Based in Helsinki, Finland, Finnair is the proud flag carrier for that country. Chris Long visited to find out more about the training and simulation capabilities of this 95 year old airline.
The underlying strategy is not merely to access national and European destinations, but to use the single aisle A320 fleet (36 A320 family) to feed the eight A330-300 fleet which is aligned with the A350-900 (presently 11, building to 19 by 2025). These long haul fleets extend the reach, primarily into Asia. This exploits Helsinki as a geographically well positioned hub, particularly for the North European population.
Entry into Service of A350-900
A major evolution of that capability was the entry into service of the A350-900, Finnair being the first European operator of the aircraft. With no historic flow of information/experience from other airlines, the training involvement started very early on during the course design as part of the team led by Airbus. Not only were the new capabilities of the aircraft to be introduced, but a whole new category - the Common Type Rating (CTR) - had to be crafted to fit the training requirements for both the A330ceo and the A350.
As Captain Marko Valtonen, Fleet Chief Pilot A330/350, comments, the work involved very close cooperation with Airbus and the Finnish authority to define what the differences were, and how to plan the training. One key feature of the course proposed by Airbus was that, not only would it be zero flight time (nothing new there), but it would not require any time in the full flight simulator (FFS). The training was planned to be four days theoretical training followed by four sessions on a flight training device (FTD).
It was rapidly discovered that, whilst the knowledge transfer was effective with that pattern, the new crews were uneasy at the idea of operating the aircraft immediately after completing the training. The issue was more one of lack of confidence in their ability to be at ease in the aircraft, rather than any fundamental lack of competency. A single session in the FFS proved to be sufficient to address those concerns, and Finnair has now adopted this extra session as part of its standard pattern. Interestingly, Airbus itself is considering doing the same. This CTR course is followed by four sectors line training (Airbus standard is two sectors). Consolidation minimum eight sectors is required before beginning Single Fleet Flying (SFF) operation between A350 and A330. Basically the cockpit does look different, with the large displays dominating, but the background operating philosophy is the same, and that familiarity is reassuring. What the A350 brings to the party is of course, additional automation and envelope protections. A case in point is the “Brake to Vacate” function, which has rapidly been accepted by the crews and is now used routinely. The range of options for the approaches is also increased with, for instance, the introduction of the RNP-AR capability.
By the end of 2018 Finnair will have 1,000 flight crew, and so far some 385 pilots have been trained on the A350, with 85 of those pilots flying SFF having the CTR. It is becoming apparent that the Cross Crew Qualification (CCQ) for pilots coming from the A320 to the A350 is very straightforward, with the crews reporting that the A350 is just as responsive as, and feels like the A320. So far the majority of the crews with CTR have previous experience of operating the A330, so moving between the two aircraft is straightforward. One challenge remaining for the medium to long term, however, will be to smooth the introduction of the A330 to those who have flown only the A320/A350 - the transition to an earlier technology and less automation will require careful thought and training planning. Finnair require currency between the A330/350 variants to be a maximum of 45 days, and are likely to maintain that. It requires a little work on the rostering to achieve, but is not posing a problem.
So far as recurrent training is concerned, Finnair expects one recurrent training and one evaluation session each year for the A350 and the same for the A330. That’s in excess of the mandatory EASA requirement, but one which Finnair believes enhances the competency levels.
Finnair Flight Academy has the primary task of supplying all the training needs of Finnair. Any surplus of training capacity can also be made available to third parties - Finnair now uses 70% of the capacity. The underlying aim is, where possible, to keep the training close to home to guarantee the quality levels demanded by Finnair. One historic exception to this was that for a time A320 training was undertaken by Lufthansa Aviation Training. After carefully briefing the Lufthansa training team on what was needed, the crews were trained up entirely to the satisfaction of Finnair, who were very pleased with the result.
With an A350 FFS provided by CAE in place at Finnair Flight Academy, the crews are now home-based for their training. One feature of that pattern is that there is a ready pool of current and recently-retired instructors who are familiar with the Finnair SOPs and culture, and so can hand that on to the new arrivals. A recent arrival to the FFS pool is an A320 device, supplied by TRU Simulation + Training.
