Chris Long profiles the training expertise of Wizz Air, the Hungarian low-cost airline with its head office in Budapest.
With an increase in passenger numbers of 18% in the last year, the continuing climb of Wizz Air is in marked contrast to the unsettling Low Cost Carrier (LCC) market elsewhere in Europe. With the demise of airlines such as Air Berlin, Primera and Germania, together with the uncertainty of the future of Flybe, it is a pleasant change to see an airline that is building from a strong baseline. That growth is explained by the CEO of Wizz Air, Jozsef Váradi, as being the result of a very tight focus on the core objectives of the airline. Váradi is clear that, to make the most of the Ultra Low Cost Carrier (ULCC) model that the airline has established, there are to be no peripheral distractions. No desires to introduce cargo business, no long-haul routes, no business class, no resource-hungry loyalty programmes, but rather to concentrate on providing the commodity of ULCC short haul flights.
The Key - Good People
Váradi is also adamant that the key is to select, train, and encourage good people, not just to ensure good performance, but to create continuous improvement by releasing the passion and interest that an enthusiastic team brings. He stresses that the goal is not to be complacent, nor to simply rely on individual breakthroughs, but to “keep the head down and make continuous small improvements” and so play to the strengths. The importance of good training is emphasised, and that belief is backed up with the level of continuing investment in new training facilities and capabilities. At the end of 2018 a new training facility was opened close to Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (Hungary). Here is concrete evidence of the determination to provide the most modern and efficient training equipment, both for flight deck and for cabin crew.
As the Head of Training, Captain Zoltan Szabo declares that the aim is to foster and strengthen the company culture; the instructors are almost exclusively recruited internally, and they are intrinsically keen to encourage the innovation and commitment within their own cadre and with the operational teams. That is essential, and the importance of the part that a good role model (instructor) plays in the training environment is fully recognised. There is plenty of potential for those who are interested in building their careers within the training environment. One of the advantages of a relatively new entrant as an airline is that there are no older, legacy training systems in place, consequently the positive attitude is definitely enhanced by the opportunity to work with the latest technology and equipment.
With the airline expanding fast, the crew numbers at any one time can only be a snapshot, but at the moment there are 1,450 pilots. There are over 2,800 cabin crew, and the recruiting for both teams is accelerating. The financial year for Wizz Air starts in April, and between April 2017 and the end of December 2017 over 1,100 new recruits started their training, and this rate was maintained over the same period in 2018. Low time pilots must have either CPL/IR plus ATPL ground exams, or a full ATPL, and this group receives an Airline Transition Programme (ATP) prior to the formal Type Rating to prepare them for the Wizz Air jet performance and airline operation. This bridges the gap between the basic licence training and real-time flight operation in a high performance aircraft.
Wizz Air feels that it is more multi-cultural than most LCCs, and has noticed that one reassuring characteristic of the latest recruits, themselves drawn from a multitude of countries and cultures, is the excellent level of English, both colloquial and technical. This results in ease of communication, ability to work with complex documents, reduced training time, the enabling of the recruits to be more focussed and successful in training, and general self-confidence. That recruiting is driven through job fairs, internet and, since 2017 when an initial cooperation agreement was signed with five aviation universities from the CEE region in Budapest, through students who have passed the Wizz Air selection process. These university students have been mentored during their last year by Wizz Air through visits and lectures, and have an offer of job placement.
The straight forward number of recruits simply scales the training task, but over that same period the greater detail reveals that in the full flight simulators (FFS), some 214 trainees completed their initial training, and there were nearly 1,900 recurrent training sessions. In total there were nearly 3,300 sessions in the FFS, supported by just under 400 sessions in the MFTD. Included in that is the work done to undertake close to 60 command upgrades.
There is great emphasis on instructor-led classroom time for initial courses, and that is retained for all Crew Resource Management training and command upgrades. However, recurrent training is primarily carried out online. This caters for crew availability and rostering, and also manages the varying speeds of learning best suited to individuals.
As stated, the initial CRM courses are all classroom-based. These courses concentrate on the basic skills of either the flight deck or cabin crew, but some recurrent training is carried out jointly. For instance, when the emergency evacuation trainer (EET) is used, both flight deck and cabin crews train together.
Captain Gabor Gyorgy, Flight Crew Training manager, is proud of the fact that there is a deliberate step away from mere “box ticking”. “Competency” is the watchword, so the training is not measured by failure, but rather by the success in achieving the maximum potential of the individual. The aim of the training and standardisation is not to punish bad performance, but to highlight areas which can be improved on to make crews and instructors safer operators and more effective trainers. A new Training Management System (TMS) will shortly be implemented, leading to more detailed and effective tracking and guiding of an individual’s training.
