EATS 2015: Learning by doing

Stephanie Taylor listens to a range of speakers at EATS championing pro-active pilot training methods.

Presentations from Airbus, JetBlue and Ryanair at EATS in Warsaw this month showed that when it comes to pilot training, OEMs and airlines are on the same page.

Head of global training for Airbus, Jean-Michel Bigarré, noted that every air accident involves pilots who, by regulation, were fully trained. It’s for this reason the industry needs to radically re-think the way we train pilots, he argued.

Another reason, suggested aviation consultant Christof Kemény and Christian Popp, manager of flight training services at JetBlue University, is that pilot training doesn’t currently take into account human limitation. They explained that while pilots are expected to multi-task, it’s scientifically proven there’s actually no such thing.

Rather, practising excessively turns things into habits, and pilots need to get into the habit of the act of switching between tasks, and doing so efficiently (they also acknowledged the irony that we’re discouraged from doing this in almost every other area, i.e. don’t text and drive!).


A powerpoint presentation from Owens shows the four states of competency. He asks, with regard to recurrent training, ‘Does the pilot go back to the unconscious-incompetent stage? Or does he get stuck at conscious-incompetent?’

David Owens, Airbus’s senior director of flight crew training policy, thinks these habits come as a result of experience (which today, he clarifies, is more like ‘exposure’, because it’s in simulators rather than real aircraft).

Owens uses the example of a new phone to prove his point. Rather than going through the entire manual, we will typically flick through the quick user guide, ignoring the fact the phone is meant to initially charge for 24 hours and using it after only a couple of hours. Owens highlighted that it’s only when we encounter a problem (like the phone not being able to send a text) that we reach for the proper manual. He then stated, “Everything we do in our industry is totally the opposite.”

Here’s another great example to pinpoint the flaws in the way we train pilots. “We know how to send an email, but we don’t know how it works. Would knowing about how sending an email works make you better at sending an email? No – that knowledge is useless and irrelevant [to the task],” Owens avers. His conclusion? We’re letting the theoretical part of the training hold us back.

The four steps necessary to deal with a fault, asserted Owen, are detect, recognise, recall and react. He maintained that for the majority of the time, students are told to focus on recalling the fault and reacting to it, but without recognition of the root cause there can be no recovery. Owens theorised that pilot training needs to create an understanding of proceedings rather than giving preference to the delivery of the pure knowledge.

Furthermore, Kemény and Popp suggest language is important when training pilots –instructors should ‘support’ students rather than ‘monitoring’ them; that we need a ‘one team cockpit’ instead of a ‘two man cockpit.’ Case in point – would a patient feel more comfortable ahead of surgery thinking that the nurses and doctors in the room alongside the surgeon were ‘monitoring’ him or ‘supporting’ him? I know I’d feel better about the latter.

At this point, it seems important to mention that Ryanair’s head of training & DCA flight standards, Andy O’Shea, told delegates that during his airline’s training programme, students receive a day of coaching from a Line Training Captain, who is encouraged to regard it as if they’re flying with a younger sibling and they’re telling them what they need to know – that no question is too stupid to ask.  This supports Owens’ advocacy of non-linear training, that issues are covered as and when they occur during a flight. He says it’s also engaging for the instructor as they’re kept on their toes too. With a pilot’s average attention span lasting three minutes, Owens says instructors have to ask themselves, will the pilot remember this?

Ryanair is also actioning JetBlue’s ‘supporting’ philosophy by separating assessment flights for co-pilots conducted by Line Training Captains from line checks, which are part of their ongoing training. O’Shea said the airline has noticed that putting too much pressure on the co-pilot is detrimental, that people perform better in a more positive environment. By factoring the co-pilot test so that students know they have nothing to lose by taking it, Ryanair is putting them at ease.

Summarising everything at the end of their speech (which had bounced at a quick pace between the two of them throughout), Kemény and Popp said they delivered their presentation as a team; that they had practised a hundred times from the same list of key points, but the end result never came out the same. They had tried the speech all scripted out like a Standard Operating Procedure, but it didn’t work, because they made so many errors. However, when they’re both aware of the key points, any time one or other misses something, the other one can support them.

Applied to pilot training, the moral of the story is that the industry should standardise the content but not the routine. As Kemény and Popp so aptly demonstrated, it’s about having a dialogue. Bigarré, Owens and O’Shea said much the same. Now all we need to do is rally the airlines and OEMs to support one another in the creation of new, more pilot-friendly regulations.

« Back to Five Questions