A key element of the US Next Generation Air Traffic System, PBN training for pilots and air traffic controllers is expanding, reports Robert W. Moorman

As Performance Based Navigation (PBN) procedures increase in the US, so has training for professional pilots and air traffic controllers. Various major and regional airlines and training houses have added or enhanced PBN training programs with instructor-led, computer-based and online training solutions.

A look at the FAA’s ongoing efforts to implement PBN procedures nationwide shows the need for this training. Over 7,000 PBN procedures have been published nationwide. Through the Metroplex initiative, the FAA has implemented scores of new satellite-based PBN procedures in Denver, Houston, North Texas, Washington D.C. metropolitan area, northern and southern California, Memphis and elsewhere. The goal of these Metroplex projects is to create a more efficient use of airspace with better arrival and departure flows and to help the environment by reducing harmful CO2 emissions and save direct operating costs for airlines and other aircraft operators. PBN enhances a pilot’s situational awareness and will eventually replace step-down procedures.

In Houston alone, results show that 60 new PBN procedures implemented in the surrounding airspace save users $6 million annually from fuel consumption, according to the FAA. Based on airline filed flight plans, the FAA estimates that in Houston aircraft will fly 648,000 fewer nautical miles annually because of PBN procedures. honeywell-nextgen

“We now have more satellite-based procedures in our skies nationwide than radar-based procedures,” said FAA Administrator, Michael Huerta. “This would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago.”

It would also have been hard to imagine that PBN procedures training would become a top-tier skill that pilots and controllers must possess in their respective careers.

The two primary components of PBN, Area Navigation (RNAV) and the more advanced Required Navigation Performance (RNP) which include onboard performance monitoring and alerting capability to enhance the pilot’s situational awareness, are being implemented at various large US airports to better manage inbound and outbound air traffic.

Integration Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are two major carriers that have integrated PBN training into their initial and recurrent pilot training programs. As part of initial qualification, Delta pilots receive PBN systems training and practice PBN procedures in the fixed training device (FTD) and full flight simulator (FFS).

When the pilots graduate to the full flight simulator curriculum, trainers will address the full flight and missed approaches and all FAA rules associated with those approaches. In the recurrent or continuing qualification training segment, Delta pilots receive PBN-RNAV training in a few ways. Delta provides a distributed training product in which pilots get 2.5 hours of RNAV training on the CBT every quarter, 10 hours per year. It also provides RNAV approaches in the FFS when pilots come in every nine months for two days of simulator training. In crew qualification, Delta has allocated RNAV approaches to a 36-month qualification cycle. Each crewmember is evaluated every 18 months. Delta’s training department sends out materials that range from additional CBT training solutions to bulletins to alert pilots about airports initiating PBN procedures.

Delta pilots also are taught to understand at what level the navigation systems need to be operating. Pilots are instructed how to call up the proper navigation displays on the Flight Management System (FMS) and determine if the PBN approach can be flown. There is a minimum training requirement for Required Navigation Performance with Authorization Required (RNP-AR), where each pilot is required to fly an approach to landing and missed approach in the simulator. The crew sees eight approaches in the FTD and a similar number in the FFS, according to Delta trainers. Training also covers what the pilots are to do if they are unable to complete the RNAV approach.

At present, there are around 400 public RNP-AR procedures in place in the US. RNP-AR procedures are those that require prior authorization from the FAA and don’t follow a straight line typically. The FAA must approve all the training curriculum, operational methodology, and flight crew for RNP-AR procedures before aircraft operators can use them.

Delta recognizes that there are significant challenges in adopting PBN technologies and procedures. Implementing PBN-RNAV procedures in the cockpit is causing a “culture change,” said Jon Tovani, managing director of Delta pilot training. “It forces pilots to be more reliant on more levels of automation. When it works, it works very well. When it doesn’t work, it’s more difficult for the pilot to anticipate that there might be difficulty to get the aircraft systems to do what is required on these approaches.”

He continued: “The challenge is elevating the level of systems knowledge, training and confidence for the pilots to allow the airplane to follow these procedures and monitor the aircraft and navigation systems.” Using RNP-RNAV/ANP procedures requires a different way to monitor descents, arrivals and departures.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the principal hub for Delta, will implement the constant rate of descent profiles (an element of PBN approach procedures) in the fourth quarter of 2016, according to Mark Bradley, chief technical pilot for industry affairs.

Bradley said Delta has created a few special PBN-AR approach procedures for Hayden, Colorado, near the resort town of Steamboat Springs.

Of Delta’s fleet, the Boeing 737/757/767/777 are equipped to conduct PBN-RNAV procedures. Delta is in the process of obtaining FAA approval to conduct RNAV procedures for the Airbus A320 fleet, said Bradley. Approvals for A330 and A350 approval will occur later.

United Airlines’ 12,000 pilots receive PBN instruction at the United Flight Training Center in Denver, Colorado, where the airline has consolidated global pilot training. All United aircraft have been outfitted with equipment that allows PBN procedures, except the Airbus A320, which does RNAV only.

“Automation management and flight path management are the foundations for training on PBN procedures,” said Michael McCasky, managing director of flight training for United.

