Chris Long visits Scandinavian airline Novair and profiles the training expertise of this charter carrier.
For many cabin crew, making their way out of a smoke-filled emergency evacuation trainer, with its noise (and in some cases movement) and escaping via the slide, is a construct that already provides a pretty convincing training scenario.
Imagine, then, the effect of finding yourself at the end of the slide in the real outside world, on a ramp in ambient weather with Fire Rescue Crews putting out fires around you, and you being expected to switch to First Aid mode and to start treating “victims” scattered around the tarmac. Just getting your passengers and yourselves out of the aircraft is obviously not the whole story!
Imagination in Training For Novair, a small airline based at Stockholm, Sweden, the solutions to training needs start with a complete re-think. As Anna Mellberg, Chief Cabin Safety Instructor, describes, the initial plan is to identify and train for what the airline sees as being really important. Once that is done, a check is made to make sure that, embedded in the training package, all the regulatory requirements are satisfied. In other words - the course design is essentially driven by operational needs, not by some form of box-ticking of regulatory imperatives. That principle carries right through the training spectrum for both flight crew and, in particular, with the cabin crew.
Flexible & Innovative To help explain the evolution of this philosophy, Johan Bostrom, Director Flight Operations, talks through the origin of the airline, and its training arm – Novair Education. The airline was founded as part of the Apollo Group, a Swedish-based travel company, itself part of Kuoni Travel. With the boom in demand for travel between 1995 and 1997 it was becoming increasingly difficult to access a sufficient number of guaranteed seats with existing carriers. By acquiring a small number of aircraft (a couple of Tristars) supported by some leased A320 and B757 aircraft, Novair was able to provide the bourgeoning capacity demanded by the parent travel agency.
Whilst that answered the immediate need, the requirement continued to expand to include longer routes beyond the initial European/Mediterranean destinations. The fleet now consists of three A321 aircraft, which are complemented by leased A330s for the peak seasons. The training was carried out by airline staff qualified to instruct, but after 2000 the volume increased as third party training became a regular feature. Training then became a major task, so a more formal approach was essential. Consequently the business plan for Novair Education was approved, and that organisation, still staffed by the airline, was created in 2008, since when training has been delivered to a wide range of customers, including some outside the aviation industry.
Based in the northern hemisphere, the workload for the airline tends to be concentrated on the two main holiday seasons which cater for winter skiing and summer sun. This means that the most convenient time to conduct the majority of the training is in the March to May and September to November periods. The attraction of concentrating on these months is not least that Novair crew members can switch to the training role, and of course they have great credibility given their immediate currency. The modest size of the airline does have a significant benefit, in that the small team involved in training can together fully debate optimum training patterns, work closely with the regulators and then implement any new processes very rapidly. This intimate planning also encourages unrestricted and unconventional thinking, so that innovative solutions can be considered and, where appropriate, be selected and implemented rapidly.
Pilot Training Tasks The route structure for charter/leisure airlines is very different from legacy international carriers. Frequently the destinations are away from capital cities and major population centres, with sometimes relatively small airfields and sometimes challenging arrivals at the holiday resorts. Novair flies not only on short haul routes, but even extends the footprint to Africa and Asia. Bostrom believes that these latter routes are the only routine operation of an A321 from Europe to that region. Crews have to be flexible in their skills, and routinely train for ETOPS, RNP, curved approaches etc. Not only that, but with little of the remote support infrastructure common in the larger carriers, the flight crews have to be prepared to complete their own load-sheets, and, on occasion, the entire crew may need to help with baggage handling – not a scenario that is often seen in the legacy airlines!
Cabin Crew Cabin crew too, have to be flexible in their approach. Beyond the core team retained throughout the year, many join the company on short term contracts for the four months of the peak seasons. This, coupled with the wide climate range of the destinations, requires a carefully-sculpted training process. With a very limited training budget there was a drive to find low-cost and locally available training solutions. These included acquiring the fuselage of a long-retired Caravelle narrow body parked on a hard standing close to the ramp. A little ingenuity saw it equipped with seats and both an audio system and smoke generation. Whilst this was a good start, the setup was further enhanced by co-locating the ground training with the Fire Rescue Services at Stockholm Arlanda airport. Initially driven simply by the search for a training facility, Mellberg has built on the close proximity of both elements to be very creative in the training for both parties. The fact that training of new cabin crew takes place at an airport, where the reality of real-time operation is all around, lends importance and relevance to the safety training. To see the fire crews themselves training is interesting, but to involve them directly in the cabin crew training is hugely powerful. Education for both flight crew and cabin crew in the internationally recognised hand signals to be used during an incident has more potency when delivered and demonstrated by the rescue crews themselves. This has become a two-way street, with some rescue personnel being trained, and operating, as cabin crew to better understand the perspective of that group.
As mentioned earlier, when you find yourself post emergency evacuation outside the aircraft in the ambient weather you learn to consider other things – should the captain have worn his jacket or hat so that he could be identified by the rescue crews, should the cabin crew have brought their gloves with them?
Drills on life-rafts are not just theory and hangar-based – they include live drills in the water (either lake or sea), albeit with dry suits – this is Northern Europe after all, and once again other services can be involved – the rescue services with their marine assets, or even search and rescue helicopters.
Involving rescue crews is obviously beneficial, but the innovation does not stop there. Having prepared the trainee cabin crew for an emergency evacuation procedure, once aboard the aircraft they were confronted by a different scenario. Without pre-briefing this exercise, some of their number (pre-positioned by the security forces) went into the role-play of a hijack scenario, and the whole process was played through with the involvement of the real specialist security teams, who also completed a live training exercise. Many useful lessons for all parties came out of that.
One common thread is the CRM which is delivered jointly by instructors from both cabin and flight crew, and it underscores most of the training exercises. Consequently the CRM scenarios involve both groups of trainees (and of course, has a strong supporting cast of the non-airline contributions mentioned above).
Novair Education not only caters for its own training needs, but also delivers training to other airlines and, surprisingly perhaps – now uses its trained first aid instructors to give courses to supermarkets, dentists, gyms etc.
Novair actively embraces the sharing of best practice, both by presenting at major training conferences, such as the Halldale events, and also uses those same venues to seek out and understand other ways of improving – they are very definitely active, not passive, players.
Continuous Innovation It is not necessarily the detail of these situations alone that is important, or even the lessons learnt. What is most critical is the search to put relevance and reality into all aspects of the training which shows – the innovation so frequently and clearly shown here is unlikely to stop. Even with modest resources the training value is enormous and is probably as close as it can be to the real thing. Perhaps the lasting proof of its effectiveness is best expressed by Mellberg: “When a customer we have trained gets in touch and tells me about an incident such as an unruly passenger incident, an emergency situation onboard or perhaps someone who has performed CPR and they tell me that what we trained them to do made them confident to act in a difficult situation – that is the proof or "the receipt" I get that our training makes a difference.”