Helicopter Training Rotating Toward EBT

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Industry experts and regulators are evaluating a pathway to evidence-based training tailored to rotorcraft pilots. Mario Pierobon outlines the initiatives in development.

Nowadays, offshore helicopters have similar technology, cockpits, autopilot, and systems to fixed-wing ‘generation three’ aircraft such as the Boeing 737 or 757. “Pilots require similar competencies regarding automation use, monitoring, manual flight skills, procedural compliance and systems knowledge. Consequently, our EBT programmes must align too”, says Tim Rolfe, Chief Executive Officer of HeliOffshore.

In December 2019, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) published opinion 2019-08 on evidence-based training. This opinion provides for implementing rules which have been developed for aeroplanes but can also be used by helicopters without further changes; the related acceptable means of compliance (AMC) and guidance materials (GM) have been developed for aeroplanes only, as a data report for helicopter EBT is pending development.

As per the rulemaking process of EASA, AMCs and GMs for helicopter EBT can be introduced at a much shorter notice than the implementing rules; this will allow helicopter training to catch up when the EBT data report for helicopters is ready. “The offshore helicopter community will be able to do the same within the next one to two years once a data report specific to helicopters has been published, a training programme framework for helicopters has been developed and the existing regulation has been updated to allow helicopter operators to apply for an EBT approval,” Rolfe told CAT.

EASA observes that EBT is not going to be mandated to the operators. “It is optional, and its scope is initially limited to recurrent training and checking. It allows for the replacing of the recurrent pilot training and checking scheme, which is prescriptive and manoeuvre-based, with a different approach based on more training, less checking, and building pilot core competencies based on an assessment of the pilots’ needs”, the agency states. “The main pilot competencies are defined as application of procedures, communication, flight path management – automation and manual control, knowledge, leadership and teamwork, problem-solving and decision-making, situation awareness and workload management. The applicability is likely to be the second quarter of 2021, subject to the processes of the European Commission.”

Indeed, helicopter safety benefits from the advent of flight data monitoring (FDM), helicopter autopilot and other forms of automation. “Automation has become a major part of large helicopters used in the offshore segment. In the US, Part 121 operators use automation extensively as well. The industry is continually seeking improvement in all segments, and we are working to improve and standardise training across each segment of the industry. The implementation of EBT will take some time to be as robust as in the fixed-wing community but we are continually working to improve training”, says Greg Brown, Director of Education at Helicopter Association International (HAI).

Industry Experts Analysing Data

In Europe, the EBT concept has been driven by the large offshore companies as they have the FDM programmes which will drive and provide the ‘evidence’ on which the whole concept is based. “The UK has one helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) operator who is doing FDM but they are an arm of one of the North Sea operators and therefore I would imagine the programme was relatively easy to set up”, says Tim Fauchon, CEO of British Helicopter Association and Chairman of the European Helicopter Association (EHA) Technical Harmonisation Committee. “As more modern types become common in the onshore industry, these aircraft will come fitted with the FDM and quick access systems, but the European industry is largely equipped with legacy types to which a retro-fit would be uneconomic.”

According to Rolfe, to ensure that helicopter operators adopt EBT there is a need to adapt regulations drafted for the fixed-wing community, so they better represent helicopter operator requirements. “We can only make these amendments, and develop a baseline training programme, when we have published a helicopter data report endorsed by the regulatory authority, in this case, EASA”, he says.

The agency has sponsored a select group of industry experts to complete this report, focussing principally on offshore operations, but also taking data from other operations including search-and-rescue (SAR), HEMS, police operations and firefighting for comparison. “The data compilation and analysis are complete, and we are now focussed on report development and publication. While this year has been challenging for all, and progress has been impacted, we aim to complete this data report in the next six months”, says Rolfe.

The helicopter EBT data report aggregates data from different sources, including the analysis of helicopter accidents based on a worldwide database, through the filter of pilot competencies and potential impact of improved training. Other sources include pilot surveys, training criticality survey aimed at trainers, feedback process for the monitoring of line operations (e.g., LOSA - Line Operations Safety Audit), as well as other data sources such as FDM and previous research. “It is essentially an industry-led task with EASA support for the surveys and accident analysis. The different data sources converge and indicate that improved training has a great potential to improve safety and identifies focus areas where improved training would most benefit safety”, says EASA.

