Chris Long takes an in-depth look at the training expertise of Qatar Airways.
Whenever a significant new aircraft enters service, the eyes of the industry, if not of the world, are closely watching the progress of the initial few months. Many operators step back from being the first up to let someone else take the risk of teething troubles and potential disruption. When it chose to be the first operator of the Airbus A350 XWB, Qatar Airways was absolutely determined right from the start this could (and would) be done with minimal risk.
The process of the Airbus approach to designing the training process for the A350 was detailed in CAT 3/2012. That pattern was developed in cooperation with EASA, which approved it once completed and the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) has adopted the EASA procedures.
Development Whilst at that time Qatar Airways was one of those involved in some critical elements, such as providing feedback on the initial ideas and training development, it was later that the airline’s full-on engagement in the entire process became the pattern. The Qatar Airways , Operations and Training Department gives an interesting perspective onf the nature of that contribution. Primarily, of course, it was important to make sure that the airline’s experience of line operations would be a driver for fine tuning a training package which would embody lessons and standards to meet the stringent requirements of Qatar Airways. This was not simply a constant reiteration of those targets, but was fundamental to the cooperation of the whole of the design team.
By working together the team members blended into a very productive single unit. Consequently there are many of the Qatar ideas now embedded in the Airbus syllabus . That Airbus syllabus has been adopted in its entirety by Qatar Airways, however an additional option, the training for the Head up Display (HUD), has been directly integrated into the standard Qatar package as their A350s have HUDs fitted.
The core of the ground course remains the Airbus Cockpit Experience (ACE), which has consistently been received with enthusiasm by new crews. They follow a progression which blends new training devices and sequencing of training which move rapidly through systems to practice using aircraft-current software, and which emphasise the mastering of manual flying before introducing the enormous benefits and help that comprehensive automation presents. Whilst crews so far have been training with Airbus in Toulouse, from early 2016 the ACE will be available and delivered in Doha.
Competency To ensure full familiarity, competency and confidence for the initial crews, Qatar Airways exceeded the minimum regulatory requirements before starting the commercial flights. This began when flight hours were gained during the route proving flights which Airbus carried out as part of the certification process. There is an additional in-house Operational Proficiency Check once the mandatory training is completed, and, for the first instructors, a series of non-revenue flights (including the delivery flight from Toulouse) and which also consisted of eight training sectors flown between Doha and Sharjah (UAE), which concluded with a flight check. These were initially flown with Airbus instructors operating under the Airbus Line Assist package. Qatar had the first 20 of its own A350 instructors complete the full Type Rating Course (not the shorter Common Type Rating Course) to further build their experience on type. The aim of all of these extras was to provide a useful amount of experience, over and above the formal training, before the first commercial flights. Now that the aircraft is in routine operations the Line Training is conducted by Qatar Airways instructors,. In the meantime the airline now has a QCAA Type Rated Examiner on the A350.
A350 Cabin Crew Exactly the same principle of cooperative development of the A350 for the flight deck crew was undertaken by the cabin crew teams. The Customer Experience, Department illustrates the degree of involvement in the fact that, for instance, the cabin crew rest area was redesigned to respond to the concerns and changes suggested by the experienced Qatar cabin crews. Well used to the principles of CRM in larger groups, the Qatar crews integrated seamlessly into the training design team. That pattern, incidentally, continues with the ongoing development of the A350-1000.
Whilst the safety training itself was little different from other fleets, the level of sophistication of the Flight Attendant Panel (FAP) necessitated appropriate training aids, but now that there are some 400 Qatar Airways graduates of the type rating, the daily operation has become routine. One critical part of the training is the walk-around/familiarisation in the real aircraft; this is sometimes challenging as it requires careful coordination with the aircraft utilisation, but this exercise is deemed to be important enough that that effort is worthwhile. It is Qatar Airway’s policy that cabin crew are qualified on 4 aircraftfour aircraft types, and the absorption of the A350 into this pattern has gone ahead smoothly.
Fleet Growth The astonishing spurt of orders of new aircraft for Qatar Airways in recent years grabbed headlines around the world. Boasting a young fleet (average age four years); the order book presently embraces some 330 aircraft (see sidebar). , including Boeing 777 (there will be 100 777x aircraft), Boeing 787, as well as the Airbus A380, A350 XWB and A320neo.With such numbers, and the rapid build up to those levels, the training solutions are developing in parallel.
