Pilots: Flight Managers or Aviators?

Pilots are concerned. Concerned about the level of training they will get in future. Read ‘level of training’ as meaning both quality and quantity, because both are under pressure.  Add to this the challenge to cope with the ever increasing automation on the flight deck. Key questions therefore arise: shall we train pilots to understand what the plane is doing and teach them to simply “manage” the airplane? Or shall we train pilots to be able to really fly the plane using the so-called “stick and rudder skills” used since the dawn of aviation? The answers will shape the future aviation safety level. To shape these safety levels – and considering themselves as part of the solution – pilots have issued a common global view on training: the IFALPA Pilot Training Standard (IPTS), released a few weeks ago.

So, what is the answer to the key question if a pilot is a manager or an aviator? The answer is simple and complex at the same time: a pilot has to be both a flight manager and an aviator. The pilot needs to be able to switch between both skill sets – flight deck management skills and core “stick and rudder” flying skills – as the circumstances require. Pilots must be able to think "outside the box", i.e. be trained for non-linear, unpredictable and undefined events.

Based on this observation, a training scheme can be developed to bring someone with no flying to a proficiency level that embraces both skill sets. But, once we have trained a new pilot up to that skill level, the next challenge arises: how to continue training the young first officer throughout their career, so they can keep and improve their skill set whilst at the same time mastering the ever increasing complexity of technology and automation?

The pilot answer is reflected in the IPTS, issued in March 2011 and which defines IFALPA’s position on the future of pilot training. The IFALPA position sets out the factors that that are fundamental for pilot training starting from the initial selection process up to the enhancement of the pilot skills throughout a career. ECA and its members’ training experts have actively contributed to establishing the IPTS and a Manual is now under development that will describe the details (for more information see: http://www.ifalpa.org/downloads/Level1/IFALPA%20Statements/Licensing/11POS04-The%20Future%20of%20Flight%20Training.pdf).

The pilot profession is under pressure, not only because of the training challenges mentioned above but also because various stakeholders are exploring how to make training less time-consuming and thus less expensive. Less time needed to train a new pilot means more pilots can be trained in the same time which is helpful to cover for the predicted shortfall in pilots over the next decades. And less training for pilots during their career makes them more productive (i.e. more flying hours during commercial operations) and eliminates part of the expensive training cost. But let’s not fall in the trap of a purely cost-driven approach that could easily compromise aviation safety. Enough training both in quality AND in quantity, needs to be provided from day 1 when a candidate enrolls to become a pilot, right up to the day of retirement.

Pilots are the first to ask for adequate, sufficient and meaningful training. Why? Because they know from firsthand experience that only a well trained pilot is able to guarantee the safety of a flight. So, let’s not nibble on training, and rather strengthen training programs so they are scaled up to what we need for our industry and passengers: safe flights – even under the most demanding circumstances.