Copa Airlines, the flag carrier of Panama, has given its 1,400 pilots greater confidence in their abilities and reduced the volume of Safety Performance Indicators to become even safer in their day-to-day operations by becoming the first airline in its region to adopt Evidence-based Training (EBT) from Salient. 

Copa is respected in Latin America and globally as an early adopter of training that further improves flight safety. As a champion of EBT it has played a leading role in helping the regulator to adopt EBT as an integral part of a compliant training regime.

EBT was presented to the Copa team by Mike Varney, Chief Executive of Salient. Varney had originated the idea during his time as Senior Director of Training Development at Airbus, later leading the International IATA/ICAO/IFALPA EBT Working Group from 2007 until 2013, which resulted in the publication of ICAO Doc 9995.

Captain Jorge Reyes, Training Director at Copa Airlines, says that they were looking to move on from task-oriented training to something that looked at a pilot’s core competencies for their recurrent training: “We considered the voluntary Advanced Qualification Program (AQP) but it was complicated to implement and was not a part of our existing regulatory framework. We’d heard about EBT and knew immediately it was what we had been looking for.”

EBT embraces the notion of competency rather than event-based training; it is focused on developing sound underlying competencies that can be brought to bear in any situation as Jorge continues: “Standard recurrent training requires a pilot to conduct a series of maneuvers that if they successfully complete, they tick a box to say training is complete,” he explains. “But whereas it might fulfill a regulatory obligation, it doesn’t make the individual more resilient or a better pilot. EBT does; it’s a different ball game altogether, a paradigm shift.”

Having decided to pursue EBT, Copa worked closely with Varney to include both the Unions and the relevant authorities to explain what they were doing and why. This ultimately led to the regulator changing the rules to include EBT, effectively modelling the laws on an existing Spanish 9995. Varney also worked closely with Copa’s safety teams to better understand the issues they faced, and the training needed based on evidential data to fix them. 

At first, Copa took baby steps, with a mixed implementation approach. It has recently sought and been approved for full EBT implementation (Phase five) – the first airline in Latin America to do so. Reyes is responsible for c1400 pilots who take part in EBT every six months. EBT is complemented by an Emphasis Training Program for those in need of additional support. 

During traditional training sessions, crews do not consider options, nor do they make informed decisions based on risk. They rarely have the opportunity to review and change their mind if the plan is not working. Put simply, the mix of events they face often drive the crew down a certain, expected path with little room from problem solving, option generation, risk-assessment or review.

Reyes doesn’t shy away from saying that certain parties needed convincing: “Some of our older, more experienced pilots were hesitant and needed the benefits explained to them,” he says. “With recurrent training in the past, they knew the maneuvers they were going to be asked to perform, and spent the first day practicing, and on the second day being tested on what they’d practiced. Much like batting practice, it was easy to hit a home run.

“With EBT it is completely different. It looks at how pilots respond to any number of scenarios, including preparing for Black Swan events, based on enhanced crew processes driven by competencies, so there is always an element of surprise. We’re not trying to catch anyone out; we’re trying to assess their underlying competencies and use this assessment to tailor the learning to individual need. Yes they have to meet a performance standard, but it’s also about encouraging positive performance and behaviors.”

The response, so far, has been exceptional. In a survey conducted by the pilots’ Union, EBT received overwhelming support: “The like it,” Reyes adds, “and the response has been even better than we expected. It is giving them greater confidence in their abilities, and this is manifesting itself in further improved safety. 

“We can see that the volume of Safety Performance Indicators has all reduced considerably, which tells us that pilots are becoming even better at managing their performance and are becoming even safer in their day-to-day operations.”

Reyes is pleased with his pilots, and pleased with the response of the regulator: “Of course they needed persuading,” he says, “and that is partly a cultural thing here. But with Mike’s help, we involved them from the start and brought them along on the journey. We all needed to be educated, and now we have demonstrated that it works.”

While still comparatively early days, Reyes is already exploring the move to a Competency Based Training and Assessment Program, which he sees as the next logical evolution. He is looking at how EBT can be helped by more enhanced simulation for pilots to benefit from even greater reality, and he is even in discussions with colleagues on the Panama Canal to see how EBT could be used in a maritime environment for Bridge Resource Management (BRM) training. But for now, he is sticking to what he knows best: 

“We can’t train our pilots for every scenario,” he concludes, “but we can train them to have the skills to manage and be in control of any real-world event they may be confronted with.”

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