Continuous learning has been a buzz phrase for all employees across all industries, but for pilots this is nothing new: training is and always will be key to a safe aviation industry. The continuously changing environment with the introduction of new generation aircraft and systems, longer non-stop flights which reduce the opportunity to act as pilot flying, ever increasing air traffic and difficult weather conditions put pilot training under continuous review. But what is training exactly? What do pilots need to be trained on? These are key questions under discussion across the globe.
History lessons are always useful. Can we learn from the introduction of the previous generation of airliners? It took more than a decade before accident statistics were down to an acceptable level. Clearly this should be avoided with the introduction of the next generation of aircraft. In addition a significant shortage of licence holders is expected, especially in South-America and Asia. The IATA Training and Qualification Initiative (ITQI), which aims to promote growth in the number of licensed staff while maintaining quality and safety standards, is currently being proposed.
The goal sounds good, the practice in setting up ITQI is a bit less positive. ITQI proposes to use risk analysis to define correctly prioritised training and thus have company/fleet specific training. This could result in:
- a reduction of training (depending on the results of the analysis, certain training exercises could disappear completely);
- inadequate monitoring by some National Authorities who are not geared up for the necessary oversight task;
- problems with long term compatibility: how to ensure that qualification training with company A is recognised by company B?
Our experts attending the ITQI meetings are facing a big uphill struggle: ECA wants ITQI to enhance safety and training and if introduced, it should be in an environment that makes full use of Safety Management Systems and a Just Culture. But maybe the biggest challenge is the maintenance of basic flying skills and balancing this correctly against pilot skills which are multifaceted and go beyond the ability to fly an airplane (Legal responsibilities of the aircraft Commander, Crew Resource Management, etc.). Regulatory changes over the past decade have been in the direction of reduced training of basic flying skills. This trend should be counteracted but ITQI risks pushing these basic flying skills even further down the priority list.
Being an IATA initiative, ITQI is a global discussion. On November 24, EASA – already present in the ITQI meetings – will hold a Training Conference with a goal to gather information on the possible ways to improve pilots' training. Are prescriptive rules still the method of choice and do we simply need more hours of initial and recurrent training to reach the skill level needed to cope with flying safely in a demanding environment? Or, should performance based training be introduced to meet the challenge? These are basic but important questions.
Obviously the answers will not be clear on the evening of the 24th. But the conference may inspire EASA to further reflect on training in close consultation with the pilots. Although the conference is limited to a selected audience, ECA will attend with an important delegation and provide one of the presentations. Our message to EASA will be: Competence – Performance – Airmanship: How to achieve them, how to retain them?