Regional Airline Training Managers Share Insights at 2018 WATS Regional Airline Track

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An overview of the impact of the pilot shortage, a summary of current, pending and future FAA regulations and flight standards, along with discussions about how best to address regional airline training challenges, will highlight the Regional Airline Training (RATS) track as a part of WATS 2018. Chuck Weirauch provides this report, followed by an interview with RAA president Faye Malarkey Black.

Chaired and organized by Captain Paul Preidecker, Chief Instructor for Air Wisconsin, the four-session RATS will begin on Day 2 of the show. Preidecker will also be moderating Session 6A - The Expectation of Experience: A Panel Discussion of the State of Pilot Training at the Regional Airlines. This session will feature a four-member panel of training managers at regional airlines, who will discuss the current state of pilot supply and various training challenges.

According to Preidecker, Air Wisconsin is now seeing more new hire pilots in its training classes, primarily because of new incentives, but they have much more varied backgrounds, flight experiences and represent a wider variation in ages than in the past. Whereas before, instructors could expect those students to have similar flight experience and robust backgrounds that prepared them well for line operations, that is not the case anymore, he reported.

Along with younger pilots coming from flight schools, Air Wisconsin is seeing an influx of older people coming into their flight program, Preidecker said. These new hires may have thousands of hours of flight time that might be spread over 30 years. So, the older pilots’ recency of experience is not coming from a structured training program. The airline is also seeing more former military pilots entering the training program than before.

“Now we get such a wide variety of people coming into our new training programs and classes that it challenges us to come up with a training program that fits everybody; it’s not a one-size-fits-everyone solution anymore,” Preidecker summed up. “We are looking at our entire syllabus in terms of what are we teaching, how are we teaching it, and how much of it should we be teaching in terms of flying and trying to adapt variations of the syllabus to match the experience levels of the people who are coming in. It can be a  bit of a moving target.”

Career Paths

As one of three presenters in Session 6B - Managing Career Paths and Pipeline Challenges, Mike Wiggins, Chair of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University’s Aeronautical Science Department at Daytona Beach, also pointed out that there will be more of a multi-generationalpopulation of pilots than ever before - millennial to baby boomer. This makes it important to understand their different perspectives about  work and careers, in order to achieve training success, as well as cooperation among crew members in the cockpit.

“I’m not saying that training organizations will have to change to get the job done, because the job is not going to change,” Wiggins said. “It’s just that we have to better understand how you are going to get people to that point. It’s funny to think about what the generation that grew up in the ‘40s and ‘50s were saying about us in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and what those who were born in the early 1900s were saying about the later generations in the 1920s. My point is that every generation thinks that the next generation is worse.”

Wiggins feels that it is important to debunk the myth that most people seem to have about millennials is that they are lazy and feel entitled. In his experience at ERAU, he has found that millennials are very motivated and directed, but that they also want to have a purpose and a reason for what they are doing.

“Most millennials will rise to the expectations, but they might not want to do it just for the sake of doing it,” Wiggins summed up. “You might have to give them a clear reason as to why something is important. It is the understanding of the differences between generations and how they perceive them that is going to be the key.”

Human Performance

Of the three presenters in Session 6C - Human Performance: Optimizing Regional Airline Training, Dick Wolf, Instructor Training Section for Bombardier Customer Training, and Vin Parker, Manager for AQP for Compass Airlines, shared some pre-conference thoughts on their RATS presentations on how to improve AQP and enhance the AQP training concept, with observing pilot behavior as a key element.

Wolf postulates that non-reported near-accidents and incidents that could have led to disaster can be the result of pilot behavioral deficiencies. This behavior won’t be mitigated by the  repetition of the “same old standard operating procedure model for flight training,” he explained. What is needed is to move beyond traditional CRM instruction, he pointed out.

“The next step after CRM is what we are looking at here,” Wolf said. “It is time for CRM to be humanized, not proceduralized. Perhaps the solution lies not in task-based procedures, which are doomed to monotony, but behavioral skills that achieve success. Human behavior means innate skills which we possess, rather than procedures that are imposed upon us. We don’t need a process to know how to communicate, for example. So, all I am saying is what if those skills could be identified, and then defined by metrics. Then what if those skills could be practiced and evaluated against those metrics, and then scored and improved upon over time. What if we actually took a look at the skills that drive the process?”

The primary skills that Wolf considers essential for the next-level CRM training program are workload management, teamwork, situational awareness, briefing and planning. “Clearly a mismanaged workload is a causal factor in the vast majority of accidents, so we have got to get that under control in the airplane. But we don’t teach that in any school,” Wolf summed up.

Parker described a traditional AQP ISD as a competency-based program at the core that centers on identifying performance tasks, which are ratable to proficiency.

“This is marvelous,” Parker said, “but the principles of global training have matured, and AQP must mature along with it. AQP has always been designed to intersect technical skill with CRM, but somehow AQP seems to have lost its way. I think now AQP is standing at the edge of a new era - and the menu of ratable tasks must also expand to properly include observable behaviors. In many ways, carriers have embraced this concept, especially at some of the majors. But in other cases, the journey has just begun. Using reason codes to qualify task deficiencies was a good start - and ‘CRM’ as a ratable data point, and LOS evaluation lights the room a bit more. But it’s a flashlight in a dark stadium. It really doesn’t tell us much.”

Observable behaviors must be included as part of the whole picture, Parker emphasized. “At the regional level, this can be difficult, and yet arguably where it is needed most.”