Automatic management is introduced during the fixed based simulator phase, said McCasky, and used throughout the training course. RNAV departures, arrivals and approaches that exist within United’s network are placed in each phase. The GIBBZ, FRDMM, and RIIVR RNAV arrivals and CONNR and NIITE RNAV departures are placed at specific points within the qualification syllabus to teach flight path management.

Pilots are trained on standard operating procedures and various techniques to monitor and manage the flight path on the RNAV procedures. “Flight instructor line experience and network familiarity allows them to demonstrate situations that can challenge the pilots’ ability to comply with the procedures,” said McCasky.

Examples include setting pilots up for a steep vertical path, or ATC issuing new airspeed/altitude instructions after having been established on the charted vertical path. “The goal being that pilots are able to understand the problems presented and to use the appropriate automation mode and flight control to correct or simply maintain the desired vertical path,” McCasky added.

Training for United continues into the Initial Operating Experience phase with real line experience on RNAV procedures.

Preparing Controllers The FAA teaches PBN procedures in its more advanced courses for air traffic controllers, according to Sherry Reese, director of the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, Okla. At present, the FAA is incorporating PBN procedures into the 15-day TRACON skills Enhancement Workshop. The workshop provides controllers experience with more complex traffic and is targeted to controllers at FAA’s busier airports, said Reese. The workshop is a follow-on course to the Basic Terminal Radar course that is required for all controllers assigned to a terminal radar facility.

Controllers spend one day in the classroom and 14 days running scenarios in an air traffic simulator, which replicates high air traffic volume and has PBN procedures incorporated into it.

The FAA, with the support of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) contract personnel, provides training on PBN procedures. SAIC replaced Raytheon Technical Services Corporation in September 2015 as a primary trainer for controllers. (see CAT issue 3/2015)

The Mitre Corp., in conjunction with the Center for Advanced Aviation System Development, has done research to help the FAA implement RNA procedures. The Center is a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the FAA. Mitre helps the FAA plan, develop and acquire new capabilities to modernize air traffic management systems.

Controllers do not go on “ride alongs” as part of their training when pilots fly PBN approaches. “However, controllers spend many hours working with pilots on flight deck simulations when they develop the procedures,” Reese said.

During training, controllers and pilots learn about the performance requirements of PBN, which are conveyed to the operator through navigation specifications, according to FAA. These navigation specifications include RNAV 1, RNP 1, RNAV 2, RNAV 5, RNP 10, RNP 4 as well as RNAV (GPS) and RNAV (RNP) approaches.

Implementing PBN procedures and providing related training in the US remains ahead of efforts on PBM implementation and related training in Europe and other locales worldwide. Some international aviation bodies are advocating for single international standard for PBN implementation and a fully harmonized training package. The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Association (IFALPA) is seeking global PBN training standards for pilots, controllers and regulators.

“Any new system, such as PBN implementation needs the appropriate level of training for all those involved in its deployment,” said IFALPA president Captain Martin Chalk. “Of course, some airlines and countries demand a better degree of training than others, although I am not aware of any that we would be willing to single out as deficient at this stage.”

As for PBN implementation worldwide, Chalk said: “As with all new uses for technology in aviation, the regulator often has to ‘catch up’ with those who are advocating for greater use or for their particular brand of the equipment.”

IFALPA is pushing for global level standards, recommended practices and guidance to rationalize the approach. Chalk, a long-haul pilot would like a “fighting chance” of understanding basic requirements and procedures of PBN. “This obviously is brought into sharp focus near the ground and on approach to landing,” he said.

IFALPA is supporting work with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to ensure implementation of new systems, procedures and requirements for PBN. ICAO has not proposed PBN training requirements for pilots and air traffic controllers, said a spokesman. The international body does provide general CBT on PBN, which can be used for training pilots and controllers. The technically based group is developing specific CBT solutions, one tailored for pilots, the other for controllers.

“We hope to have them completed by the end of the calendar year,” said Anthony Philbin, ICAO spokesman.

Other Training Provision Select aviation organizations and independent training house are providing PBN-RNAV/RNP training for pilots, controllers and management level personnel, and independent training houses and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) offer PBN procedures training for pilots and other professionals.

IATA offers a (40 hour) five-day PBN classroom and in-company course for management level and other aviation personnel. Students learn the history of the ICAO PBN concept and understand the latest on the ICAO Global Air Navigation plan and timeline for implementation of FANS, CNS/ATM, RNP and RNP/RNAV. Students also learn about existing and future airspace structures and types of RNAV systems. The course is recommended for air traffic control officers, managers and supervisors from Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSP) and Civil Aviation Authorities (CAA). The last course was held Nov. 20, 2015 in Frankfurt, Germany.

FlightSafety International (FSI) offers PBN courses via eLearning, LiveLearning or instructor-led training at one of its Learning Centers worldwide. Training includes courses on PBN- RNAV/RNP. FSI also offers an ICAO Enroute and Terminal RNAV course. FSI has a few aircraft-specific courses on Controller Pilot Data Link/Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Contract (CPDLC/ADS-C) and just released a course for the Bombardier Challenger 300/350/605/650. FSI says it has created courses that cover about “70%” of PBN related subjects to date.

