COVID BLOG 6: WILL THE VIRUS DICTATE THE FUTURE OF PILOT TRAINING?

Hello everyone and welcome back to our COVID Blog series. The Airline Pilot Club hope that you and your families are well and are enjoying some freedom from lockdown restrictions. A route to better times seems to be developing.  We hope that these early portents of a better future develop into reality.

As we learn more about it, there are aspects of the COVID 19 disease that are interesting from a pilot training perspective. One such is the way that the virus seems to be able to seek out weaknesses in the system and create lasting damage to vital functions. A great friend of mine has been laid low by the virus which has attacked him in ways that you don’t hear about on the news. As he said to me “the virus decides, not you, whether you get a gentle dose, or it destroys you”.

Will the virus decide the future shape of professional pilot training?

Before we address that question, let me recap on a topic that many of you will know me to be very passionate about. This is the standard of pilot being produced by the EASA system – pilots who are legally qualified to be an Airline Pilot.

In my first contribution to Halldale’s EATS training event in Berlin 2013, I presented on the Ryanair cadet pilot assessment process. The key points were that the assessment was (and is) very straightforward. It is set up for people to pass. Everything that an applicant would want to know about the content of the assessment is provided in advance. And yet, nearly half the licence-holding applicants fail this very straightforward assessment of a qualified pilot’s ability to become an Airline Pilot.

At the end of the presentation, I asked the conference: “Why are 50% of legally qualified pilots in the EU unable to pass an Airline Pilot selection process?” Let’s try to answer that question.

“Trying to fix some problems in the pilot supply chain from ATO to the Airline Pilot career.”

Fast-forward a few months and EASA had created the Aircrew Training Policy Group (ATPG). The Group set about trying to fix some problems in the pilot supply chain from ATO to the Airline Pilot career. As a result, we recommended adjusting the MPL to enable graduates to do a Conversion course. This allowed qualified MPL pilots to change Operator under certain circumstances. We also advised that the EASA MPL syllabus be aligned with the ICAO policy of enabling the reduction of the number of landings in aircraft training from 12 to 6.

We looked at the MCC JOC combination that was prolific at the time. Remember, all of the applicants who failed the above assessment had been trained using this combination.

Here, in the basic MCC, we found a weak system. The specification of the FSTD that could be approved for use allowed very basic devices to be approved for training. In addition to this, JOC is an unregulated course with no specified syllabus with no set standard of instructor qualification. We set about combining the best elements of these and devised an excellent syllabus which is the Airline Pilot Standard MCC (APS MCC). EASA were very supportive and we found a way to get this published as a new AMC in 2017. Remarkable.

“The APS MCC is working.”

The APS MCC is working. Since its introduction, 75% (and rising) of APS MCC qualified applicants pass the airline assessment. About 55% of the MCC JOC applicants pass the same assessment. Demonstrating that the extra content and high specifications required in the APS MCC is translating to higher pass rates at Airline assessments.

During our work we contemplated what the future Airline Pilot training landscape should look like. Gone would be the basic MCC and the unregulated JOC course. Instead, we would see industry pilots supplied by Airline focused training programmes that would pump well-trained pilots through the MPL and the APS MCC.

Back to the virus, and its ability to seek out weakness in the system.

I love the MPL course. It is competency based, airline oriented and less expensive than the other routes because of its extended use of simulators. However, it has had problems. There have been well publicised difficulties with contractual issues between student and Operator. Therefore, the uptake of the course has been less than originally hoped.

The virus could find this weakness. Under COVID 19 circumstances, Operators with commitments to students on MPL programs could be tempted to cut those students loose or perhaps force them to switch to ATPL course footprints, at a difficult time and at significant extra expense.

“A major threat.”

This would be a major threat to one of the two pilot supply lines we discussed above. Why would future students spend their cash for an MPL course if it can be so insecure and so dependent on the Operator in the relationship?

So, let me answer my question to the EATS conference with with a question to the Operators:

Why have more Operators not adapted the APS MCC or the MPL as their supply line of new pilots when both courses have been specifically designed to delver onto them what they need?

As always, I would like thank you for taking the time to read our COVID-19 Blog series.

Andy

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