Highlights from the Asia Pacific Airline Training Symposium, a focused, executive-level treatment of regional airline training and simulation issues - pilot, maintenance tech and cabin crew. Chris Long reports.

Disruptive keynote speeches are a great way of starting major conferences. One such keynote launched APATS 2019 in Singapore, and the thought-provoking theme was carried through the subsequent presentations.

Captain Chris Kempis, Director of Flight Operations, Cathay Pacific, did not shy away from addressing some challenging issues, including concerns expressed by an increasingly large proportion of the public about the level of environmental impact of aviation. Kempis acknowledged that, whilst such concerns are valid – “much of the world’s economy would prefer a solution that does not require air travel or airborne shipment of products” – there is nonetheless a surge in tourism for those newly empowered populations “who wish, quite rightly, to fulfil their dreams and travel to distant shores”. This latter demand is largely what is fuelling the rapidly increasing rate of air travel, not only and primarily in Asia, but globally as well. Kempis contends that “training in the development of responsible aviation practices will become a key component of the (training) process”. Certainly that is a subject that has not yet reached training suppliers and regulators, but it does reach out to future aviation professionals.

In parallel, Kempis sees the teaching of soft and leadership skills as essential for new entrants into the industry – they will become future managers and leaders.

Another, less controversial, issue is the need for diversity – driven not just by proper equal opportunity, but also by the need for increasingly large numbers of skilled people. We need to tap into all segments of the population. Part of that task is, of course, to decrease the gender imbalance. Citing Cathay Pacific as an example, the airline has set a stretch target for the end of 2023 to increase the number of female pilots from the present 4.5% to 10%, with 50% of the cadet starters (Cathay’s primary source of new pilots) being female by 2021.

Kempis also suggested that ideas about reduced crew (ie, single pilot) operations need to be considered now. Already OEMs are working hard to design solutions – and such moves can’t be ignored. That then reflects on a whole series of issues – do we need the same profile of individual or should we redefine the skillsets and attributes for a generation that may be faced with that option? Should we change the training profiles to reflect that new role – if so, how and with what? These questions should not be put off to the future but must be addressed today as the pilot shortage may force such a solution earlier rather than later – and the training industry has to be ready for that contingency.

We are now training a generation of pilots who might expect to operate until 2050 – is there any way we can anticipate the world that they will be living in at that time – are there emerging technologies which will have become mainstream by then? Critically, how can we develop mindsets that are adaptable, and which will embrace a new form of man-machine interface?

With all those new considerations in mind, Kempis reminded the delegates that it is their collective responsibility to continue to deliver relevant and effective training – a real challenge.

Knowledge transfer on a bustling tradeshow floor.
Knowledge transfer on a bustling tradeshow floor.

In the industry keynote, Patrick Curtin, General Manager Campus Operations, Boeing, who is locally based in Singapore, ran through the 2019 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook – the 10th version of this document reveals figures which remain daunting. This compilation of statistics takes into account all types of commercial operations (airline, cargo, business, etc) and factors in estimates of growth, retirement and attrition of pilot numbers. It serves as an excellent guide to the scale of training task needed to provide sufficient skilled talent to ensure ongoing safe operation of the airline industry.

Echoing earlier comments on the continuing expanding demand for air travel, Curtin pointed out that the industry has made great strides in efficiencies – for instance, load factors in the early 1990s were typically averaging 65%. That figure has now moved to 80+%. Creative cabin design has resulted in increased seating capacity per aircraft.

With a continuing traffic growth of 3.4% annually, the bottom line, however, is that there is still a massive need for new aircraft. In Asia Pacific some 44,000 new airframes are expected to be delivered over the next two decades, 32,000 of which will be single aisle. Boeing also anticipates a 140-fold increase in data generated by these e-connected aircraft, which will facilitate new methods of predictive performance to assist planning. There is massive investment in aviation infrastructure planned for the region; China proposes to build 2,000 smaller airports over the next 20 years, and India expects to double the number of its airports.

Training has already seen a shift to blended delivery, using a range of platforms. The data and tracking can present personalised training packages to support each individual, and increasingly integrated training, mixing theoretical and practical segments, delivers a more balanced sequence of learning. Working out how to shape new training patterns to embrace new technologies effectively poses questions as to the division of tasks which can be carried out in the future by FFS/FBT and VR/AR devices.

For the second year running, dedicated maintenance and cabin crew conference streams ran concurrently with the pilot training track.
For the second year running, dedicated maintenance and cabin crew conference streams ran concurrently with the pilot training track. 

All of these techniques will need to be used to train the 244,000 new pilots forecast in the region over the next 20 years (12,000 per year). The Asia Pacific will become a global hub for MROs, and the demand there is for some 249,000 new technicians to support both these and the airlines. All this not forgetting an astonishing 323,000 new cabin crew who will also need to be trained

The reality is that on a global scale there is very strong competition to recruit bright new talent, and so to help meet those numbers Boeing is active in promoting initiatives to encourage STEM from an early age, and to make the actual training processes more attractive for the lifestyles and learning habits of new entrants.

The aviation training industry needs both a realistic assessment of what is necessary and ideas on how to achieve the essential goals. With such powerful opening presentations, APATS got off to an excellent start – and continued with that quality through a robust programme across the three disciplines of pilot, maintenance and cabin crew. Common to all three was the central role of human characteristics in shaping training mechanisms and in human factors training. As ever the interest in the conference rooms was matched by the buzz of the intensive networking and meetings taking place in the exhibition hall and elsewhere. The event is absolutely the place to be for getting the latest on training thinking and practice – a great success.

