Singapore Airlines (SIA) is proud of its hard-won reputation for excellence. Chris Long visited the airlines’ Training Centre which serves as the focal point for flight and cabin crew training.

Captain Quay Chew Eng, SVP of Flight Operations, is very clear that any change to process is closely evaluated, and then, where appropriate, implemented by stages when it is certain that there will be enhancement of existing systems. This is particularly true of training programmes as new technologies and philosophies impact on the global industry.

Ab Initio Pilot Training

For many years SIA has sponsored cadet pilot training, primarily as a way of guaranteeing the quality of new flight deck crews. A stringent selection process has always preceded the training, and that has not changed. What has moved on though, is the ab initio training pattern. Those cadets destined for SIA have, since 2014, trained under the Multi-crew Pilot Licence (MPL) process. Another member of the Singapore Airlines Group, Silkair, initially retained the “classic” CPL/IR training syllabus, but once a successful trial had been completed, adopted MPL in 2017. Given that this pattern was initially approved by ICAO in 2006, it is evident that, for SIA, there was a considerable period of observation and evaluation of that new process. Judgement of the success or otherwise could not really be made until the long term operational performance of graduates could be evaluated. Not least of the conundrums to be looked at was the wide variation of the training delivered, in terms of training platforms and syllabi and, most importantly, results. It is now apparent to the industry as a whole that the MPL can be particularly effective when applied with the initial philosophy of tailoring the whole thing to a specific airline, with the specific culture and operational procedures of that airline.

Captain Yeo Boon Ling, Divisional Vice President Flight Operation Technical, Regulatory and Projects, mentions the early scepticism of the MPL process, but is now completely sold on that pattern. He is clear that the CPL/IR training simply provides a licence to fly, and it has been recognised that additional training is required to prepare a pilot for airline operation. MPL is designed to place the graduate into the right hand seat of a complex type right from the start. It is based on competency based training and assessment (CBTA), and integrates threat and error management (TEM) and crew resource management (CRM), so the cadets are immediately introduced to the work style and culture at the heart of SIA operations.

The tough selection process and efficient training has resulted in minimal attrition rates, and the instructors say that the cadets perform much better from day one. That selection now includes non-Singaporean applicants and some 100 cadets are in training at any one time. That number will soon increase to 120. The whole process has been achieved by working closely with all the stakeholders, from the regulators, to the unions, management and training providers.

SIA cadet pilots. Image credit: Singapore Airlines.
SIA cadet pilots. Image credit: Singapore Airlines.

Captain Fan K.W. Patric, Deputy Chief Pilot (Training) takes up the story. The training programme starts with the six month ground school (theory) stage in Singapore. The cadets then go to Jandakot, near Perth, Australia, for the airborne part of the Phase 1 Practical using the Cessna 172. Thereafter they return to Singapore to carry out Phases 2 and 3, using the B777 device as a generic jet type. Phase 4 is then carried out on the B777, both in the FFS and in the aircraft, to complete the six landings mandated by the CAAS (this conforms to the ICAO requirement). The next group of cadets is destined for the A330, an approval for which has just been granted. Silkair’s MPL programme uses the A320 FTD for Phase 2 and 3. Thereafter the SIA cadets will undergo the Phase 4 training on the B737 FSTD and aircraft to acquire the B737 rating.

In line with the careful approach to the introduction of this training pattern, the regulators were encouraged to join SIA in the evaluation and sign off for each phase before progressing to the next phase. Thus confidence in the process was built up from the beginning.

After the Type rating is completed the graduates start their Initial Operating Experience (IOE) with a total of 60 sectors. The first element of this concentrates on the role of Pilot Monitoring, and the final phase focusses on the Pilot Flying skills before the pilot is released as a revenue-earning crew member.

The goal of adopting the MPL course was to employ competency based training and assessment (CBTA) from the start of training, and it has succeeded in that. The MPL programme provides relevant and focused training that results in shorter training duration as compared to the CPL programme, producing a competent pilot in 24 to 26 months. Alongside the introduction of this process, SIA now selects and trains female pilots with the same criteria. “So far we have four female cadets in the system. Two are fully qualified co-pilots on the B777 with the other two in various phases of training.”