One indicator of the desire to reach and maintain high standards is the use of external Type Rating Examiners (TREs). The aim is to have a completely neutral and independent verification of the performance levels when compared with those of highly respected airlines. By having very experienced and qualified TREs from other airlines to do a significant number of the regulatory checks, an objective view of the airline’s standards can be made. Alongside this philosophy is the gradual adoption of Evidence Based Training (EBT). Those who have already implemented this process know that there is no magic wand to put it in place. It requires a sound plan, in-depth training of instructors both in the delivery and critically, in the assessment. That takes time, but by blending the competency-based instructor training programme with the introduction of EBT, the goal of continually striving for an increased safety can be achieved. All the instructors had completed their EBT Instructor Development Course by the end of 2018, and the process will be fully rolled out by the end of 2019.
Alongside that, the instructor cadre will all receive a three day Upset Prevention and Recovery (UPRT) programme.
The preference is to select Wizz Air first officers to command positions, rather than choose direct entry captains. Consequently there is a robust pre-command training programme to prepare the aspiring captain for that more demanding role.
There is little point in building a new training centre if old equipment is installed in it. Wizz Air has made considerable further investment to equip it with state-of-the-art training platforms. At the high end are two CAE 7000XR A320 FFSs, supported by an A320 fixed base trainer, supplied by MPS. Flame Aviation have recently installed a fire trainer for both cabin and flight deck crew, and the jewel in the crown for the cabin crew, who need both initial and recurrent training, is a fully equipped emergency evacuation trainer supplied by TFC. This has a very comprehensive menu of training aids, to be used in a range of scenarios, and has been enthusiastically welcomed by both cabin crew trainers and the trainees. There is considerable stress on the training for lithium ion fires, which are becoming all too frequent. A key ingredient in the fire training, both in the EET and the Flame device, is the essential skill of teamwork to control and extinguish any smoke/fire event.
First aid training for all teams is primarily out-sourced, but those internal instructors who are used must have medical degrees or background.
At the present time there are no plans to use virtual reality (VR) or artificial intelligence (AI) in the training processes, but these will be re-assessed in due course.
Wizz Air ATO
There is an in-house programme which offers employees who have two years with Wizz Air and who already have a CPL, ME/IR, to apply for support to complete a special type rating which is extended with entry level training (MCC/JOC). This is to help prepare them for airline operations. This special support takes the form of six months unpaid leave to help complete their final training. Since 2014, four trainees a year have benefited from this, and this scheme is also used to increase the number of female pilots, as it includes cabin crew who are transitioning to a new position in Wizz Air.
Ab Initio Pilot Training
Up to the present time the ab initio programme selected by Wizz Air is the integrated ATPL(A) which allows continuous tracking of the student progress. These self-sponsored cadets are being trained at two flight schools, L3 CTS in the UK, and Baltic Aviation Academy (BAA) of Lithuania.
Currently there are 84 cadets in these programmes. The first students from L3 CTS arrived in 2017, and those from BAA will enter service in August 2018. New groups of students start every three months. The feedback is very positive, with cadets reported as forming a great community, in which they help each other.
An additional route to the flight deck is under the Wizz Air Pilot Academy Program. This pre-funded programme is available for cadets from Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Romania. Here the training is provided by Egnatia Aviation of Kavala, Greece, and Trener Kft, of Nyiregyhaza, Hungary. There are 58 students participating in this programme , and the first group of 10 cadets is due to finish in April 2019. A designated Wizz Air Standardisation Instructor is assigned to check and follow up the progress of the students in order to ensure the high standards expected by the airline.
Consideration is being given to introducing a full cadet MPL programme, with L3 CTS as the training partner, at some point in the future.
A320 type ratings delivered by the new Wizz Air Training Centre are due to climb from just 10 in April-Dec 2018, to more than 30 in 2019. Last year over 100 were outsourced to external partners. In anticipation of the training demand over the next 10 years, the ATO has already started the delivery of training for Line Training Captains (LTCs) and Type Rating Instructors (TRIs), and this will continue in the foreseeable future.
As the national flag carrier, Wizz Air is a symbol of success for the Hungarians, and has an important place in the national psyche. What was refreshing to see during the opening ceremony was the enthusiasm shown by the entire team. As Váradi insists, the key is to encourage and harness the innovation and involvement of people - “Feel the Heart”.
Published in CAT issue 1/2019