For Compass Airline’s CQ curriculum, attention has turned towards an Evidence Based Training (EBT) model. “Using EBT gives us a proven structure to accomplish this, without having to abandon AQP,” Parker explained. “This will result in an enhanced AQP that better serves program analysis and data-driven results for continuous improvement.”

RAA President Outlines Regional Airline Situation

CAT spoke to Regional Airline Association president Faye Malarkey Black about the current and future outlook for regional airlines and the pilot supply situation. Faye Malarkey Black has served in her position since August 2015 and joined the RAA in 1998. She was formerly the organization’s senior vice president, Government Affairs.

CAT: What is the current situation concerning the number and percentages of airports that have had services eliminated or reduced due to the shortage of pilots for regional airlines? Any estimates as to the economic impact on the geographic areas affected by reduced services?

Black: These losses took place during a period of economic recovery, a time when communities would normally gain departures and add more destinations. This matters on several fronts. The economic impact of air service to small and non-hub airports in the 48 contiguous states alone has been conservatively estimated at $121 billion - supporting over 1.1 million jobs. Obviously, loss of small community air service would have a staggering impact on our nation’s overall economy. But it’s not just market exits and communities going dark that we should be concerned with. Dozens of communities have lost at least half their air service. Over a hundred airports lost at least a third of their air service. A quarter have lost at least 20 percent. Those reductions represent very serious and damaging loss of connectivity for communities.

Rural communities have been hardest hit, but it doesn’t stop there. If you look at our state by state analysis, you can see that there are medium-sized communities losing air service. Lose the air service, even lose most of it, and businesses will chase it somewhere else.

CAT: What effect has the need to reduce services had on the regional airline industry and certain carriers?

Black: You can see a clear pattern of industry contraction as the pilot shortage has worsened by looking at the drop in regional enplanements. Regional airlines enplaned five million fewer passengers in 2016 than in 2013. Some carriers have adapted by accelerating upgauging, using larger aircraft and carrying more people at once in an attempt to manage scarce pilot resources. Of course, not every community can support air service with larger aircraft. And, not every community can support air service by major airlines. In fact, most can’t. If the regional airline industry continues to contract, this service won’t just be replaced by the major airlines. Regional airlines provide the lone source of air service to two-thirds of the country for a reason.

CAT: What recent incentives have regional airlines been providing to prospective pilot candidates to help stimulate interest in flying for them?

Black: I think the pay trends you’re reading about in the news are here to stay, and airlines have also invested in quality of life enhancements for pilots. A regional airline pilot earns an average total compensation of around $60,000 as a year one First Officer, with lifetime earnings approaching $7 million. That’s a higher ROI on the training dollar than that enjoyed by doctors and lawyers. That is, if you can get in the door. There has never been a better time to be a commercial airline pilot, but many ordinary Americans can’t reach the career path anymore. Training costs can reach $200,000, and student loans don’t cover much of it. Regulatory changes enacted in 2013 worsened the situation by creating a new and substantially higher barrier of entry to the career path. While the regulatory changes did not themselves create a pilot shortage, they severely constrained and elongated the career path.

On top of that, the relatively limited pathways for structured training means pilots now spend more time in unsupervised environments, gaining flight time without accompanying structure, spending months or more away from the training path, flying VFR patterns. By the time they achieve hiring eligibility, airline training officials report a deterioration in their skills. Regional airlines are turning fully qualified candidates away because they lack the critical skills for hire.

CAT: The RAA has supported the Department of Transportation’s new Forces to Flyers initiative that will research pathways for veterans to train to become airline pilots, and in particular for those airlines that provide services to smaller communities. How do you see this program helping provide more pilots for regional airlines, and how can the industry encourage the development of similar government-sponsored programs?

Black: DOT’s announcement generated a lot of excitement. On its face, it’s a small program - I think 40 vets and 40 new pilots - but what a wonderful and creative way to start to address a problem. We applaud them for it even if we don’t look to this modest program to resolve the massive and growing pilot shortage. It’s a start, and a smart start, particularly as the Secretary said she’d look at this program to inform the discussion on pilot training. This shows the Department is taking a serious and circumspect look at the issue holistically, seeking not just to expand the pool of pilots and support veterans but to ensure that we are training tomorrow’s pilots the best way we can be. We’d love to see this program expanded.

CAT: Would you please provide an overview of the proposed Air Carrier Enhanced R-ATP Pathway and any updates concerning its progress?

Black: The proposal is to create an additional provision to FAR 61.160 to grant aeronautical experience credit toward the total time requirement for completion of an Air Carrier Enhanced (ACE) part 121 training program. The credit would be based upon completion of a selective and structured training program (ACE), which results in a Restricted ATP (R-ATP) which only allows operation at the airline providing the training, until eligible for restriction removal.

Enhancements presented are in addition to existing FAR Part 121 pilot training requirements.

RAA’s position of support for the provision in S.1405 would change nothing about this rule and would not reduce the flight time associated with the ATP requirement. We simply want to see more of the highly effective structured training pathways that leave nothing to chance when it comes to the type of experience we want our pilots to have, and S.1405 clarifies the FAA’s authority to approve more of these pathways.

As with the ACE proposal, airlines envisioned these pathways to serve also as a source of support for pilots. Airlines could finance them or provide them, with comprehensive regulatory oversight and a regulatory certification that ensures the programs are enhancing safety.

Published in CAT issue 2/2018

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