Chris Long takes a close look at the training expertise of UK flag carrier, British Airways.
Over recent years the arrival of new major players in the airline world has led to great interest in what new training systems they would adopt. What sometimes gets missed is that the legacy carriers, too, have moved on significantly in the same timeframe.
For British Airways that is literally the case. By the end of 2015 the transfer of all the full flight simulators (FFS) from the historic home of the BA training at Cranebank, Heathrow Airport, UK, to the nearby facility on the south side of that airport, will be complete. However, the only traditional element at the new base is the building itself. This was formerly a maintenance hangar, and the challenge was to remodel it to give it the feel of a trend-setting training centre, whilst respecting the strictures of English Heritage, which has the building listed as of historic importance. (see image)
In many ways that situation is also reflected in the evolution of the BA training. The trick has been to retain the best elements of earlier training patterns and to marry those to new philosophies, methodologies and technologies. The scope of this new capability is revealed by the name of the facility - the “Global Learning Academy” - established in January 2015. In fact it will group together all the main training functions for the whole company, from all the operational disciplines to the managerial and in-house further education of the entire BA team. From the primary operational standpoint, the Cabin Crew and Flight Deck crew are located close together to facilitate joint Safety and Emergency Training where appropriate. Although the first FFSs (B787 and A380) were in place in early 2013, the tipping point for the new facility was July 2015, when the SEP training for the 14,000 cabin crew moved over.
Pilot Training Whilst the rich possibilities of new technology are always being assessed, BA has recognised the evolution of the range of skills demanded of a pilot, and has for some time increased the emphasis on the absolutely fundamental element of human behaviours and performance. This runs from the selection of ab initio pilots through every phase of training, so that these critical core values are embraced in day-to-day operation, and not simply an add-on to professional competency.
Illustrative of this approach is the “Beyond the Flight Deck” programme, which, via a two day personal development training course, and two iPad apps, informs the pilots of the customer expectations and requirements. This drills down not just to reviewing the makeup of the passenger list, but, with access to customer feedback, understanding issues about the specific flight. Training is also provided to ensure sympathetic and appropriate PA announcements during times of disruption to the service. The goal of all this is to lead to better rapport of flight deck crew with the customers and thus a better service.
With some 4000 flight crew on the books, and a recruiting rate of 330 per year, the training task continues to grow. Dave Thomas, head of Flight Technical and Training, is delighted to see the opportunities which have been opened up by the adoption of the iPad as the driving tool for operation and training of all pilots and senior cabin crew. This moves it well beyond the basic Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) modes, in which it provides the Crew Portal for all the company manuals and the information needed to operate a specific flight. Not least the provision of all charts using this platform means that updates are immediately and correctly implemented, which Thomas sees as a massive improvement in safety.
Using intuitive operation, the iPad provides layered menus, right down to individual airframes in the fleet, and includes the customer information mentioned above. It is the all-embracing link to ensure information flow between the individual and all aspects of BA company life. From a training perspective the great advantage is to be able to integrate all the data on current training modes and plans. The choice of formats available enables the individual to choose a mode of training suited to her/his needs. Underlying the training planning are the ATQP imperatives, with data-driven EBT lessons shaping training regimes. Thomas believes that ATQP brings huge benefits by concentrating the training and facilitating much more training benefit. Since the implementation of this process on the Boeing 787 and Airbus 380 fleets, over 90% of the feedback from the crews has been positive, and both the training and assessment are based on ICAO pilot competencies and best practice selected from around the industry.
Pilot Career In common with an increasing number of airlines, BA sees significant benefit in presenting a complete career to pilots. The airline encourages its current pilots to speak at colleges and schools, attend recruitment events and give media interviews (BA female pilots have been interviewed on Sky News, BBC and ITV in 2015 alone) to help raise the profile of the role and encourage more women to apply to become a pilot.
The majority of new arrivals are Direct Entry, but there has also been a revival of a cadet pilot scheme. Called the British Airways Future Pilot Programme (FPP), it is now in its fourth successful year. The programme is open to anyone aged 18 to 55 and helps applicants to gain a place at an approved flight training school, leading to a job as a British Airways pilot.
By lifting the cost barrier to initial flight training, and making it accessible for anyone regardless of financial background, FPP broadens the potential talent pool the airline selects from. The cadets’ intensive training takes place over 18 months at one of the approved flight training organisations; CAE Aviation Academy in Oxford, CTC Aviation in Southampton and Flight Training Europe in Jerez, Spain. During their training, students complete the ground theory training, cockpit instrument rating and flight training, flying light aircraft in Spain, New Zealand or in the US.
Competition to be selected is stiff, with an average of around three and a half thousand applicants each year (for less than 100 places).The programme has also been a vehicle in the campaign by British Airways to encourage more girls and women to apply to become a pilot. Although the airline has more female pilots than any UK airline, it is nonetheless keen to see more women apply to become flight crew. Success in this area can be observed by the fact that there has been an encouraging increase in the number of female applicants for the FPP each year. At the moment the course is based on the “classic” CPL/IR Frozen ATPL syllabus, but the idea of MPL has not been discounted, and will require further study when time permits.
Trainers For those interested in becoming trainers, the process can start even as First Officers. Similar to the selection for captains, this selection is based on a high level of technical competency which must be above average, an interview and various role play tasks. This is to confirm that the individuals can both articulate clearly and think on their feet to be able to cope with the reality of live training. First Officers can become both TRIs and TREs, but not Line Trainers. Although there is more cost initially, all training captains are signed off as TRI/TRE/Line Training Captain so that there is both a high level of standardisation and flexibility in rostering plans.
Each fleet has a small number of Training Standards Captains, who are the policy makers for that fleet. Their currency in day-to-day operations mean that they have a profound understanding of the tasks required, and therefore what areas should be the focus of training attention. Each fleet in turn has a Fleet Training Manager, who reports to the Chief Training Pilot. A common theme across the training is that, of course, pilots must prove competency to match the regulatory imperatives, but that is very much regarded as the baseline qualification - the aim is always to attain a higher level of performance termed the “British Airways Standard”.
The new training facility presently houses 14 full flight simulators, and this will grow to a total of 16 in due course, and when fully equipped will have the tools for the entire renewed BA fleet. These are supported by the FTDs of various levels of sophistication, but what is interesting is the use in the briefing rooms of a straightforward whiteboard for the instructor to quickly extemporise an answer to a question which is not covered in the computer-based training packages.
Evolution The range of tasks and skills required of a pilot now is far greater than the historic “stick and rudder” competency. Whilst sadly, some airlines in the past have allowed those to atrophy, most airlines, including BA, firmly establish them as a foundation on which to build the other skills.
Whilst proper use of automation is essential in the efficient operation of the flight, the managing of that automation has become a somewhat complex task, for which there must be adequate training. In the commercial world the potential disconnect between flight crew and the passengers on the other side of the closed door has been addressed through the development and improvement of the soft skills of communication and behaviours. These serve to tie the flight deck crew to the customers more strongly, but, of course, that does require an additional form of training. BA has recognised this, and has already been providing this as an integral part of the training pattern.
The role of a pilot has evolved considerably over the years, and continues to do so. In Thomas’ view, BA continues to innovate and adapt to those new demands by anticipating them and putting the right people and the right tools in place.