Whilst there is presently a well-established training facility in Doha, the sheer volume of training will require expanded facilities, and this is being developed now. The training is all instructor-led, as the human interaction is seen as critical in the learning process. The eventual aim is to be capable of completing all training in-house, thus bringing back to Doha those parts of the training which are presently carried out elsewhere. With six full flight simulators (FFS) already in place, and space for the further six FFS on order, a major part of the increase in capacity is already being addressed. These are all supported by the suites of part-task trainers, including the latest FTD from CAE, which incorporates an increasing number of tactile controls to boost muscle memory during function selection.
There is a clear career progression available to the Qatar Airways cabin crew, who are recruited from a global population. Once qualified, they can choose to take on additional tasks as they move from Economy Class, through Business and then First Class, and eventually to Cabin Service Director (CSD). With each of those steps comes further training, not just for refinements on the important service aspect, but, naturally, increased involvement in team leading for the critical safety/evacuation aspects. Moving up this career is a function of both motivation and performance - it is not seniority based, but something to be strived for/rewarded.
The new A380 and A350 door trainers are well established, and include an FAP which has representative functionality matched to the safety and evacuation scenarios. Both of these are supplied by an Airbus company, RST. The Boeing 777 and 787 door trainers are supplied by TFC, and these two suites are part of a range of devices which ensure realistic safety training. There is also an impressive fire training device supplied by Interfire, which provides a comprehensive set of fire scenarios, including PC (lithium ion) fire training. One safety feature in this new device is the proximity detector, which automatically extinguishes the fire if the trainee inadvertently gets too close to the practice fire/heat source.
First aid training is also carried out in-house, and now includes the Tempest Tempus device, which provides an enhanced level of information which is fed to MedLink to provide more precise diagnosis. By activating simple-to-attach sensors to a customer with health difficulties, a cabin crew member can greatly improve the level of help available. The impressive thing about this device is the relatively simple operation, for which cabin crew can be easily and effectively trained.
Pilot Recruitment Underlying the pilot recruiting process is the desire to recruit and retain pilots who are committed to the airline. Naturally in the current build up in numbers direct entry is a major solution, but the long term view is that if a pilot can be trained by Qatar Airways, become integrated into the airline culture and operating environment, and have suitable career development available, then pilots will have both security and the motivation to progress.
Consequently there is now a strong ab-initio programme in place. Some 60 pilots a year start their training with one of three ab-initio pilot training organisations. Most of the pilots recruited from the region go the Qatar Aviation College, where they will follow the “classic” progression to CPL/IR frozen ATPL. These graduates will get type ratings on the A330 or the Boeing 777, where they start as a Second Officer.
Qatar Airways is recruiting ab initio pilots from the global population as well, and these trainees will go to either CTC (now part of L3 Link Simulation and Training) or STAA in Singapore. In both of these cases the selection will be performed by the school, in concert with Qatar Airways, and then follow an MPL course. The first three phases of the MPL course will be carried out at the various bases around the world, but all the students will come to Doha to complete Phase 4 and 5 of the MPL course. Qatar Airways sees the advantage of the MPL course as having the procedures and culture of the airline instilled in the cadets right from the start, thus answering the long-term plan.
There is a great deal of confidence in the future of this ab-initio training, given that there are now pilots who graduated from earlier programmes in 2003 who are now TREs on some of the aircraft fleets. Promotion is based on merit, not simply seniority, so the opportunities to follow a career to pursue an interest in instruction, technical, or supervisory disciplines is available for those who have the motivation and work ethic.
Build up Qatar Airways recognised early on that the build up in competent crews had to match the arrival of the huge numbers of aircraft orders. New training methodologies, supported by selected and matching training tools, had to be put in place to have a coherent response to that growth. This is already underway, and the challenge now is to provide both the quantity and quality that the airline strives for. The training team are confident that they can do just that. SIDEBAR
Current Fleet (Passenger and Cargo) 162 aircraft 37 Airbus A320 2 Airbus Long Range A319 LR 8 Airbus A321-200 16 Airbus A330-200 13 Airbus A330-300 6 Airbus A330 Cargo Freighter 4 Airbus A340-600 4 Airbus A350 5 Airbus A380 28 Boeing 777-300ER 9 Boeing 777-200LR 8 Boeing 777F Cargo Freighter 22 Boeing 787 Dreamliner
Fleet on Order 3 Airbus A320 80 Airbus A320 Neo (including options) 10 Airbus A330 Freighter 76 Airbus A350 9 Airbus A380-800 (10 firm and 3 options) 100 Boeing 777X 14 Boeing 777 (including freighters and options) 38 Boeing 787 (including options)
More than 330 aircraft on the order books worth more than US$70 billion.