By Consuelo Arto – Training Expert at the Sepla Technical Department.
The airline industry is finally starting to breathe and to gaze at the horizon with some hope. This has been expressed by many airlines, which are already forecasting air traffic recovery figures that seem similar to those of 2019. But, after so many months of hiatus, are we pilots ready to return to our usual activity?
Restarting air operations after a period of minimal activity requires an understanding that, in addition to the regulatory requirements in terms of maintaining skills and competencies, pilots must be prepared to fly again, ensuring safety standards that require the joint efforts of pilots and operators.
This is why both airline safety departments and aviation authorities are looking for an efficient strategy to bring pilots into flight. However, while the aviation authority limits itself to demanding compliance with a standard common to all, airline operators are immersed in designing programs suited to their needs and those of their pilots. These programs must be based, in the opinion of the professionals, on an individualized analysis that takes into account a series of variables such as the pilot’s experience or the flights performed in the last year, etc.
According to Tanja Harter, ECA’s Technical Director, “the industry is still very focused on a one-size-fits-all approach. As of today, it doesn’t look like any regulation is going to solve the problem. All airlines and pilots can meet the training requirements, but only those that go further will effectively address the problem. What the regulations require is not the same as what the pilot may actually need.”
“There is,” continues Major Harter, “a broad consensus that the more competent the pilot was at the beginning of the crisis, the easier his or her reinstatement will be. Research has indicated that people with skills and knowledge acquired over a long time were better able to retain their skills. This is one of the key lessons to be learned for the future as well: the more competent pilots are at all times, the more resilient the aviation system will be.”
That is to say, a pilot’s training developed throughout his life will be decisive in his retraining; depending on his experience, it will be easier or not to “put him back flying”.
New Ways of Learning
Virtual training and automation will play a key role in an eminently technological future. In order to reconcile training needs with this future, the Aviation Safety State Agency has authorized online training on an ad hoc basis. In this way, ATOs have been able to continue offering training courses during the confinement, incorporating in their training offer a greater number of e-learning courses among which recurrent and familiarization trainings or refresher courses, among others, stand out.
It is clear that face-to-face sessions on simulators are essential and cannot be compared – let alone be replaced – by online sessions in the same way that the flight simulator cannot replace the airplane. However, they can be considered as complementary training.
Retraining and rebuilding confidence
We must be aware of the fact that skill impairment is not a personal weakness. It is a normal limitation of human performance, and it affects not only pilots, but all aviation personnel, from ATC to ground handling, cabin crew, flight readiness, dispatch. Pilots must invest some personal effort to slow the deterioration of skills, and thereby increase confidence. But it is not only their responsibility, it is also the operators’ responsibility. That is why the focus should be on retraining pilots and not just on checking them.
According to expert opinion, at a time of unprecedented recovery such as the one we are currently facing, it is important to convey confidence to flight personnel and, in this way, to regain the skills they already had. It is not, therefore, the time to demand at the same level as when we all flew regularly, so this demand should be left to the discretion of the pilot examiner, who is supposed to be sufficiently trained to understand the current situation.
This is the understanding of the Spanish Aviation Safety Agency (AESA), where I have developed my experience as a trainer of examiners (TRE), to whom we conveyed the importance of having their own criteria based on their own experience and on the training received from AESA. Now is the time to adapt their experience to this new situation, with a fair criterion towards their colleagues and contributing with their good judgment to put our pilots back to flying, always maintaining safety standards.
Along with the work of the examiners, companies have a lot to do to assist the pilot in regaining competency. Operations departments can help by preparing information, such as a summary of changes and procedures specific to COVID. In addition, training departments can also tailor training to the needs of the individual, including even the modified operating environment in retraining. They can also make sure that, whatever tools and solutions are available, they are accessible to pilots courses, access to simulators, trainers, software solutions, etc. And, most importantly of all, helping them to regain their confidence. And that means understanding the pressure pilots are under, and reassuring them during the training process. Pilots often have high expectations of their own performance and are often very critical of themselves.
In short, both the operator and the pilot share a great responsibility when it comes to recovering the air activity in a safe way. From all aeronautical fields related to training, we must contribute to the recovery of our crews, maintaining safety standards and understanding that this situation is nobody’s fault and that additional training adequate to the needs of pilots and operators is required, although it is not specified in the regulation.
– Current and confident: flying again after the pandemic.
– News article April 22, 2021.Interview with European Cockpit Association.
– IFALPA. Pilot Proficiency during COVID.
– Recovery. CAPT GLEN FINCH HUPER .
– Webinar Safely Navigating the Industry Recovery-Maintaining Competency and Training during Recovery..