WATS Pilot Conference Session 7: Pilot Pipeline

This part of the WATS pilot track provided a snapshot of another emerging community trend on CAT’s editorial watchlist: the increased attention airlines and other stakeholders are placing on colleges as a source for future pilots.

The message about life-long learning for commercial pilots continues to resonate through WATS sessions. Dr. Guy Smith, President, Aviation Accreditation Board International, provided a compelling case to broaden the aperture a bit more on learning competencies, specifically, raising awareness early on in aspiring professionals’ careers about building a safety culture. His presentation on “Assessing and Building a Safety Culture in Collegiate Aviation Programs” was provided with a huge, initial caveat – that the Board requires programs to incorporate safety management system components.

To that end, AABI is also setting the stage for aspiring pilots to recognize regulatory and oversight agencies’ focus on safety, for instance, ICAO’s perspective that a safety culture is a principal, enduring value. Smith imparted valuable guidance for institutions which are scheduled for assessments – a sort of “kick the classroom podium” moment. In one case, “We’re looking for continuous improvement and are looking to assess and accredit a program, not the institution.”

Program leaders were further encouraged to collect data to support established safety goals. “And that is not enough, as these all must lead to continuous improvement.” Of no surprise, AABI accreditation visits include discussions with program students, with the intent being to learn whether they understand an SMS, their high-level feedback to reports and other desired outcomes.

AABI’s next annual meeting will convene this summer 11-15 July in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Dr. Bob Thomas, Assistant Professor, Aeronautical Science Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, told the session’s attendees his institution is doing nothing less than trying to reimagine and reinvent flight training with its “Preflight Immersion Laboratory for Operations Training” activities. Thomas and ERAU are clearly trying to open the accession pipeline for pilots by seeking to increase capacity and learning efficiencies and reduce training time and costs. A key program foundation calls for front-loading orals and simulations in students’ 4-week, Stage 1 instruction. Stage 1 is significantly enabled, in part, by a VR procedures flight simulator to introduce the students to maneuvering and other parts of the flight envelope. The academic leader provided vital, early ROIs for this program. While using “fuzzy” data, with some measurements originating in the pre-pandemic era, he reported students requiring: 23% fewer hours to solo; 27.7% fewer days to solo; 34% fewer days to complete instruction.

A significant impact on the training pipeline is the loss of students during their accession training. Indeed, the Professional Aviation Board of Certification notes that its published 11% drop-out rate is a significant drain on an operator’s ability to staff flights for route expansion and a contributing factor in the global pilot shortage. One effort to reduce the loss of aspiring aviators is provided by PABC’s testing initiative, serving as a Gap Analysis tool that improves the quality and effectiveness of both ab initio and air operators’ training programs for the mutual benefit of aspiring professional pilots, air operators, pilot trainers and the flying public.

Captain Peter Wolfe, Executive Director of the Board, presented the business case to evaluate US ab initio trainers and their courses through a number of strategies including:

  • Tracking each ab initio trainer’s history of gaps in the subjects they cover; and 
  • Hiring and retaining well-qualified and dedicated ground and flight instructors.

The industry expert emphasized the testing regimen “is not to establish a blame game. It’s to show: ‘Here’s where you need extra help.’” PABC test topics are aligned with the FAA’s knowledge focal points.

Rick Adams, CAT Editor, was the session moderator.