Ethiopian Airlines, the wholly government-owned national carrier, is based in the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, but its ambition and reach extend not just to a pan-African network, but also to many major inter-continental destinations. Chris Long reports.
The potential of an African hub to serve the under-represented African community, rather on the model of the Gulf-based airlines, is very attractive. Some clues as to its capabilities can be seen in its extensive and modern aircraft fleet. With 21 Boeing 787s in service and another six on order, coupled with six Airbus A350s already delivered and 18 more in the pipeline, it is obvious that the expansion is already well underway. The present fleet of 25 Boeing 737s will be joined by 30 B737 Max aircraft, the first of which arrives in June. The rest of the passenger aircraft in service are 10 B777s, and 21 Bombardier Q400s, with three more of that type on order.
The scale of that network, together with the number of destinations and aircraft types, means that there is a considerable training task to be completed. This is both for the 1,200 flight deck crew, and the 3,000 cabin crew and the additional new entrants.
Ethiopian Aviation Academy
There has been a training function within Ethiopian since 1956, but that role has been embraced by the present Ethiopian Academy. Although the primary task is to train for Ethiopian Airlines, some 51 nationalities have been through the maintenance training facility and 39 on one or other of the pilot training courses. The range of disciplines and courses within those basic categories is extensive, and with five separate schools - Maintenance, Pilot, Cabin Crew, Commercial and Ground Service and Leadership/Management. Under the Cabin Crew function there is a separate training entity - the Catering training.
The pilot and maintenance course applicants have to possess both formal educational qualifications in maths and physics, together with an appropriate level of ICAO Aviation English (Level 4 for pilots, Level 3 for technicians) as well as having to pass the Academy’s own written exam. All candidates are interviewed on a one-to one basis and then take the appropriate level of medical examination. Initially largely modelled on FAA training patterns, there is a recognition that there are benefits in matching other authorities, so where necessary, EASA and the local Civil Aviation Authority’s approvals have been awarded. The Academy is affiliated with IATA as an Accredited Training Center, Authorized Training School and Regional Training partner as well.
As the enthusiastic chief Maintenance Training Instructor, Henok Girma says, the General course for the new entrants lasts 10 weeks, and is an introduction to basic tools and tasks. Measuring and familiarisation with tools and instruments is the foundation of the future skills, which progressively move through metalworking, composite repairs, to prepare for the broad categories of Airframe, Powerplant and Avionics. All the maintenance students cover the basics in all those areas and do so by dismantling and reassembling the actual components in each section. Hands on is key at this point, so the course splits between the theory (classroom based) and work in the laboratories or supervised at the co-located MRO for the practical aspects.
The whole Basic course last for 22 months, and includes a wide range of elements, from servicing cabin interiors and galley equipment, to emergency equipment and supplementary oxygen systems. The graduates then move to the MRO for six months of OJT before taking the formal examinations to become a licensed engineer, usually in all three categories. The school also runs modularized training in the area of Power Plant, Airframe, Avionics, Cabin Maintenance and Aircraft Structure. An EASA approved Maintenance Training Organization, the school provides other approved B1 & B2 courses. Henok’s team numbers some 50 experienced instructors, who work with the 1,200 to 1,400 trainees who are on site at any given time.
The full range of pilot training courses is available, from the annual intake of 80- 120 ab initio students, to the career-long pattern of command, instructor, examiner options. The ab initio training is carried out at the international airport at Addis Ababa on 15 Diamond DA40 and 2 DA42 aircraft, supported by a Frasca FTD, whilst the nine Cessna 172s have a FlightSafety FTD as the lead-in.
The 20-month course presently follows a classic CPL/IR pattern, but the plan is to move to a MPL syllabus once there is more time available on the FFSs which constitute such an important part of any MPL progression. The scale of the build-up in the commercial aircraft fleets and, the priority of training the crews for that, limits the rate at which the 18 month long MPL courses can be implemented, but the intention is to convert to a wholly MPL syllabus once greater access to the high end devices can be managed. So important to the long-term plan is the MPL, that a separate office has been set up to oversee both the initial training and the integration of the graduates into the routine line operations.
Captain Wuhib Abebe has seen lessons learnt from that feedback from the line flying, and has consequently increased the baseline flight time for the MPL course by 25 additional hours to build up the level of situational awareness and direct experience of flight, rather than relying principally on the synthetic flight time. One point of note was that there is a continuing need for greater exposure to R/T to prepare the low-time pilots for the challenges of international operation. The MPL course itself is continually evolving to adapt to the lessons learnt - MPL Course (number) 10 has embraced quite a few lessons learnt since MPL Course (number) 1.