One of the most challenging issues in establishing a robust MPL progression is to recruit and train instructors, whose role is more complex in this process when compared to earlier patterns of ab initio training. In this, SIA is fortunate. Many of those highly experienced pilots, who retire at the limiting age for airline operation, are both locally based and willing to continue in the world of aviation by undertaking the instructor role. The competency and credibility of this cadre is recognised by management, but especially by the cadets, who are working with role models from the start, and consequently the rapport between the instructors and students is strong and the training even more effective.

So – it works, and there are now 42 graduates on line operations. Whilst not providing the full annual requirements for SIA, the plan is that this route will provide a baseline and constant, manageable pipeline which can be topped up by directly recruiting experienced pilots as necessary.

Evidence-Based Training (EBT)

As with other initiatives, SIA has carefully weighed up the benefits of EBT before committing to it. Already an experienced pilot has been nominated as Head of Evidence-Based Training, and work is underway to introduce and integrate it into the training system. Once again the regulator, the CAAS, is closely involved as there are presently no Singapore-based operators who have implemented it.


SIA has developed an in-house UPRT package which is fully endorsed by the CAAS. Indeed, SIA reports that the regulators are happy with the level of compliance, and recognizes SIA as an early adopter in the region of the ICAO Recommended Best Practice.

Training Delivery

In recent years SIA has moved away from owning its training devices. The underlying philosophy is to maintain the content and quality of the training, but to out-source the day-to-day running of the pilot training assets. Some time ago a joint venture (AATC) was set up between SIA and Airbus to provide training to support SIA’s Airbus fleet training requirements. Recently another joint venture, with CAE, was established for the training of the Boeing fleets. The primary customer for the JV will be the SIA Group using their own instructors, but any spare capacity can be used for third parties using a separate group of instructors.

New Aircraft Types

The recent introduction of two new aircraft types has led to adapted training for both. The B787 arrived several months ago, and pilots have moved seamlessly from the B777 fleet. The differences course has been devised and approved. The plan is to operate with pilots on the single aircraft type for one year, and then to consider a multi fleet flying rating to qualify some of the pilots on the two aircraft fleets.

The A350 training has been underway over the last 18 months, and once again the pilot pool of A350 has been recruited from a similar type - in this case the A330. Pilots are required to accumulate a minimum level of experience on the A330 before transitioning to the A350, when they will hold a Common Type Rating (CTR). Here is an excellent example of co-ordination with other airlines, in that there has been close liaison with other A350 operators for lessons learnt during the introduction. The A330-A350 Differences Course has been created by Airbus and consists of four FFS and a FFS for HUD training. The immediate future holds the prospect of the arrival of the A350 ULR, and approval for 240 minute ETOPS and, separately, polar operations.

SIA's newly installed V9000 Commander Cabin Fire + Smoke Trainer. Image credit: Flame Aviation.
SIA's newly installed V9000 Commander Cabin Fire + Smoke Trainer. Image credit: Flame Aviation.

Cabin Crew

In CAT 5/2017 we reported on the imminent arrival of a new fire training device at SIA. That Flame Aviation unit is now installed and is in regular use. Celine Kwah, Assistant Manager Facilities and Training Admin, comments that the level of realism and range of events has meant that the training is very effective, and the crews get both the adrenaline rush when faced with a simulated fire and the confidence in being able to respond correctly. The various types and locations of the fires can be rotated through a rolling programme.

Since that last report, the adoption of an increasing number of online training modules has resulted in much more efficient recurrent training. Cabin crew can access those refresher courses as and when they wish, and the actual time required at the training centre is dramatically reduced. By checking the records of those online sessions the instructors can better focus on issues that need to be addressed, and so not have as much repetitive work - a win-win. For instance the dangerous goods initial/induction classes training time can be reduced from about half a day to a single one hour session with the instructor. For recurrent classes, the 45 minute instructor led dangerous goods session is completely replaced by the online module.

Steady Progress

The characteristic considered selection and implementation of new technologies typifies the SIA approach to both operations and training. The belief is that that path leads to continued high standards - an absolute so far as Singapore Airlines is concerned. 

Published in CAT issue 5/2018