The presentations can be accessed at www.apats-event.com

 Left, Patrick Curtin, General Manager Campus Operations, Boeing. Right, APATS Conference Chair, Jacques Drappier, led the Heads of Training meeting.
Left, Patrick Curtin, General Manager Campus Operations, Boeing. Right, APATS Conference Chair, Jacques Drappier, led the Heads of Training meeting.

HoT Topics

Under the guidance of the APATS Conference Chair, Jacques Drappier, the Heads of Training (HoT) meeting, the evening before the main event, focussed on sharing experiences and ideas on some of the key issues which they face day-to-day. Here's a brief resume of the roundtable topics:

Pilot Shortage: In spite of denial from some parts of the world, it was generally recognised that there is, indeed, a shortage of pilots, especially in the Asia Pacific region. Historically, sons and daughters of pilots have followed in the parent’s footsteps, but a savvy generation have seen the changes in a pilot’s lifestyle – and it doesn’t match their expectations. The industry tends not to promote itself well – for instance, the integral part of high tech, so dear to younger generations, is not stressed. Funding (or lack of it) is, as ever, a major blocker, but solutions such as sponsored cadetships, government funding schemes (example, Norway), or possible micro-funding plans offer hope for the future. An obvious career path should be made clear, whether via regional operation to mainline and on to command, or perhaps, as a career instructor. Encouraging more mature entrants to launch into a second career as a pilot could open up to another demographic.

Upgrade to Commander: Given the frequently rapid promotion to Captain, particularly in LCCs, (typically seven years) it means that many Captains who will be flying in 10 years’ time have not even started their training yet. A fundamental requirement, therefore, is to select for command potential even before ab initio pilot training starts. Another view, in contrast, is that not all pilots seek the responsibility of command, and they should be allowed to continue and be streamed as career First Officers. Those that are being considered for command upgrade should be judged by performance, and it should be noted that hours alone do not indicate the required level of proficiency and decision making. Many of those entering the industry don’t have the decision-making skills. So those, with other soft skills, including leadership, should be taught from the start as an integral part of pilot training. There was also a call for common standards, both for selection to command and the command course itself, in much the same way PADI assures a world standard of scuba diver training and competency. This would ensure a consistent level of competence and performance across airlines and countries.

Flight Instructors: Inevitably, selection was discussed, and there was a general feeling that the older style of military instruction rendered many ex-military instructors unsuitable for commercial instruction. Recent top-quality graduates can make excellent instructors, but the issue of matching compensation packages to equivalent deals with an airline must be recognised. Capturing recently retired commercial pilots brings both operational experience and credibility in the eyes of the students, as well as a “payback” to the career. It is also essential that instructors are really motivated to the role.

The training of instructors needs to be standardised so that students get a consistent story and results. It is critical that there is standardisation of student reporting and feedback, and instructors need to be evaluated to maintain that level. Finally, retention is always an issue. Historically, the role of instructor was seen as a stepping-stone to commercial operations once the hours had been built up.

The answer might be to point out the advantage of a regular lifestyle and working hours, and current pilots, for instance with a young family, should be encouraged to consider the instructional role at that stage of life. That led to a discussion on partnerships with airlines, who have an interest in getting the best new pilots, and good instructors are absolutely key to that. Adaptable career progression, to include spells as an instructor, could be coordinated with a sympathetic airline. And the compensation has to be realistic and attractive. One ATO in Norway pays an annual salary of 100,000 Euros as part of a package of excellent terms and conditions. They have no trouble recruiting, and consequently can be very selective in whom they employ.

Regulatory Consistency: There was a powerful plea to move to more straightforward mutual recognition of qualifications and certification, with common rules. Perhaps that could start with additional bi-lateral agreements to reduce the number of approvals required. Another challenge is in the divergent interpretation of existing rules and requirements. Mistranslations of definitions and specifications frequently lead to misunderstandings. Perhaps more meetings and forums between NAAs, and between NAAs and industry, would help to smooth the way. One problem area is trying to make regulations as “one size fits all” – some sensible adjustment might work

UPRT: There is now general agreement that this training is essential. The debate is still live as to how it should be carried out. Should the ab initio ATOs introduce it (most already do so in accordance with NAA regulations), or should it be the airlines’ responsibility? Should it be carried out in an aircraft or in a simulator? Do the simulators have the capability of effective UPRT?

This training has become mandated because there is an observed erosion of manual flying skills, and in some cases, these have not even been properly established in early training. It was also recognised that regular practice in manual flying is essential, but when is it appropriate to do that during line flying?

The conclusions were that those questions are all valid, but a balance must be struck between UPRT practice in the simulator and aircraft, and, similarly, between the use of automation and manual flying during line operations.

EBT: There have no doubt been challenges in introducing evidence-based training (EBT) into the airlines. It has been perceived as costly and complex to integrate, with issues of difficulty in correctly interpreting data. Should that data be gathered from both training events and line operations? Competency-Based Training and Assessment (CBTA) should be the cornerstone of line training. Instructors and crews need to buy in to the idea, so there is an effective transfer of competences.

Solutions to those challenges were also proposed. As part of the introduction there should be thorough discussion and explanation, and then EBT can be rolled into training and operations. The OEMs should learn from the (airline) customer experience to shape the content, and, of course, the training itself should be tailored to the specific task/organisation/individual.  

Published in CAT issue 5/2019