little vulnerable flower; it is not yet a robust system. If we take care of it, and if we do not allow misuse, then I predict that in a five-year period, MPL [will become] the leading system for our future airline pilot training.”
Dirk Kröger, a captain and vice president, Pilot Schools Division, Lufthansa Flight Training, cautioned attendees that in cases where an airline already has inserted competency-based training into a traditional ab initio program, the apparent similarity of MPL pilot performance can be misleading regarding true MPL benefits.
“[For all] students who finally pass the line training — [at] airlines in which this is hopefully already competency-based — we have the same result,” Kröger said. “[Lufthansa, however,] heard a lot about high dropout rates happening with the students coming from different programs. … I saw a 0.5-percent failure rate in the IOE [initial operating experience], and that is our goal, and no failures in the intermediate or advanced phase [of MPL]. We have selection [of only about 9 percent of total applicants up] front, and then a low dropout rate in the beginning of the training, so we are not wasting time and money for the students or for us. So that is the difference.
“At some other point, there is a possibility to transfer the idea of MPL competency training to the CPL-IR [commercial pilot license–instrument rating] conventional training. That should be the next step.”
Nick Taylor of Transport Canada Civil Aviation said that although some airlines have had comparable outcomes from the MPL and the traditional ab initio training of first officers, this is the exception rather than the rule at a global level. “My … very small observation of MPL [indicates] that it is fundamentally better than the traditional route that we normally see,” he said.
Bai Hongqiu, a captain and deputy director of flight training, Standards Department of the Civil Aviation Flight University of China, said that after comparing the traditional, pre-airline training backgrounds of first officers in states and regions such as the United States, Canada and Europe, officials came to the conclusion that “The world is different. … Chinese airlines are very welcoming to the MPL training. … In China, the [MPL] results are good; they’re excellent … totally different for students graduated from the CPL [course] compared to the MPL students.”
A representative from an Austrian ATO cited an operator that considers MPL a “brilliant” solution based on results for cadets in four courses. The operator has been pressing for regulator approval to reduce the minimum 12 landings in ICAO MPL provisions because that number has proven to be a “waste of resources.” “This is reason no. 1 for why to have MPL. … [MPL] makes us a different ATO now, giving us the opportunity to [also] train our unscreened, regular, self-sponsored ATPL students a different way by looking at competencies, giving them a better chance to develop their competencies, making them better pilots. … This is, in my opinion, one major and very important side effect from MPL.”
Several speakers described some MPL cadets’ relative difficulty attaining the required level of proficiency in pilot–air traffic control communication. ICAO’s Fox said there is reason to believe the issue is broader than MPL programs and does not necessarily imply a problem communicating in English. “We tend to focus in on a very rote practice of phraseology, but when [MPL cadets] get out into the real world, it doesn’t always work that way, and some of the graduates are having problems in adapting to that,” he said, acknowledging a need for more guidance material on solutions, such as jump seat observations of line operations, as some attendees suggested.
Another tool requested by IFALPA is official guidance on the expected role of MPL programs in the development of future commanders/captains.
IFALPA’s Harter also indirectly touched on this last aspect of balancing the time that MPL cadets spend in flying airplanes, particularly solo flights, which has not been captured in the data showing the success of MPL programs. “We know there’s discussion about ‘fear factor,’ but I think that still, real-flight training is required for actual risk exposure,” she said. “Why? Because there is some emotion involved when you fly alone, and know you’re responsible for your own [life]. And I think that makes the difference. Learning through emotions can be very powerful, and sometimes we need it. [There’s] no need to … to adjust the simulator to include the fear factor, that’s not the idea. The emotion is the thing.”