“It’s a common misperception that PBN is a single course, but it’s really just an overarching term that covers a multitude of subjects,” said Cathy Caldarola, Specialty & Enrichment marketing manager, FSI. “We’ve put together a PBN webpage for ease of finding the courses we currently offer, and we’re working hard to develop more courseware to fulfill all these training needs.” For more information go to FSI’s PBN webpage: https://elearning.flightsafety.com/courses/pbn.html

CAE offers PBN training modules for pilots and other aviation professionals. The curriculum includes RNAV/ Basic RNP 1, RNP Approach and RNP-AR and P-RNAV, according to training documents obtained by CAT. The training is intended as a “generic PBN training-only package.” For initial training, there are four hours of ground school and simulator training combined. P-RNAV/Basic RNP 1 recurrent training provides five hours of ground school and simulator instruction combined. RNP-AR operations initial training includes seven hours of ground school and simulator instruction combined. RNP-AR Recurrent includes four hours of ground school and simulator training combined. The modules do not address PBN training for specific airport operations.

RNP/RNAV CBT training is optional, but strongly recommended for sponsor companies/clients, who are new to PBN operations, said CAE’s materials describing the courses. This theoretical knowledge module covers the following generic topics through e-learning: RNP Definitions, RNP Containment Area, Types of RNP, B-RNAV, P-RNAV Pre-flight Planning, P-RNAV Contingencies, RT Phraseology and RNAV Approaches. As evolutionary and helpful PBN is to air transportation, how it is taught is equally important, noted one safety expert.

“Training is what links it all together,” said Captain Joe DePete, first vice president for the Air Line Pilots Association, and National Safety Coordinator. “PBN training has improved dramatically over the years because we have more data” from pilots who use it, he said.

The data to which DePete refers is that gathered through the FAA’s Aviation Safety Action Program, a voluntary program in which airlines and other Part 121 operators team up to enhance safety. In the ASAP program, airline employees can submit reports without fear of being reprimanded by their employer or the FAA.

Trainers should not reinvent the wheel for PBN instruction. Tailoring training to the airline’s daily operations is an effective way to instruct pilots in the use PBN-RNAV/RNP procedures, said DePete. Use of PBN procedures at FedEx, for which DePete flies, is different typically from say, Alaska Airlines, which flies in and out of mountainous terrain and short airfields. FedEx does not fly any PBN-AR approaches.

DePete’s declaration, “What is not to like about PBN” fittingly describes this next generation navigation methodology that reduces air traffic congestion, fuel noise, helps the environment and maintain operational reliability in all-weather operations. Onboard technology helps, obviously, but training must be as advanced if these benefits are to become permanent.


PBN: On the Horizon Horizon Air, a unit of the Alaska Air Group, was the first US regional airline to use PBN-RNAV approaches into Portland, Oregon in August 2006. Big brother Alaska started the trend in 1996, with approaches into Juno, Alaska.

George Bagley, former president of Horizon and executive vice president for Alaska before that, is credited with beginning the process of adopting PBN-RNAV as a primary navigation tool. Bagley first re-fleeted the airline with Bombardier Dash 8-200s and later Q400 with dual FMS that have onboard capability to handle RNAV/RNP procedures. Today, Horizon’s entire fleet is equipped is equipped with this capability.

Horizon Air is also the first regional to develop training for PBN-RNAV/RNP and RNP-AR (Authorization Required) approaches. Over the years, the carrier has shared its best practices for training and implementing RNAV procedures with other US regionals. However, other US regionals use RNAV approaches sparingly and none of them use RNP-AR approaches presently, according to one Horizon official. Consequently, numerous regionals have yet to add PBN-RNAV/RNP segment to their initial and recurrent training programs for pilots.

“At Horizon, we tried to build a training program that didn’t have a lot of exceptions or special procedures for RNP approaches,” remembered Captain Perry Solmonson, director of Flight Standards and Training. Solmonson also serves as chairman of the Regional Airline Association (RAA) Flight Technology Committee. “I think you will see more adoption of RNAV, RNP-AR procedures by regionals” as newer aircraft with better navigation capability come on line, he added.

PBN-RNAV procedures are taught at Horizon during initial, recurrent and upgrade training segments. The 2½ weeks of ground school includes five half-day lab sessions on FMS. Training varies from the basics of learning to operate the FMS to building a flight plan to learning how to fly RNAV/RNP and WAAS approaches.

Pilots come back annually for Continuing Qualification (CQ) training. Each pilot gets two-hours of RNAV training every quarter via distance learning. One-day of recurrent training is held at Horizon’s Flight Operations Center in Portland, which includes four hours of CBT navigation training.

In the simulator, pilots fly ILS approaches using HUD to CAT III plus, and non-precision approaches using the FMS. Some of the approaches flown are WAAS, while others are RNP and RNAV GPS approaches.

“PBN works very well and provides a huge safety benefit for our pilots,” which are less experienced typically than those flying for the major carriers,” said Solmonson. - Robert W. Moorman