Chuck Weirauch looks at pilot training issues surrounding the US regional airline industry and the Regional Airline Training sessions that will be taking place at WATS 2014.

With Great Lakes Airlines ending service to a number of communities because of a shortage of pilots, United Airlines citing that shortage is a factor in cutting 60 percent of its flights out of its Cleveland, Ohio hub, and regional airlines having to ground some of their 50-passenger jet aircraft because of not enough pilots, it is no wonder that this issue will be a leading topic for discussion at the 2014 World Aviation Training Symposium and Tradeshow (WATS) RATS (Regional Airline Training) pilot sessions.

Other topics related to key safety and training issues and initiatives will also be addressed in RATS Pilot sessions and presented by members of the Regional Airline Association (RAA) and its Training Committee on Day 2 of the conference. Scott Foose, the RAA's senior VP for Operations & Safety, will lead off the RATS Pilot track and provide an overview of the current environment for regional airlines.

Pilot Shortage & Regulations

While the concept of a coming world-wide pilot shortage has been the source of speculation in the aviation community for several years, several factors, including the recent implementation of new FAA rules and the re-deployment of smaller airliners, have led to the harsh fact that the shortage has become reality sooner than expected.

"With the 1,500-hour First Officer Qualification rule, we realized that it was going to become more of a challenge to staff the cockpits," Foose said. "We assumed that the driving force would be pilot retirements caused by the age 65 rule, which would really ramp up in 2015. But what we are seeing now, and what you are seeing in the press, is that the shortage has really arrived sooner and with more vigor than we really anticipated. The public announcements by Great Lakes and United speak directly to the issue. That is the 1,500-hour rule is making it more difficult to find pilots, and as a result there are service reductions."

Foose feels that the issue of service reductions because of the lack of pilots is only going to get worse before it gets better. And RAA president Roger Cohen pointed out that those reductions are not only going to affect smaller communities, but large urban areas as well. Besides fewer people taking an interest in an airline pilot career, other factors, such as how airlines deploy smaller 50-seat airliners on the air carrier network and then wind up not having enough pilots to fly them, as well as the reduction in the number of major airline customers for regionals through mergers have had an impact as well.

"If you are not in the top 20 communities in this country, and if you are not concerned about your air service, then you ought to be," Cohen emphasized. "It does not need to be a small town. We are talking about major-league cities that will be affected by the service reductions."

GAO Report

With the release of the US Government Accountability Office (GAO)'s long-awaited “Aviation Workforce - Current and Future Availability of Airline Pilots” report on February 28, the RAA issued a call to action that day for Congress and the FAA to work together to fix the pilot supply challenges outlined in the document. According to the RAA, the report confirms that the traditional pilot supply pipeline has been completely severed by the “1500 hour rule” and has added an extraordinary time and financial burden for the nation’s highly trained pilots to enter the workforce. "The rule has unintentionally cost thousands of airline and related jobs, and dozens of communities their air service. These cuts will continue to grow over the coming years unless the government immediately addresses this issue," the RAA statement emphasized.

Rest Rules Impact

Further compounding the problems for regionals in particular is the new FAA Flight Crew and Rest Requirements rule, which went into effect January 14, 2014. According to the RAA, its airlines hired an average of five percent more pilots to accommodate scheduling issues stemming from longer rest periods for pilots required by the rule. Foose said that this rule, combined with the unusually severe winter weather this year, has had an additional impact on flight delays and cancellations.

"We long anticipated that this rule would make scheduling more complex and difficult for our member airlines to maintain and recover their schedules through winter events, and this has played out as expected," Foose said. "A problem is that these new rules don't provide any leeway in airline's operation. As a result we are finding out that the flight crews without any buffers are at risk of straining the airplane and crews in places where we are unable to provide the service. As a result, we are seeing more cancellations. It is not only difficult for the passengers, but most of the crew members as well. Ultimately, the lack of flexibility in the new rule is here to stay, and it is going to present some challenges going forward."

Feeding the Pipeline

The pilot supply problem is almost certainly going to expand, with both regional and major airlines currently in hiring mode. But rather than simply let the marketplace take its course, the RAA has joined forces with the global Pilot Supply Consortium through its CEO Pilot Supply Task Force.

