Group Editor Marty Kauchak provides two air carriers’ perspectives on mentoring new cadres of pilots on leadership, crew resource management and other skill sets.
A common, persistent theme at recent WATS events (www.halldale.com/wats-2016) has been the challenges and opportunities surrounding the generational shift among the ranks of pilots at the community’s air carriers.
Captain John Weigand, the managing director of Flight Standards at United, provided one insight on this epoch in our community’s history. The Denver-based training professional noted the industry is “at unprecedented levels of both retirement and hiring for the growth in the industry” – and with good reasons. In one instance, between 9/11 and about 2011-2012 there was a paucity of pilot hiring due to economic factors. Weigand also recalled that at several points during this era United had several thousand pilots on furlough. “You now have a workforce that is extremely mature both in the left seat (the captain’s seat) and the right seat,” he explained. Yet, a third dynamic, the December 2007 Pilot Age 65 Retirement Law, has permitted pilots to remain in a flight status until age 65 – further accelerating the presence of “senior” personnel in commercial carrier pilot ranks.
Beyond the surging demand for new pilots generated by retirements, attrition and other personnel milestones, an insertion of new talent is needed to accommodate airline expansion plans. Captain Suheil Salim Abumariam, the manager of Advanced Qualification Program Training at Gulf Air, called CAT’s attention to his airline’s announced restructured aircraft orders with Boeing and Airbus for: 16 B787-9 Dreamliners, 12 Airbus A320neo and 17 Airbus A321neo aircraft – all scheduled for delivery starting from second quarter 2018. “In line with the airline’s planned fleet expansion and forward-looking business strategy, the number of pilots required to manage Gulf Air’s flight operations over the coming years is expected to increase,” the training leader added.
And while other high risk communities – defence, the nuclear industry, energy and even healthcare professions – are experiencing their own challenges as they pass the baton of leadership and day-to-day operations to a new generation, civil aviation is unique, according to Tony Kern, EdD, CEO at Convergent Performance. The widely regarded subject matter expert in professionalism and human factors further noted, “NTSB data tell us that most airline accidents occur in the first day of a crew pairing, and most of those on the first leg of the day. We now have a situation where aircrew that are separated by as much as 40 years of age and experience, meet 45 minutes prior to departure for the first time, and need to build a swift forming, short duration, highly reliable team in a high risk environment,” he emphasized and continued, “There are no other industries where this level of teamwork is even remotely close to the challenge faced in the airlines.”
Guardians of Flight Safety – and More Bahrain-based Gulf Air’s pilot training continuum enables new accessions to obtain skills and competencies needed on the flight deck and gain valuable mentoring lessons from senior personnel with an important caveat: the carrier’s training system was designed to meet the reality that the new generation of pilots today benefits more from their training when it is completed in small segments or stages.
Abumariam recalled that almost a decade ago Gulf Air adopted and obtained approval for an Advanced Qualification Program (AQP), which allowed the development of innovative training and qualification programs that incorporate the most recent advances in training methods and techniques. “Gulf Air’s AQP training program encompasses important safety matters by addressing Human Performance Limitation issues which are regarded as primary causal factors in the majority of aviation accidents and incidents,” the airline training leader said and added, “Additionally, and in order to further enhance the airline’s training capabilities and offering, Gulf Air recognizes the need for more effective Crew Resource Management (CRM) training driven by data collection and analysis.”
FLY LIKE WE TRAIN – TRAIN LIKE WE FLY is the motto of Gulf Air’s Flight Crew Training Department. To achieve proficiency, the main focus is on instructor/evaluator training and calibration. It follows that Gulf Air’s flight instructors and evaluators are considered by executive management as the “guardians of flight safety”. “They are line managers who not only impart operational knowledge, but also share experiences and lessons learned,” Abumariam emphasized.
During flight simulator training of new pilots, there is a greater emphasis on crew-based training rather than individual training. Newly hired pilots train in a full flight crew environment with scenario-based training that utilizes predefined scripts to address both technical and non-technical aspects of flight training allowing new pilots to exercise the leadership and managerial skills required in today’s flight deck environment.
Abumariam pointed out that during pilot ground training (ground-based Line Oriented Flight Training) the facilitator runs through various scenarios with all trainees to provide them with an opportunity to exercise their “soft skills” in order to drive effective communication, cooperation and decision-making tactics and techniques.
Further, “Gulf Air’s training developers are adopting the concept of ‘Targeted On-line Recurrent Training’ when designing training content,”Abumariam added.
The Gulf Air Training Department also realizes that classroom training should be specific to interactive training. Facilitators professionally enable interaction among participants who collectively hold a combination of all levels of experience; create opportunities to debate issues related to CRM and soft skills; and promote Gulf Air’s company culture. This includes joint flight crew and cabin crew CRM exercises.
To preserve and fully embrace the airline’s multi-cultural operations, Gulf Air further encourages effective communication and coordination within its various training programs whereby senior crew are utilized as proficient role models to guide and support junior staff and newly hired personnel.
