7 years of MPL – 7 things learnt

    The end of 2013 marked a milestone for the Multi-crew Pilot Licence (MPL), which had been introduced by ICAO as an alternative ab-initio airline pilot training program with a multi-crew focus. When MPL was launched in 2006 amid great scepticism within the pilot community, ICAO made a commitment to review the concept and assess the global status of MPL implementation. Based on a thorough assessment ECA identified 7 things about MPL learnt in the past 7 years.

    1. The MPL programs allow a good level of understanding of pilot’s performance because they enable a better detection of possible competences that need reinforcing. When MPL syllabi are flexible to address individual competence drifts and problems this is thanks to the detailed selection of the candidates and the continuous assessment of the competences build up through training monitoring and oversight.
    2. MPL syllabi contain various deficiencies. MPL minimum requirements introduce a drastic reduction of real aircraft time, reduction of real solo flight hours and a strong increase of simulated flight hours. The currently approved MPL syllabi meet the minimum requirement of 12 real landings and even less in some cases. Some currently approved MPL syllabi do not include real Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flights or asymmetric flying in real aircraft. What is more, there is no relevant Air Traffic Control (ATC) simulated environment available to date, which makes the ATC interaction training questionable. And not least, MPL syllabi introduce a global training timescale reduction, including little to no consolidation time (i.e. time to allow for reinforcing the just acquired skills). 
    3. MPL is a pure co-pilot licence. Training programs of most airlines in the past have selected and trained their candidates towards captaincy. Contrary to that, current MPL programs do not reflect the natural career path of an airline pilot, nor do they provide the necessary tools for an evolution towards it. There is no route plan for MPL pilots to prepare them for the left seat in the cockpit. There is also no proof of capability for a MPL licence holder to upgrade to captaincy and so far no MPL trainee has graduated to Captain.
    4. MPL training schemes exacerbate existing training program deficiencies. With less flying time in the aircraft, very limited solo flight time, and less exposure to the real environment MPL training schemes only amplify existing shortcomings in today’s pilot training programs. Improving airmanship, basic flying skills and Crew Resource Management (CRM) skills of its candidate pilots is even more crucial when looking at the reduced MPL training programs.
    5. Primarily cost-driven. The MPL syllabus design is primarily cost-driven, with a significant reduction of training time. Tying the MPL licence more closely to commercial needs of airlines – i.e. training more pilots faster – rather than empowering MPL pilots as an independent safety professional is a potentially dangerous practice.
    6. MPL schemes bind pilots to one airline. MPL schemes are by definition tailored to specific airlines. Hence, an MPL qualified pilot is likely to face serious career restrictions when (s)he leaves the company or in case of any unpredicted developments at company level, such as bankruptcy or employment halt. Flying with another airline with an MPL licence would always require additional training and qualifications.
    7. There is only limited data and feedback on the MPL pilots’ performance due to the limited number of MPL licence holders. Over the past years, MPL programmes have been running across the globe. But recent numbers indicate that by September 2012, there were 1.900 enrolments and only 600 MPL licence holders. This inevitably also affects the quality of data and feedback on the performance of MPL pilots. 

    In a nutshell, after seven years MPL is growing out of its infancy stage and is quickly becoming a shortcut to the cockpit at a lower price for the airline. Considering the many deficiencies, the potential safety implications and the precipitance with which MPL is being implemented by industry, it is crucial to remedy its deficiencies and to stick to a careful, gradual and precautionary implementation. Otherwise, we can easily fall in the trap of producing pilots who only function within standard operating procedures and when the skies are gentle but do not possess what is really needed to ensure safe operations: airmanship.

    Read more in ECA's position paper on MPL (Dec, 2013) here