Willem-Jan Derks takes an in-depth look at the Latin American aviation training industry and the challenges it faces.
Latin American aviation has experienced unprecedented growth over the last decade. A quick look at the Latin American & Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA - Asociación Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Transporte Aéreo) members shows the progress of these airlines, which include the majority of the large carriers in the region.
Between 2004 and 2014, the number of aircraft operated grew by 80% to 1155, increasing the number of employees by a similar percentage to over 120,000. Another interesting fact shows the modernization that occurred in parallel to this growth. The average age of the aircraft operate by ALTA members reduced from 12.2 to 7.6 years in just a decade. In fact, airlines from the region are amongst the first to operate brand new aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and Sukhoi Superjet.
Ensuring good quality in new pilots joining the airline is always a challenge, and even more so in the environment of expansion these airlines have experienced in recent years. As an example, during EATS 2014 Europe’s Ryanair presented their assessment figures, showing only a 48% success rate of applicants to their selection process regardless of their nationality, flight school or English language proficiency.
Aviation had, and continues to have, a significant role in transportation and the general development of Latin America due to the large distances and the complicated terrain or vegetation in many countries. This led to a development of pilot training by governments of the region early on in aviation’s history, particularly through air clubs, many of which still exist and train pilots today. Privately funded flying schools arose over the last few decades as well, often owned by or consulted by airline pilots.
The training of pilots and other aeronautical personnel in this region has traditionally been strongly influenced by FAA regulations and requirements, and adapted to local realities. Besides local training options, a large number of pilots have been trained in the USA, bringing the training model they learned to fly with back to their home countries, furthering the US influence on Latin American training.
As in other parts of the world, airlines are not always finding what they are looking for in newly recruited pilots. Although psychological evaluations and profiles screen out a large percentage of those candidates that do not meet the requirements, the technical standards of graduates do pose a challenge for airlines in the region.
AeroMexico’s chief of Flight Standards Fernando Riquelme said, “In Mexico, only one or two traditional ab-initio aviation schools have the necessary elements to comply with regulations and the required quality standards.” Besides that, “the theory exams the students undergo with the authorities contain questions from books that are over 40 years old and include concepts that are not appropriate for the new generations of airplanes and their systems.”
As a result, upon hiring a new pilot, the training programmes are strongly focused on the soft skills (CRM, situational awareness, workload management) and the comprehension and appropriate use of complex automated systems.
Arturo Plata and Victor Hernandez of Mexican aviation school Asteca mention that there is hardly any cooperation between flight schools and airlines in their country. Many schools prepare generic pilots that can work in any field of aviation, but because of that lack more specific training programmes. “During 2014, we approached two Mexican airlines to develop courses that are more aligned with the market’s needs, which led our school to invest in aircraft such as the Cirrus SR20 to provide a graduate profile that meets the current requirements.”
According to Asteca, the airlines mention shortcomings in IFR knowledge and skills as well as situational awareness amongst others, regardless of where the students learned to fly. The additional training required to ensure the requisite standards generates significant costs for the airlines. “We have worked to reinforce topics such as situational awareness, cockpit resource management (glass cockpit, flight automation), where other schools continue to apply the traditional training methods and use aircraft that allow the student to obtain flight skills but not the professional level required in today’s market. Every day, pilots need ever stronger administrative skills for a better decision making process.”
Martha Muñoz, Academic director of Halcones Escuela de Aviación commented, “In Colombia there are no direct alliances between airlines and schools, although their recruitment requirements led them to look for candidates in the country’s best schools which allowed us to know the profile they look for. The airlines do not seem to support the schools in the ab-initio pilot training and unfortunately some of them started working on creating their own flight schools.”
In her opinion, the most common issues detected by airlines in the recruitment processes are the pilots’ English language proficiency and IFR knowledge and skills.
Some airlines have taken a different approach and a more active role in ab-initio training such as Copa Airlines who created the aviation academy ALAS, together with other private and governmental entities in Panama (see CAT 1/2014).
Even though most regulations have a common base, substantial differences exist from country to country. As an example, Chilean regulations permit students of a DAN 141 certified school to obtain their Commercial Pilot license with 150 hours (versus 200 hours under DAN 137 certification). As occurs in most of Europe, this experience allows the graduated pilots to join airlines, completing their type rating to fly aircraft such as the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737.
Across the Andes, Argentinean RAAC 61 regulations divide the Commercial Pilot license into two, the Commercial Pilot and the Commercial Pilot First Class. These licenses require 200 or 900 hours of flight experience respectively, allowing the Commercial Pilot to fly commercial operations in aircraft below 5,700 kgs and aircraft above this weight only in non-commercial operations. To fly in a commercial transport operation in aircraft above 5,700 kgs, the First Class license is required, basically resulting in a minimum of 900 hours to be hired as a First Officer in most airlines.