“The Gulf Air ethos is ‘one team and one family’ and this is apparent across various aspects of the airline’s culture and working environment,” Abumariam further recalled.
A LEaP Forward Continuing a culture of safety and supporting “pass down” to the next generation of pilots in this emerging era of large-scale personnel transition, were among the priorities of United executives when the carrier proactively launched its Leadership Excellence and Professionalism (LEaP) flight operations project in early 2015.
Weigand pointed out that in addition to leadership other course pillars include use of United’s data systems, in collaboration with ALPA, to use data elements to help educate its pilot groups through: scenario-based training; reviewing concepts of crew resource management/threat and error management; and introducing new human performance concepts from Convergent Performance (a LEaP course contributor and developer). Weigand added “new” content for United’s pilots in LEaP course modules include cognitive biases and levels of professionalism in the cockpit, among others. “This brings our pilot group to a point where they recognize this challenge is going to be significant. We actually talk about generational shift by talking about characteristics of the Baby Boomer generation, Generation X and the Millennial generation,” he noted.
Several of the groups’ characteristics highlighted in the course include, for boomers, leaning on preparation and the art of professionalism in the cockpit. Conversely, Generation X and the Millennials were noted to be “born” into the technology realm.
Weigand continued, “We address how you blend these characteristics well. We walk our pilots through the differences to recognize them, and then we address how they can address those differences in the cockpit. In the end, it is their responsibility as leaders to hand that information off as they leave or exit the profession.”
Captain Mike McCasky, the managing director of Flight Training at United, mentioned yet another dynamic, internal to United, which has increased the urgency to launch LEaP – the recently completed United/Continental merger.
“We have just come through a very challenging merger process,” McCasky recalled and continued, “the pilot groups were just coming together. We were blending cultures, blending pilot groups. So now you have this new culture of pilots coming in that only knows the United Airlines of today [post-merger]. The timing has been incredibly fortunate which is yet another reason this message has resonated as well as it has with our pilots.”
When CAT spoke with the United team at WATS 2016 this April 19, more than 9,500 of the airline’s 11,000 pilots had completed LEaP training. All airline pilots were expected to complete this one day (five hour) course not later than this May.
The current LEaP class is an instructional baseline – with upgraded LEaP elements expected to be integrated into other airline courses (Basic Indoctrination for New Hires, Captain Upgrade, and Recurrent training).
Interest in LEaP has been received from different divisions at United. Weigand remarked that his office has also received “reach outs” on the course from its competitors and elsewhere in the industry, and academia. “The FAA has attended the course. We have gained interest from Transport Canada and NTSB as well,” he added.
LEaP’s other current learning outcomes should garner additional attention from community stakeholders. McCasky concluded that in addition to professionalism, pilots also owe their fellow aviators and flying partners a level of respect that may have gone by the wayside in the recent, turbulent community past.
For his part, Weigand concluded that LEaP also emphasizes mentoring – a concept included in ALPA’s Pilots’ Code of Ethics, his airline’s operating manual and other source documents. “We owe it to the officer sitting next to us – particularly the younger and first officers – to mentor and coach, and that is a challenge within the course itself.”
Technology-Enabled Learning The Gulf Air Training Department has invested in an e-learning infrastructure and all pilots have been provided with company-issued iPad Electronic Flight Bags to assist in their flight operations. Abumariam added, “Going forward, it is important to ensure future investment in applications that support the delivery of training while we, in tandem, continue to develop training content that is compatible with such devices.”
From the learning technology perspective, Convergent Performance works in a variety of high risk industries inside and outside of aviation, including law enforcement, firefighters, energy, space operations, military, surgical teams, and others. Inside the aviation world, the company has worked long-term contracts that include FedEx, Bombardier, and a host of business and charter operators. “Our programs include strategic planning, operations, maintenance, and customer service” Kern noted and added, “Our training programs cross nearly all modes, including live, train the trainer, webinars (both live and recorded), e-learning, videos, apps, and text based.”
And while Convergent hits nearly all the current modes of training, including some experience with “gamification” in the energy industry, “Our current innovations are focused on ‘micro-learning,’ 1-2 minute videos with a feedback loop that are focused, edgy and actionable. Everybody has a smartphone, so we figured let’s give our clients something to do with them other than play” some popular mobile games, Kern said.
A Caution Flag While United and Gulf Air are among the airlines responding to the wave of generational change sweeping their cadres of pilots, Kern added some unvarnished observations and words of caution about these and other carriers’ paths forward. The first is that aviation human factors training has become a victim of its own success. “The industry used to be very innovative back in the 1980s when the FAA funded considerable research and the CRM programs evolved across five generations. But when the mishap rates fell and the funding dried up, the innovation slowed (maybe even stopped),” he reflected. But yet, United’s efforts are important to restarting the path forward. “The LEAP program is truly revolutionary in that it puts both the challenges and solutions in the hands of the operator (supported by the system), those closest to the threat,” the industry subject matter concluded.