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Over the past years, the aviation world has realised that a too high dependency on automation can potentially cause safety issues. One reason is that automation has pushed manual flying skills into the shadows. Today, pilots fly airplanes manually only a fraction of the time so their skill set is struggling to maintain the necessary level of proficiency. Early 2013 both the EASA and the FAA have issued bulletins advising operators to give guidance to their flight crew to switch off automation if conditions allow. Additionally an aircraft manufacturer has issued guidelines saying that the right level of automation has to be used at all times underlining that this right level may be no automation at all.

Over the past years, MPL programmes have been running across the globe. MPL was established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and published under the Standards and Recommended Practices Annex 1 (Personnel Licensing) in 2006. This type of license, also adopted by the European Aviation Safety Agency, offers an alternative pathway for ab-initio student pilots to achieve the necessary competencies to act as a first officer in commercial air transportation on multi-crew airplanes. An MPL training course is specifically designed to prepare ab-initio candidate pilots to operate from the beginning as part of a crew, for a specific airplane type operated by a specific operator. The MPL syllabus places greater reliance on the use of simulation, is competency based and allows a reduction in flying hours.

What has since become apparent is that the already existent deficiencies in traditional training programmes are amplified in the MPL syllabus. There is less flying time in the aircraft, very limited solo flight time, and less exposure to the real environment. MPL was introduced to make pilot training more effective and relevant to the multicrew operational environment. Care must be taken that these principles do not produce pilots who can only function within standard operating procedures and do not possess airmanship. MPL should also not serve as excuse to cut training cost.

In 2013, ECA published its “Pilot Training Compass: Back to the Future” which provides the pilots’ view on training and addresses the shortcomings in today’s training syllabus. In the Compass key concepts like airmanship, striking the right balance between flight management skills and basic flying skills and training the trainer are addressed. In our analysis of MPL, we have come to the same conclusions and consider that MPL training and operations need a number of improvements.

Facts – Achievements – Deficiencies of MPL:

  • MPL is a pure co-pilot license,
  • MPL is the only competency-based license,
  • MPL minimum requirements introduce a drastic reduction of real aircraft time,
  • MPL minimum requirements allow a reduction of real solo flight hours,
  • MPL minimum requirements allow a strong increase of simulated flight hours,
  • There is no relevant Air Traffic Control (ATC) simulated environment available to date,
  • The currently approved MPL syllabi meet the minimum requirement of 12 real landings and even less in some cases,
  • Some currently approved MPL syllabi do not include real Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight,
  • Some currently approved MPL syllabi do not include asymmetric flight in real aircraft,
  • MPL syllabi introduce a global training syllabus timescale reduction, including little to no consolidation time (i.e. time to allow for reinforcing the just acquired skills,
  • There is a limited sample of MPL graduates flying the line today,
  • There is no proof of capability for a MPL license holder to upgrade to captaincy (no MPL trainee has graduated to Captain yet, and no requirement for Pilot in Command (PIC) task analysis),
  • There is scarce/limited data feedback on the performance of MPL cadets and pilots

Achievements – What worked well?

MPL programmes allow a good level of understanding of pilot’s performance because they enable a better detection of possible competences that need reinforcing. When MPL syllabi are flexible to address individual competence drifts and problems this is thanks to the detailed selection of the candidates and the continuous assessment of the competences build up through training monitoring and oversight.

Deficiencies – What needs to be corrected?

While a careful, gradual and precautionary implementation process was encouraged when the MPL was initially introduced, the principle of a step-by-step approach was not always respected. Instead, the majority of MPL syllabi included a radical change in the split of real vs simulated hours, with a 50% reduction of real flight hours and 75 % for PIC hours. MPL syllabi also aim for total of 240 training hours, with no robust data driven rationale. A MPL syllabus matching the exact 240 minimum training hours requirement is most probably not built on a proper Competence Based Training (CBT) approach. Additionally, reducing the recommended landings from 12 down to 6 without proven data demonstrates the lack of a relevant data oversight process.

This shows that the competency-based training concept was misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Due to this lack of understanding of the competency based concept both by authorities and by Approved Training Organisation (ATOs), MPL syllabi are often only hours-based and approved as such by the authorities. This shows that authorities and other stakeholders need to receive the appropriate education on the CBT concept, its implementation, approval and oversight processes.

In addition, the limited establishment of MPL advisory boards (bringing together relevant stakeholders) inhibits proper training data collection and review.


Download ECA's position paper (854KB pdf).