Can you imagine a car driver who learned how to drive in a simulator but rarely on the road? Or a driver, who is allowed to only drive on the highway but never learned how to get onto the highway or take the exit?
This could soon be the reality for Europe’s pilots. The pressure to cut costs is not sparing pilot training: training standards are watered down with reduced flying hours, greater reliance on simulators and aircraft automation, and new types of licenses which will ultimately lead to a reduction of piloting skills. Safety is at stake!
New "auto-pilot" licenses
Commercial pressure has brought into life new “creative” types of pilot licenses or qualifications. For example the “Multi-crew Pilot License” and the “Cruise-relief co-pilot”, which both reduce the training standards and provide for less training hours.
The Multi-crew Pilot License (MPL) is designed to prepare candidate pilots to fly solely as part of a larger crew. But it does not prepare them to ever be in command of an aircraft. The Cruise-relief co-pilot qualification does not allow the co-pilots to take-off and land an aircraft. They can only fly above a certain altitude on autopilot – never touching the controls!
Such “auto-pilot licenses” are insufficient to provide pilots with adequate knowledge, skills and judgement to successfully manage their flights independently and safely even under non-routine conditions. What is needed is the opposite: more safety through better training and true airmanship.
Challenges in the air
Cost cutting also means that future pilots will be trained with less flying hours in real aircraft, negligible solo flying, and less exposure to a real flying environment. This reduction of time allocated to training manual flying skills is often justified with the increasing automation of aircraft.
Yet, reality is that the ever increasing automation goes hand in hand with less knowledge on how to handle these highly automated systems. Automation is so present and so often used that the pilot’s manual flying skills are degrading. This is not in the interest of safety. When the automation fails, it is the pilot who has to have the flying skills to bring down the plane safety.
Fact is that pilots regularly face challenging situations in the air, such as technical faults in one of the plane’s 4 million parts, or landing at night in heavy cross-winds. These are moments that call for fully alert, skilled and well-trained pilots, able to take safety decisions within seconds. Lowering training standards – while human error is a significant factor in many fatal accidents – is fundamentally wrong and must be stopped.
What can be done!
Ensure EU pilot training standards are no longer watered down, but improved.
Support legislation that guarantees that pilots are fully trained to ensure a safe flight even in the most challenging circumstances.
Put more emphasis on (re)building the pilots’ fundamental flying skills.
- 7 years MPL - 7 things learnt - ECA Cockpit News, Jan 2014
- Multi-crew Pilot License: Boon or Bane - Aviation Business Magazine, February 2014
- Pilot training struggling with modern challenges - European Public Service, March 2013