Spanish carrier Volotea’s training curriculum in Barcelona is closely aligned with Toulouse. Chris Long outlines their approach.

The low-cost carrier, Volotea, based in Barcelona, Spain, is a relatively young player. Started by Carlos Muñoz and Lázaro Ros, they brought their knowledge of start-up airlines from their successful venture in creating Vueling some years before. That proven expertise gave investors sufficient confidence to back the new airline, and flights started in April 2012.

The market segment they aimed at was direct flights between what they term “regional capitals” rather than mainstream hubs, and that has proven to be very successful. A carefully controlled rate of expansion has grown the route structure to some 360 routes across 96 airports and 15 countries.

The fleet started with Boeing 717s and that is now gradually changing to an all-Airbus A319 fleet; prior to the Covid pandemic pause, Volotea operated some 39 aircraft with about 370 pilots to fly eight million passengers a year.

What Training Choices?

Creating an independent and comprehensive training facility is both expensive and only justifiable if there is an economy of scale. Having carefully considered a new aircraft type to answer their specification, there was an assessment of the best training solution to manage the changing and ongoing training needs for both the introduction into service and continuing normal operation.

Captain Vincent Mouysset, Chief Training Captain at Volotea, is an enthusiastic supporter of the Airbus training package. He believes it is the logical choice because the range and authenticity of Airbus-developed training is the result of considerable research and fine tuning using the wide-ranging resources of the OEM. This is a mid-sized airline that has found the most cost-efficient way to capitalize on Airbus’s state-of-the art expertise. By going to Airbus, Volotea can select from the full range of COTS training packages available, knowing that they are specifically adapted to the aircraft and already have regulatory approval. Part of the attraction is the assurance that best practice will be kept up to date, whether in SOPs, instructional techniques, or training platforms. For Mouysset that provides a simple solution of what and how to teach, initially by using Airbus instructors, but it also provides a pathway to building up Volotea’s own instructor team and skills in operating and instructing on the new aircraft type.

The Airbus Perspective

Captain Jean-Michel Bigarré, Airbus Head of Training Worldwide, sees this close cooperation as a live example of the Airbus Flight Training Reference. For both parties, he says, it is a win-win. The partnership builds confidence and generates a healthy two-way flow of information, and Airbus can be reassured that the airline has all the tools and skills it needs for safe and cost-efficient operation, which in turn results in the full potential of the aircraft being released. That cooperation is significantly reinforced by Mouysett’s presence at the Airbus Training headquarters in Toulouse during the setup and initiation of this programme.

What Bigarré is keen to point out is that the range of training available is not confined to initial type ratings. Because of the standardised training patterns available at any of the Airbus Training Centres, the specific training can be carried out wherever slots are available. Not only is there a good geographic reach (Volotea has dispersed bases around Europe), but the entire range of training required through a long-term career can be addressed, from ab initio through to command, instructor and examiner roles. In fact that ab initio option is already live, with cadets becoming available at Airbus Flight Academy Europe.

At the headquarters in Barcelona, Volotea has its own CRM instructors, and these work with the 1,100 crew (including pilots) using online preparation and dual flight deck/cabin crew scenario-based training. They follow the standard ICAO CBTA principles, and will absorb Airbus pedagogy as the latter continues to evolve. SEP training is carried out with CAE training devices and support, also based in Barcelona.

Mouysset sees the reassurance of the Airbus stamp of approval as the way to guarantee maintaining the levels of competence – Bigarré sees it as the long-term goal and justification of the Airbus Flight Training Reference.

Career Considerations

As Volotea has expanded, it has continued to recruit direct-entry captains. However, there is strong internal recruiting as first officers gain five years of experience and good assessments. The airline’s top priority is always safety so high-skilled pilots and crews are shortlisted by the airline when yearly recruitment is made.

Volotea obtains excellent results at SANA/SACA inspections from the IATA Operational Safety Audit and has also renewed its IOSA certification, issued by IATA to airlines achieving the highest quality and safety standards in operational and control systems.

The challenge, as with many low-cost airlines, is that some first officers starting their career have the heavy metal of the legacy carriers in mind, and those airlines are keen to recruit from pilots who have had a good grounding of high-density operations in a wide range of weather and operating conditions. Inevitably that results in a gentle flow-though of some of the pilot talent. The counter balance to that is the stability of working from a home base with relatively few night stops – an attraction to many of the pilots with young families and a major contributor to a sustainable quality of life. Volotea provides a unique opportunity and attractive career to officers living in European mid-sized cities where these positions are otherwise almost unavailable.

Published in CAT issue 2/2020