The early conclusions of the helicopter EBT data report reveals that helicopter EBT may need to be more operations-centric than generation-centric as with aeroplane EBT, according to EASA. “In other words, different kinds of helicopter operations have different operating procedures and different risk profiles, which in turn have more impact on the training needs than the changes in generations of helicopters”, says EASA. “EBT is a concept that has been developed for multi-crew operations and can only be implemented in simulators. This works for nearly 100 percent of aeroplane operators; however, many helicopter operators will also be eligible.”

Fauchon observes that EBT is particularly valuable to helicopter operators which spend most of the time flying instrument flight rules (IFR) using the automation, have FDM programmes – as well as the related equipment and systems, along with personnel who can run and administer the various aspects and requirements. “However, a small operator will not have the equipment, personnel or time to run the programmes. While the regulator may emphasise a competency-based training framework for these sort of operators, the average specialised operations (SPO) or HEMS pilot will use very little automation as most of their operations are visual flight rules (VFR)”, he says.

Focus on Mission Competencies

David Abad, Chairman of the Helicopter Working Group of the European Cockpit Association (ECA), observes that the way the helicopter industry is currently training its crews is still very similar to the way training was given 20-30 years. He also observes that helicopters now have the performance, the complexity, the autopilot systems that have changed significantly and all this makes a lot of difference to training. “Training now has to focus on how flight crews can become managers of many sophisticated systems. Situational awareness, problem solving and decision making and several automation management competencies have been identified as a big issue in the complexity of all the operations that we are performing now, such as landing on an offshore platform in the middle of nowhere with creepy weather conditions and dressed-up like an astronaut because of the personal protective equipment (PPE) which must be worn”, he explains.

Out of all the competencies required under EBT, automation management is particularly critical in the lower speed ranges within which helicopters uniquely operate. EBT focuses on the development of core competency sets, specifically regarding automation use, operational modes that apply to offshore IFR operations, and the do’s and don’ts of particular aircraft types.

“HeliOffshore has responded to this need highlighting the benefits of flight crew operating manuals (FCOM) developed by the manufacturers to advise pilots how automated cockpit systems were designed and intended for use. Putting this information in the hands of pilots significantly enhances operational safety and aligns training programme objectives across our industry”, says Rolfe.

Indeed, the mismanagement of the automatic flight control system (AFCS) has been identified as a threat that can benefit from improved training and will be a key focus area for helicopter EBT, whether leading to an upset or not and lapses in monitoring as well. “The data report will give more insight on the causes and consequences of AFCS mismanagement and their trainability. The data report will be followed by a baseline EBT training programme, the development of which has already started. Among the training topics that may be defined in this programme are AFCS management, monitoring, surprise, and upset recovery”, says EASA.

EBT entails that for each aircraft type there is a need to have a specific training programme, depending on the technological generation of the helicopter. “But another thing that one has to consider is the ‘mission’, for example commercial or SAR operations. Then one must look at the crew which can have some specific issues, for example in communication or in workload management. Afterwards, the instructor will look at performance and comment about the weakest point (e.g. leadership) and decide training based on that”, says Abad. “Right now, the legacy training that we are doing is such that one goes for training and the same day s/he also goes for checking. With the new EBT system, one first goes for the evaluation then the instructor will decide what type of training one specifically needs to build up some competencies.”

Abad observes that the EBT competencies have been known to the helicopter crew training industry for a long time to the point that several offshore operators train their crews with some elements of competency-based training or with a focus on knowledge, skills and attitude (KSA). “Now what we are doing with the EBT framework is something a bit more formal. We are putting the right labels. But what we have also realised that people have not been trained in attitudes and competencies as they may probably need”, he says. “If we consider the famous estimate whereby 80 percent of the accidents is due to the human factor, it is not unreasonable to say that 80 percent of the training should be in the human factor aspect. We have been training our crews in KSA, but not enough.”

For the implementation of EBT to yield improvements in the development of the human factor competencies needed, it is necessary to give the actual instructors the crew resource management elements ready to be operationalised.

“We have to develop the instructor’s knowledge as a human factors proficient knowledge, as the instructors – as well as the evaluators – are fundamental. If we have a good instructor aligned with the competencies, and a good evaluator aligned with competency-based assessment, EBT implementation will be a successful experience”, says Abad. “We have seen in other cases with fixed-wing air operators that if the instructor is good, the programme runs beautifully. If the instructor is not a believer in the EBT concept, then it will not be as successful. It is the same as in high school where a good teacher is able to make one love a subject.”


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