Captain Fisseha T. Bayou, manager Flight Training Standards and Facilities, sees one of the benefits of the intensive MPL training as reinforcing the company culture early on in this group of highly-motivated and competent young pilots. The thorough selection processes to pick the best from the overwhelming number of applicants for the wholly-airline-sponsored courses, means that his team have a really good group of young people to work with. Women make up about 3% of the initial groups - a figure which is reflected in the broader Ethiopian pilot population, of which 85% are from the home country.
Bayou describes the planned career pattern as carefully monitored and controlled. Whilst the Line Training stipulates a minimum of 20 sectors, the competency-based philosophy results in a typical figure being closer to 30-35 sectors. After a minimum of 1,500 hours and two years operational flying, the First Officers can be considered for progression from the initial fleet of Q400 or B737 to become First Officers on the B777/787/767. Once a total time of 5,000 hours is reached, then there is the potential to get command, but that command role will be on whatever commercial type the pilot was first qualified. The jump to captain long haul can be after a further two years and 1,500 hours command, but is more usually at the three year/2,500 hours point. Once operating experience on the Airbus A350 has built up, that type will also fit into that standard career pattern.
Once the online, classroom and FFS training is completed, the command course includes at least 20 sectors. Destination airfield are graded A, B, or C to identify the level of operating challenge. For instance, the home base Addis Ababa, is at 8,000 altitude and 3,000 metres long. That requires attention to detail when operating into/from such a platform. Airfields may also be categorised because of challenges with local terrain and ATC language variations, thus requiring specific training attention.
Selecting instructors is always a considered move, and typically those will have 500 hours on type, be highly competent and, be a good role model. Once again these will go to the regional aircraft first before moving to the long haul fleet as instructors. Three examiners per aircraft fleet are selected from the instructor cadre.
Rahel Zerihun, head Cabin Crew and Catering Training, has the responsibility of overseeing the training of the annual flow of 800 new recruits, as well as the recurrent training for the 3,000 current cabin crew. Such is the demand to crew the rapid increase in new destinations that this training is mainly for Ethiopian Airlines, although it is open for third party customers.
A major part of the early training is to introduce the newly-arrived recruits into what is, for many, a completely new universe, where punctuality, self-discipline and self-motivation are key constituents. That is best done through the example of role models, supported by sympathetic pastoral care. Inevitably that requires careful selection of the instructors, who are all Ethiopian Airlines’ Cabin Crew Staff. For that role it is not enough simply to have professional competency - a commitment to the company and passion for the role are essential in order to transmit the company culture successfully.
The training centre is well-equipped for each fleet, with new or recently-installed door and very comprehensively equipped emergency evacuation trainers provided by EDM, a UK-based company.
In looking at the broader company culture, Tigist Terefe, manager Sales and Development, is keen to point out a series of initiatives which bind the company employees together. A strict code of behaviour when wearing the uniforms is essential of course, but the soft skills and in particular, company-wide team building are emphasised. Cohesion between the various teams starts with the graduation of each course. These are held regularly but coordinated such that a large group of cabin crew, technicians and pilots are all gathered together for a joint ceremony to show company unity, celebrate success and involve all the other students as well as the instructors. The trainees and staff of both the cabin crew teams and the catering training provide and distribute the refreshments for the 500+ people who attend these graduations - a useful exposure to the service side of the job.
Ownership of the company culture is encouraged through days of jointly de-littering and landscaping the (large) training facility. Time is also made to enjoy joint days of celebration together - one of which is Crew Celebration Day, but other events, like Sports Days, are conducted to allow people to share experiences and to socialise. Alternate Mondays see a meeting where all the disciplines assemble to exchange ideas and get up to speed with recent company news.
A major attribute is that, in a country where reasonable housing is at a premium, and out of the reach of many, Ethiopian Airlines provides all employees with on-demand mortgages to help with partially funded house purchases, and thus give the company population a hand up.
On a continent which has not yet benefited from the full potential of aviation, Terefe puts the Ethiopian Aviation Academy forward as the model state-of-the-art facility for the whole of Africa and shows what can be achieved when a dedicated team has the vision, long term commitment and resources to drive the industry forward.
Published in CAT issue 2/2018