Chris Long visits Lufthansa Flight Training and reports on its well-established MPL programme for ab initio training.

Few issues in pilot training have generated as much discussion in recent years as the introduction of the Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (MPL). Some have ignored it, and sought to improve training merely by adding to the number of hours required to fly commercial aircraft, others have seized on it as the only answer to all the ab initio training challenges. The trick is to identify an objective assessment of the effectiveness of this syllabus when compared with earlier training processes. The baseline is the underlying pattern that has been established for over half the lifetime of aviation, which pursued a progression through PPL / Multi-Engine / I/R / CPL / ATPL.

The first graduates of this latest training philosophy have now been established as line pilots since 2010, and a rapidly increasing database is being built up by those Aviation Training Organisations (ATOs) and airlines which have delivered MPL training. In terms of numbers of pilots in training and successfully graduated through MPL, there is one clear market leader – Lufthansa Flight Training (LFT).

Dirk Kröger, Vice President Pilot Schools Division at LFT, indicates that, as of September 2013, some 1260 students have entered the MPL programme, of whom 400 are now operating as line pilots on the Boeing 737, the Airbus A320 family, or the Embraer 170. Consequently there is a considerable body of knowledge on what and how to train using such a pattern.

Origins Back in 1956 the Lufthansa Pilot Training School was created in Bremen, and that was where Lufthansa started recruiting and funding the training of cadet pilots for direct entry into the airline. The school has operated continuously since then, and was absorbed into Lufthansa Flight Training in 1997. This long tradition of intensive ab initio pilot training has established a reputation for the high quality of its graduates, and that looks set to continue with Dirk Kröger, himself a graduate of an earlier course, now heading up the school. The base at Bremen has been at the forefront of the development of ab initio training, so had already moved from the ICAO minimum ab initio training, and took a step forward in 1987 by introducing complex types for both the single engine and multi-engine phases of the training, which already included a high number of training hours in a FFS. In this system, called Futura, the underlying approach was that it was competency based.

Cadets would go straight to the Beech Bonanza, with retractable landing gear (the single engine flying carried out at the Airline Training Center Arizona – ATCA in Phoenix, Arizona), and then to the turbo-prop Piper Cheyenne (based in Bremen, Germany) as the twin engine trainer. During the flying on the Cheyenne the training in Multi crew operation and the role of the first officer were introduced. Both those aircraft were advanced for an ab initio school, but it is no surprise that the head of the school at that time was Dieter Harms, now readily recognised as the father of MPL, and who clearly maintained a vision of what was required of a line pilot as the end goal of ab initio training.

In formulating Futura to address the fact that the skills required of a commercial pilot were worthy of training on a more advanced system than the basic ICAO syllabus, it was essential to ensure the best possible pass rate to avoid wasting both student and school time and resources. As reported in CAT 5/2009, a selection process was essential, and the DLR, an independent organisation, continues to administer that selection, with an active and continuous system of fine tuning based on feedback from the school and the airline. The washout rate of just 3% illustrates just how effective the whole process is – and that helps to make it commercially viable.

Major items of this Futura process now form the basis of the MPL programme running at LFT.

MPL – the LFT Flavour Given the basics of the MPL philosophy - selection, training to competency, embedded Threat and Error Management (TEM) and Crew Resource Management (CRM) together with multi-crew operation, to be carried out on training platforms close to the airline types, the change from the Futura operation was straightforward.

Certainly a lot of work had to be done on the precise defining of the syllabus and tasks within the MPL phases, but the start point of looking to airline pilot competencies, rather than ticking boxes in a minimalistic basic training course, was very well understood by the LFT team.

The breakdown of the phase is illustrated here (Fig 1). This figure shows two other key features – the Core and Basic training is carried out as before at two locations. All theoretical training is carried out at Bremen, with the initial part completed before the students go to the ATCA for the practical (single engine) part of the Core Phase.

Now included in the training at Phoenix is three flights, each of one hour ten minutes, of Upset Recovery Training carried out on the Grob G120. On their return to Germany, the second part of theoretical training is completed before the Basic Phase flying is carried out on the Cessna Citation CJ1. The strength of having access to the full resources of LFT is that they can then complete the Intermediate and Advanced Phases on the wide range of training devices at any of the LFT bases, depending on FFS availability. To round off the training, a minimum of 70 and maximum of 160 sectors are flown as Line Operating Experience, and the final check can be flown between these limits when the necessary level of competence is achieved.

