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Preparing the Future Workforce

As with most blogs the ideas put forward here are food for thought and not the answers to specific questions.

Aviation and mainstream news organizations are beginning to report on industry initiatives to improve efficiency by reducing pilot costs.

Aircraft manufacturers are under pressure from airline executives to develop technology that satisfies the regulatory and safety requirements for single-pilot operations.

These efforts have led to some very impressive technological and human factors developments. Just as unmanned aerial vehicles would have been laughed off 50 years ago, in the future, single or no pilot flights will be commonplace.

Airbus has completed an autonomous Taxi, Take-off and Landing (ATTOL) using an adapted A350 proving the technology is already here.

In this blog I don’t intend to get into the public or regulatory acceptance of such operations, but the paradigm shift in training that will be required to support these initiatives.

In the past airline training was developed around the type rating which qualified the pilot to fly a specific airplane type.

Once released to the line recurrent training became the ongoing process of maintaining your role specific qualification on that type.

Training programs were Captain centric where the phrase “let the First Officer make the decisions unless you feel you need to intervene” was often heard.

This process was intended to build confidence and hone the decision-making skills in First Officers on their road to command.

Captains would often intervene before the First Officer was allowed to make any mistakes losing out on the potential to identify and enhance weak competencies.

This was understandable as the Captain did not want to be marked as intervening too late and thus affecting their own grading.

The move to Evidence-Based Training (EBT) allows more flexibility using the evaluation phase to observe the competency of each crewmember as an individual.

As full implementation of EBT is rare in the industry it will be some time before this Captain/First Officer training imbalance is addressed.

Although current technology will now support single-pilot operations, how are we preparing the workforce?

Prior to the pandemic I had begun work on identifying the training items required to facilitate single-pilot operations.

Redundancy has allowed me to think about this more as an industry as opposed to an organisation.

As an industry we need to be making the systemic changes now to be ready for a date that is soon approaching.

If the intent is to operate these flights only with co-Captains a different emphasis needs to be put on training as compared to operating with a conventional crew.

As we know the end goal will be to operate these flights with Captains and First Officers to maximise the cost benefits therefore a more complex review of training is required.

Historically airline career progression consisted of First Officers working with Captains for a sufficient period to gain experience and refine their own management style.

The next step in this progression would be the Captain upgrade course which focused on soft skills such as leadership, decision making and communication.

This evolution typically produced a well rounded individual capable of commanding a commercial aircraft and managing a conventional crew.

The benefits of this training and experience also proved valuable when working in an augmented crew environment.

Having operated augmented flights, I would often select my rest period based on my assessment of crew capability.

If there was challenging weather en-route I might delay or come back early from rest to be on the flight deck to aid and support.

Airbus Disruptive Cockpit (DISCO) design is optimised to enable single-pilot operations but ultimately Captains will still feel the need to be on the flight deck during challenging times.

This addresses the known scenario (example: areas of SIG weather indicated on the chart) but what about the unknown?

Some of the most challenging issues on a flight are crew or passenger related. A First Officer operating single-pilot may have to make quick decisions of an important but non-critical nature.

What soft skill training will they have received as they have not yet completed a command course?

As many pilots now gain their initial qualifications through MPL or CPL schemes what training will they receive in these programs specific to conducting single-pilot operations in a multi-crew flight deck?

Within airlines themselves what training is appropriate to successfully complete these operations as this will affect the way we train shared mental model and the role of pilot monitoring?

It is my belief that we need to now start mapping out the way forward in all areas and at all levels of pilot training to be ready for this next step.

This pandemic has also forced many experienced pilots out of the industry meaning in the near future lower experienced pilots will be filling critical roles.

Preparation of the workforce should begin prior to starting a formal pilot training course.

Pre-course assessment, mentoring and competency training will go a long way in solving these challenges and provide the industry with candidates that have a solid background.

This will also aid the trainee in ensuring they have the skills to pass the assessments required to join these programs.

Even more experienced pilots coming to their first airline job interview will benefit from this type of training. In both cases, it will add value to the candidate and the company.

This article posed a lot of questions; now we need to work on the answers.

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