There seems to be a consensus amongst many of those involved in the training industry that a more modern regulation is required. Capt. William Calle, CEO of Colombia’s Halcones Escuela de Aviación commented, “Current regulations are ambiguous, and do not contemplate what the development of a complete aeronautical education programme should be. Pilots do not have the professional status they should have, and in our national classification of professions they are catalogued as an art for example.”
Change is coming however in Colombia, albeit spearheaded by the training institutes themselves who clearly understand the responsibility involved in training aviation professionals.
Arturo Plata and Victor Hernandez of Asteca praise the Mexican government’s effort to improve and professionalize the commercial pilot training in the country but feel there is still much to be done.
“The current regulations in Mexico are designed to improve the training quality, however they only apply to new schools. Each training institute can decide to update their certification or to remain under the traditional model. This means there is a large number of graduates that do not comply with the profile required by airlines.”
They feel more commitment from the training industry itself is required. “Less than five schools in all of Mexico have the glass cockpit aircraft and modern simulators that raise the teaching-learning quality of the school.”
Aeromexico’s Fernando Riquelme commented, “Changes in regulation in Mexico have been very slow and gradual, sometimes even with a lack of knowledge of the current industry’s needs. It is highly necessary for the regulations to be updated so that contents and methods of the training programmes in the schools may be improved.” He adds that “some schools have collected information on their own initiative to teach new material, even though these are not required by, and therefore not controlled or evaluated by the authorities, meaning they become items of general background knowledge and interest.”
Unfortunately, because of this the students do not consider the material important, which obviously means the teaching objective is not always achieved.
The last few years have seen a very interesting development through ICAO’s Safety Oversight Cooperation System (SRVSOP - Sistema Regional de Cooperación para la Vigilancia de Seguridad Operacional) with harmonized standards for its 12 Member States through Latin American Aviation Regulations (LAR). These LAR regulations apply to training centres for flight crew, cabin crew and dispatch training (LAR 141), type rating and advanced training (LAR 142) and maintenance mechanic training (LAR 147).
The first edition of LAR 141 was published in December 2008, complying fully with Annex 1 to the Chicago Convention and incorporating the best practices applied in the region. To date, this regulation has been fully implemented by six countries - Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Panama and Peru. The other Member States have made significant progress (70%) in the implementation and plan to complete the process by December 2016. These standardized regulations across countries in the region were a first step in a process that will allow for mutual recognition of licenses, facilitating training and employment regionally much like the JAA regulations allowed in Europe.
Furthermore, in December 2013 nine Member States (Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela) signed the Multinational Technical Cooperation Agreement. Under this agreement, a multinational team of LAR Inspectors is sent by SRVSOP to certify training organizations for all signing Member States to the agreement. This allows the training organization to save a significant amount of time and financial resources, providing an important increase of international services they can offer and a clear perception of the high standard of quality by complying with the LAR standards. These multinational certifications of training centres under LAR 141, 142 and 147 in the region are expected to start in early 2015.
According to Capt. William Calle these international norms have been an important factor in the process of improving training standards in Colombia as the LAR requirements are more demanding than the national RAC regulations. “In our country, the training organizations work to provide a good infrastructure, training programmes, and to align this education with airline standards, but unfortunately there are also schools that provide the minimum infrastructure, limiting themselves to the basic contents leading to lower quality in the market.”
Manuel Herrera, head of Admissions at Chile’s Latin American Aviation Training (LAAT) stresses the importance of being certified under the new standards. “In June 2013, LAAT became the first training centre certified under DAN 141, the local Chilean implementation of LAR 141. We have noticed a strong positive response from the market, especially from aviation professionals, recognizing the improved standards and resulting quality provided by this regulation. Together with the use of glass cockpit technology in our fleet and simulator, this has allowed our organization to create a new type of school in Chile successfully. We have started to see an awareness in the market of the difference between the traditional and the new training methods and regulations.”
SRVSOP has not only developed the LAR regulations and their implementation, but also published the certification manual for training organizations and so far trained 202 inspectors of the different SRVSOP Member States to the regional license and training standards to ensure an efficient standardization of regulations and procedures.
All sectors of the Latin American aviation industry have made considerable efforts to modernize and meet the highest standards in general. Within each sector however, there are companies that have shown more initiative (even going beyond the regulations), and others that continue to apply the traditional models. Today’s rapidly changing and advancing aviation industry requires new teaching techniques and equipment, which will only be implemented widely once the system demands these changes.
Continuously improving training standards must be a joint effort between the training organizations that should aspire to raise the bar, the airlines through support to the schools that are working to improve their programmes, and finally the regional and local authorities implementing up-to-date regulations that allow them to take full advantage of the new technologies, as well as demand compliance and increased standards. Initiatives such as those of SRVSOP are fundamental in this sense and demonstrate the determination of Latin America to reach the highest standards.