Looking at the equipment levels at each phase, it is evident that the Bonanza, having served so well for so long, will soon need to be replaced with an aircraft which is better adapted to 21st century technology. Kröger acknowledges that the process of selecting a replacement will start soon, with an introduction into service of the new aircraft slated for 2015. That technology, however, is already extremely well represented by the Citation which is custom equipped to the LFT specification, and includes EFIS, TCAS, WXR, EGPWS.

In addition to that avionics suite, the aircraft is fitted with a third seat immediately behind the two pilots, where the second student on the flight has responsibility for the radio (using a custom-fitted radio panel), thus giving him/her an active role during the flight and consequently further opportunity for real learning. At first glance it may seem to be extravagant to use such a sophisticated platform for this Phase, but what is relevant is, not only does the performance closely resemble that of the current airline types, but at an annual utilisation rate approaching 1500 hours, the productivity per airframe is much higher than the light aircraft equivalent. The lead in to the five Citations in Bremen is the six Mechtronix-built FTDs, certified to EASA CS_FSTD A FNPT at MCC/FTD Level 2 which have a visual 220 x 40 field of view and a full set of avionics to replicate the aircraft.

Instructors As many ATOs delivering MPL courses know only too well, there is a considerable challenge in sourcing instructors to carry out the training. The regulatory requirements to qualify as an MPL instructor require not only additional skills, but experience levels not seen in the classic training patterns. Even for the Basic Phase flying it is mandatory that the instructors have competency in multi-crew operations, TEM and CRM, either through airline experience or through having completed appropriate training. At the other end of the training, instructors in the Intermediate and Advanced Phases need to be able to operate in the world of competency-based assessment. None of that is difficult, but it does require time to build up the numbers of instructors necessary. Lufthansa has historically used current pilots as instructors, who bring very credible knowledge of real operations to the student. All that is required is to train them in the skill sets needed for instruction, but there is also that intangible but essential requirement of motivation to instruct, which is a critical part of the makeup of a good instructor.

This build-up of instructor numbers has meant that there was a gradual backlog of students who had completed the Core Phase, but then had to wait for the Basic Phase. This has been addressed by pausing the intake of students through 2013 so that the steady flow into Lufthansa is maintained as the backlog is reduced, a process expected to finish in 2015. The eventual aim, of course, is to have a seamless progression through training to line operation.

In the meantime Kröger and his team at Bremen are using this time to fine tune the syllabus and courseware in the light of the experience in delivering MPL training over the last few years. New training material is being developed, but again this is evolution rather than revolution – none of the lessons learnt are dramatic, but naturally some adaptation can improve the training process.

Does it Work? The big question is, of course, how effective is the MPL pattern? The answer, unsurprisingly, is yes; of course it is very effective. Largely because of the underlying philosophy used in earlier LFT training patterns, particularly the immediate predecessor, Futura, the change to the MPL was just a small step. LFT has spent more time on checking the practical results (can the graduates do the job?) rather than comparing results with a system which has now been left behind. Early comparisons of small numbers hinted at an improvement. On a very small sample of 16 students (eight from the classic “Frozen” ATPL pattern and eight MPL graduates) using the same instructors and aircraft types, the MPL team had 20% higher grades. The MPL students had noticeably better skills at the start of Phase 3.

So, from an organisational point of view, there is increased administration in the tracking of training progress, both the instructor and students have positive feedback about the training, but the students did have concerns that, although they have a PPL awarded at 82 hours, they had no unrestricted professional licence until the LOE is completed.

Where Next? Kröger sees a smooth annual flow of some 180-300 per year, so, given the length of the course, which will mean 360-600 in training at any one time. The ab initio pilots that LFT trains for Lufthansa will continue to follow the MPL pattern. Other customers, such as the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) will use the integrated ATP course and another unit under LFT, the Pilot Training Network (founded in 2001) under the Managing Director Holger Hoffmann, will provide ATPL training to third parties such as Turkish Airlines at two other training bases, one at Rostock-Laage in Germany and the other at Vero Beach, Florida, USA.

Proud of the history of the Bremen school, and clear about the future, Kröger is now fully confident in the MPL template. He is keen to extend the reach of LFT by working with global airlines and ATOs as partners in delivering this pattern, modified to local needs if necessary, as part of the global response to the challenging level of worldwide pilot demand.