Chris Long provides an update on Airbus’ new ab initio pilot training programme.

Airbus is now well into its Ab Initio Pilot Cadet Training Programme (see CAT 4/2018). The aim is to provide safe and efficient pilots, but, critically, it also includes the underlying principle of opening the doors to training for a diverse range of candidates. The ab-initio cadet pilot training is open self-funded/sponsored high-school graduates worldwide over the age of 18. By carefully selecting and monitoring candidates and applying a competency-based screening and selection process, Airbus is targeting competency acquisition right from the beginning of their programme.

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In December 2018 EASA approved a fully integrated ab-initio cadet pilot training programme, of which the initial phase has been jointly developed by Airbus and ENAC, the French National aviation school, also headquartered in Toulouse. The standardised selection process and programme will be administered and delivered by a global network of partner pilot flight training schools to ensure a uniform measure in identifying skill sets and potential for a career as a commercial pilot.


The first partnership with an ATO, the Escuela de Aviacion Mexico (EAM) in Mexico City, Mexico, accepted the first batch of ten students into training in January this year, and those are expected to graduate in 18 months’ time. Interestingly, EAM operates a fleet of both classic and glass cockpit (G1000) aircraft, with Cessna 152/172 and Diamond DA40 and the multi-engine DA42 operating alongside each other, with the supporting platform of Redbird G1000.

The choice of the second base fell to the Airbus Flight Academy (AFA) Europe in Angoulême, France. Created in 2006, AFA is a 100% subsidiary of Airbus (formerly known as Cassidian Aviation Training Services “CATS”). AFA operates both single and multi-engine aircraft with the latest full glass cockpit technology (26 Cirrus SR20-SR22 and one Diamond DA42 VI) as well as the latest flight simulators (AL42, DA42 and Redbird G1000). This centre will welcome its first dozen cadets at the end of April/beginning of May.

Class sizes will gradually increase, with cadet numbers building to reach the planned total of 200 per year, per school by 2025. From 2020 onwards, a further three to five partner schools are planned to be added every year to the ab initio training effort.

Challenge - and Solution

Airbus and its partner ATOs have turned their attention to the concerns about sourcing instructors. The global pilot training industry is experiencing the challenge of sourcing sufficient numbers of good instructors for all stages of flight training. However, the historic route of recently-qualified CPL/IR holders automatically becoming instructors has its own limitations.

It is well recognised that not all competent graduates/pilots are necessarily likely to be the best instructors. There are clearly identified characteristics and behaviours which are shown by those who are, or who will become, good instructors. To encourage young pilots who have the extra talent to become instructors, it must first be recognised that such individuals should not be asked to limit their careers by accepting lower rates of promotion and compensation which have historically been the lot of the instructor cadre.

What is needed, according to Jean-Michel Bigarré, Airbus Head of Flight Training, is a transparent structure which allows a young pilot to start his/her career with an airline, but subsequently transition to an instructor role without loss of compensation or long-term seniority. A challenge for the airlines, certainly, but one which it is in their interest to address to ensure good quality and well-motivated instructors who are the bedrock of any training system. The longer-term effect of instructional time early on in the career is the potential for better command and instructor pilots within the airline at a later date.

Putting in place such a structure will not be easy, but the potential to establish a robust pipeline in instructor competency for the long-term benefit of the airlines and the industry is the sort of game-changing initiative that is essential. 

Published in CAT issue 2/2019