One requirement of Finnair’s recruiting is that the new crews speak Finnish. Unsurprisingly this means that the vast majority of the pilots are of Finnish nationality, but there is no shortage of recruits and the selection process is the same for the mainline pilots as it is for the ab-initio recruits. Most of the ab-initio graduates complete their training at the Finnish Flight Academy at Pori, but the maximum capacity for that establishment is 50 pilots per year. With the pilot recruiting slated to reach 100 for 2018 and 80 per year after that, a top-up solution was sought, and a partnership with Patria Pilot Training has been set up where training based at Tampere, two hours’ drive north from Helsinki, will furnish those extra crews.
The training pattern will follow a “pure” MPL, with their A320 being the initial type on licence issue. Whilst the first course numbered 24 students and started in November 2016, a total of 38 cadets started in 2017, but the longer term aim is to settle to two courses of 16 students per year once the surge in flight crew numbers has been addressed and demand stabilised. The initial flying is on Diamond single and multi-engined aircraft, but from Phase 2 onward the training platforms are not generic as allowed by EASA legislation, but carried out on an A320 FTD manufactured by MPS, and this is followed by a transfer to the Finnair Flight Academy to complete the training on an A320 FFS and aircraft. The EASA requirement is changing to six landings in the aircraft as part of the MPL process, and the FCAA and Finnair already adhere to that. Early results are particularly encouraging, so there is unlikely to be significant modification to the present training pattern.
With the boost in aircraft numbers and the evolving pilot demographic, there have been significant changes to the career pattern that new entrants can expect. That in itself presents some challenges, as the former 15-year wait for command, during which time the First Officers would expect to gain a lot of line experience, is likely to reduce. The outline plan is now for those who start on the A320 to build at least two years and 200 hours before a move to the long-haul fleets as a First Officer, complete a further four to five years, and then return to the A320 to take a command role. Thence to long haul command after another four years. What that means is that the new generation will not have had the same level of operational exposure before taking command responsibility, so they have to be prepared in a different way.
As Captain Arto Helovuo, Head of Trainingindicates, the Finnair solution to this challenge is a carefully prepared mentoring programme. This started in January 2018 and during the first six months a newly-arrived First Officer will be provided with one or two coaching flights per month. Because this is not a regulatory requirement there is no necessity for a formal TRI/TRE qualification for the captains, so line captains can also volunteer to be selected for this role. Here the aim is to build a routine of A320 operations to increase the understanding of Airbus operating philosophy. The second phase of this coaching precedes conversion to long haul, and starts to introduce the new considerations needed for long-haul operations. This contrasts with the European theatre of operations, where the aircraft is rarely far from a suitable diversion airfield.
Instead on long haul, there needs to be some training in the “what if” scenarios, and an awareness of issues involving overflights/terrain/weather on the ITCZ etc. needs to be fostered. Once conversion to long haul has been accomplished, there is then a third phase of coaching to build the routine of a new type and new form of operations. Although this process is in its early days, the initial reaction is that the crews are keen on it.
The First Officers respond to the no-threat environment in which they can discuss and learn from a more detailed coaching, both during and post-flight, but the experienced pilots also appreciate it because the subjects are immediate, real and interesting. Helovuo is also on the EASA EBT Rule Making Group, and so Finnair has embraced the concepts and implementation of that approach to training.
Given the increased commitment to long haul operations, extra cabin crew have been recruited, and many of the 2,600 staff are based away from Helsinki. They operate directly from Japan, Korea, China, Singapore and Spain. However the drive to maintain a constant standard means that their training is still carried out back at base, at the Finnair Flight Academy.
As the form and scale of the training has changed and increased, the present facilities are approaching capacity. They have evolved organically, and so to make the next step the planning of a purpose-built facility has recently been launched. The aim is to start building on a nearby site close to the airport in 2019, ready for an opening late in 2020.
Merja Alhola, Head of Sales, is excited at the prospect of developing a new concept - will “classic” classrooms still be necessary? How much of a role will virtual/augmented reality play in the future, and exactly what equipment should be used? Will completely new approaches to training need to be taken into account? A new series of simulator bays will provide for the existing FFSs and have built-in capacity for additional ones if necessary.
An underlying theme is that best practice can be shared and exchanged with other airlines, particularly where safety is concerned. Already there are programmes in place to advise other airlines which are starting to equip with the A350, and active participation in EASA initiatives are now commonplace.
Finnair is well positioned for the new approaches to delivering training, and actively encourages innovation. The new centre will be the concrete evidence of that.
Published in CAT issue 4/2018