"The goal of the Task Force is to identify measures that we can undertake within our control that will both increase the pilot pipeline and make sure that we get enough trained professional aviators into our cockpits," Cohen said. "Airlines are starting to provide some incentives for that. We are working to determine what can be done here through the RAA as a group, and our goal will be trying to make that environment as fertile as it can be. We are also looking for additional pathways or rules to provide good pilot competence and team-based training programs to promote aviation as a career and to help get financial support for students."

To further address the pilot supply issue, the RAA is anticipating that the FAA will stand up an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to look at several issues related to training.

"One of the key issues that has emerged is the Multi-Crew Pilots License, or MPL," Foose reported. "Given the new rule, there is a great deal to look at with other pathways that are not common in the US that could actually work in the current FAA regulatory structure. It is still a leap for bringing MPL to the US given current laws and rules, though."

RATS Training Sessions

Captain Paul Kolisch of Endeavor Air is chairman of the RAA Training Committee that will be presenting at WATS in the RATS Track on Conference Day 2. He will be leading the Session II Breakout entitled Pilot Training in Transition: Exploring the use of scenario-based training to better prepare pilots for RTOs, go-arounds, high altitude upsets, and proficiency-based training regimes such as MPL. Kolisch feels that much can be done to improve pilot competency through implementing scenario-based training for such maneuvers with information that incorporate Airplane State Awareness SE210 and Stall Working Group data, for example.

Such training is important, because there is a difference between reality and what Appendix F of the FAA Part 121 Proficiency Check Requirements calls for, Kolisch said. One example is that under Appendix F checks, missed approaches are typically done near or at minimums, whereas in actual Part 121 operations, most missed approaches are not initiated by the pilot. Instead, they are initiated by ATC sometime well before approaching minimums.

"As a result, a number of these missed approaches have turned into a real mess because under Appendix F we train for the checking event," Kolisch emphasized. "So in our company, we have added a number of missed-approach scenarios which are nothing like the checking event in order to prepare people for what really happens out in the field. This is because a lot of times doing a missed approach procedure that we have learned for doing at the bottom is totally inappropriate for breaking off an approach up high."

Rejected takeoffs is another area where Appendix F requirements don't match up to operational reality, since most happen before 80 knots, while a check calls for rejection between 80 knots and V1.

"But because of the checking, we are spring-loaded to my mind to do the wrong thing," Kolisch declared. "And this has been a problem in certain areas of the industry, and once again a difference between the real world and what Appendix F requires."

TEM Professionalism Model

In another RATS Breakout Session, a panel moderated by Captain Paul Preidecker, Chief Flight Instructor for Air Wisconsin will discuss Using Threat Error Management (TEM) Principles to Manage Professionalism. According to Preidecker, a number of airlines are using (TEM) as a way for their aircrews to manage their flights. His goal is to expand on the TEM model and move it over to the management of pilot professionalism as well.

"The issue is how do we take the same TEM principles, namely first recognizing a threat and then managing it, and use them as a way to manage professionalism, not just in a class and then checking that box," Preidecker said. "This would be a model that crewmembers can use all throughout the day even when they are not flying to do a better job of managing professionalism."

Preidecker said that this approach would help pilots mitigate what he calls "threats to professionalism". While he has a longer list of just what these threats would be, he cited over-reliance on automation, or in the regionals world a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of automation and manual flying skills such as basic airmanship, flying and navigation, as a major threat. Another threat to professionalism Preidecker cited was repetition-induced complacency, where crewmembers repeatedly flying into the same airports take for granted that everything will be the same every time they approach these airports.

"The idea of connecting the dots between TEM and professionalism is that not only are we trying to manage a flight, but we are also trying a way of handling our professional lives on a day-to-day basis as well," Preidecker summed up.

Decrease in New Hire Skills

The subject of RATS Session 6 will be The Collegiate Market: The Apparent Decrease in Airmanship Abilities of Today's New Hire Pilots. Moderated by Captain Al Barrios, Manager Flight Ops Training, Compass Airlines, this session looks at pilot supply coming from the collegiate market combined with the new regulatory requirements. Some topics of discussion in this session will be new regulatory requirements causing challenges with regards to ATP, restricted ATP and the creation of new CTP training programs.