As restrictions begins to ease and air travel resumes, the cancellation of flights, grounding of fleets and unprecedented job cuts will have knock-on operational impacts for the wider aviation sector. Bhanu Choudhrie suggests changes to the way pilots are trained to ensure there is not a pilot shortage in the mid- to long-term. 

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, Boeing had suggested that by 2038 the commercial aviation industry would need an additional 804,00 pilots worldwide. Whilst that number may now be revised, growing consumer demand coupled with pilots retiring will still create a need for new cohorts of pilots who strive to excel.

However, as flight paths re-open, airlines will need to be more prudent in how they plan for the future and it is unlikely that they will have the space, time or resources to train their staff in-house.

As a result, airlines will need to re-think their pilot training strategy which is likely to include a need to outsource and decentralise to maximize efficiency. At the same time, trained pilots will require updates and renewals to their licences. 

This resultant strain highlights the need for regulators to make changes to the training process. For example, there will need to be more reliance on e-learning in the initial cadet training and the acceptance of integrated technology in simulator training will also be important.

The aviation industry is undoubtedly equipped to make these changes, however, dynamism from the regulators and pilot training facilities will be essential.

Revolutionising Role

E-learning programmes can play a pivotal role in revolutionising the training industry and Alpha Aviation Group is already working closely with both regulators and airlines to develop its potential in supporting future pilot pools.

Among other benefits, the adoption of e-learning solutions has helped to ensure that cadet classes have stayed on track and that they have been able to train and progress off campus even without access to state-of-the-art simulators. With social distancing measures and restrictions on physical travel set to remain in place for the foreseeable future, pilot training facilities don’t know when they will be able to have students back in the classroom to resume their syllabus. Therefore, it has been crucial to adapt the training programmes in place to provide continuity for the students and to ensure that when the pandemic starts to ease, there is a new cohort of cadets.

Undoubtedly, the current crisis has propelled forward this digital transformation. However, already pilot training facilities have found that online programmes are proving equally beneficial to traditional training methods, with teaching sessions and remote testing running seamlessly.

The adoption of e-learning programmes has also enabled pilot training facilities to expand cadet class sizes. No longer restricted by the physical capacity of training centres, e-learning programmes have the potential to significantly open up access to becoming an aviator. This is particularly important for supporting a strong employee base and ensuring airlines can recruit the best talent, irrespective of locality.

Investing in Futures

In addition to this, despite the current circumstances, pilots still need to clock up over 1,500 flying hours to receive their ATP certificate. Therefore, investing in simulator training facilities is now pivotal in supporting future pilot pools as airlines continue to restrict the number of flights.

This will also be crucial for existing pilots who have been put on furlough or made redundant. Despite not being able to fly, they still need to be clocking up hours in the cockpit and completing the relevant annual assessments in order to keep their licences valid. By adapting to a simulator model, pilots will be able to keep on top of the legal requirements and be ready to return to the sky as soon as the opportunity arises.

For example, AAG is already rolling out programmes in the UAE that enable pilots to both renew and update their licences so that they can fly different types of aircraft, as well as supporting foreign licence conversions. Furthermore, given the different regulatory regime in the Philippines, AAG has now opened up its recurrent simulator training programme to individual pilots who are no longer employed.

It is without a doubt that the industry is facing a multitude of challenges when it comes to training personnel. From global safety measures to regulatory compliances, the aviation industry needs to ensure that it is taking every step possible to help develop knowledge, assess cadet’s performance and boost productivity.

Unlike conventional classrooms, simulators can help deliver effective e-learning solutions that cater to customised needs. For example, simulator training enables cadets to practice any inflight scenario, whilst also reducing the actual number of flying hours required.

As most flight simulators are already equipped with sensors that generate considerable amounts of data, this resource can now also be used to assess pilot competency from the onset of training. For example, AI programmes can evaluate a pilot’s ability as they execute key manoeuvres and create a comprehensive assessment of a cadet’s strengths and weaknesses based on real-time data. This assessment can then be used to enhance a pilot’s training programme so that it focuses on areas that need improvement, rather than on a series of tasks set out by a generic syllabus.

The development of personalised programmes can vastly improve how pilots are best able to utilise their time in flight simulators. This will result in vital cost savings for the airlines by making the time cadets spend in the simulators more effective and will enable pilots to improve their skills set at a significantly quicker pace. In fact, reports have showed that training a cadet in a simulator is up to 20% less expensive than via airborne lessons.

Ultimately, in this new Covid era, pilot training facilities are just as at risk as airlines and we are likely to see a consolidation of the sector. With airlines even more concerned about reducing overheads, pilot training facilities need to adapt and innovate to find better ways to optimise resources and outlast the pandemic. E-learning solutions and simulators undoubtedly have the potential to make training programmes more affordable and accessible. Therefore, the aviation industry cannot afford to overlook the importance of a shift to these training methods to mitigate against future pilot proficiency issues.


About the Author

Bhanu Choudhrie is founder of Alpha Aviation Group, one of the world’s leading pilot training providers.