Pilot training providers in the Asia-Pacific region are gearing up to cope with the demands of a rapidly-growing and changing industry. Emma Kelly talks to some of the providers.
The Asia-Pacific region alone will need hundreds of thousands of new commercial airline pilots over the next 20 years in order to support the fleet modernisation plans of carriers in the region and the rapid growth in air travel, according to Boeing.
The manufacturer’s 2012 Pilot and Technician Outlook predicts the region will need 185,600 new pilots through to 2030, with China having the biggest requirement – 71,300 pilots. North East Asia will require 18,800 pilots, while South East Asia will need 51,500, according to Boeing. The Oceania region will need 12,900 pilots and South West Asia will have a requirement for 31,000, predicts Boeing.
“This great need for aviation personnel is a global issue, but it’s hitting the Asia-Pacific region particularly hard,” says Bob Bellitto, global sales director for Boeing Flight Services. “Some airlines are already experiencing delays and operational interruptions because they don’t have enough qualified pilots. Surging economies in the region are driving travel demand. Airlines and training providers need new and more engaging ways to fill the pipeline of pilots and technicians for the future,” he adds.
Boeing itself is building partnerships around the world to develop a global flight school network to supply aviation personnel. Most recently, in June for example, it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Indonesian Ministry of Transportation to jointly work on aviation training programmes.
Training providers throughout the region are gearing up for the challenges ahead, with many in the middle of expansion plans and others on the verge of adding aircraft, simulators and facilities to meet the needs of a growing industry.
In Australia, for example, Australian Aviation Academy (AAA) has recently completed an expansion programme that involved new facilities and simulators. The Archerfield Airport, Queensland-based school currently graduates between 120 and 150 pilots annually. “These pilots arrive with little or zero experience and complete their CPL and MECIR [multi-engine command instrument rating] within approximately 46 weeks. Cadets then have the option to continue in our high performance centre and complete their MCC [multi-crew co-operation course] and jet bridge training before undertaking their type rating,” says Allan Brooks, chief executive officer.
AAA has a fleet of 35 aircraft, including Garmin 1000-equipped Cessna 172SPs through to Beechcraft Duchess for core training. It also has four training simulators, ranging from the Redbird FMX full motion simulator through to a recently purchased Boeing 737 fixed base trainer (FBT).
AAA is looking ahead to strong growth. “Our academy has the capacity to double pilot production over the next 24 months,” says Brooks.
Likewise, across the Tasman in New Zealand, Massey University’s School of Aviation has recently acquired a new fleet of Diamond aircraft and Mentor flight training devices. The school currently produces around 45 ab initio graduates per annum and 90 to 100 students undergoing recurrent training at any given time, says Ashok Poduval, chief executive officer. The Palmerston North-based school operates 12 single-engine Diamond DA40s, two twin-engine Diamond DA42s, four flight training devices and three desktop trainers for Garmin 1000 training.
And in Singapore, ST Aerospace’s commercial pilot training business, ST Aerospace Academy (STAA) was recently boosted with a US$1.44 million capital injection from its parent in order to fund its expansion. The funding has been used for a new recently commissioned flight operations centre (FOC) at STAA’s Australian training school in Ballarat, Victoria, featuring a state-of-the-art centralised flight operations and dispatch centre. The new FOC has an aircraft apron that can accommodate up to 40 training aircraft, compared with 20 previously. The funding has also been used for a new Piper PA44 Seminole full flight simulator. The academy’s Ballarat facility had already added a new administrative facility and new classrooms. Meanwhile, at the academy’s Singapore base at Seletar Aerospace Park in the first quarter of 2013 a new six-bay simulator building will be ready for use, with two new Airbus A320 training devices including a flight simulator. The facility includes classrooms, briefing rooms, instructor rooms and offices.
STAA’s training fleet is also increasing, says president Peh Teng Keng. It currently operates single-engine Cessna 172 Skyhawks for basic training, Piper Arrow 28Rs for advanced training, Beech King Air C90s for high-performance multi-engine training and Piper Seminole PA44s for multi-engine and instrument rating training. In 2013, it will take delivery of a further six Cessna 172s plus two more PA44s.
The expansion of facilities and equipment is all designed to allow STAA to grow by 50 graduates each year. The school had 150 students in 2012, will have 200 in 2013 and plans to grow to 500 pilots by 2015, says Peh.
This growth will come from expanding its multi-crew pilot licence (MPL) operations. STAA pioneered MPL in Singapore in late 2009 when it launched its MPL programme. In September 2011, the first six cadet pilots for Tiger Airways graduated from STAA’s MPL course following six months of ground school and 13 months of flying training in Singapore and Ballarat. Following the MPL course, the cadets went straight into jobs as first officers for Tiger on the airline’s A320s.
Peh says STAA’s current split in business is 80 per cent CPL to 30 per cent MPL, but the target for 2014 is to have a 50:50 split.
Tiger followed up its initial MPL training programme with STAA with a five-year training contract which started in the second quarter of 2012, which involves more than 100 pilots. STAA is conducting ab initio and advanced pilot training programmes for Tiger, using both MPL and CPL syllabi followed by specific training on the A320 and subsequent employment as A320 first officers.
STAA, and Tiger, are very happy with the MPL programme, says Peh, adding: “It is producing the first officers they [Tiger] are looking for.” Peh concedes the growth of MPL has been slower than STAA originally envisaged with airlines being cautious – “we can understand why, it’s quite a drastic change,” he says. But MPL is now past the developmental stage, with 600 MPL pilots produced globally and a further 2,000 undergoing training.
Peh says STAA is confident that it can start commercialising MPL in a big way now and is looking at new opportunities in China and the Middle East, for example. STAA’s current student capacity is 250 so it will look at a new base in 2014, depending on a future MPL partner.
AAA, which pioneered the MPL in Australia in a beta test with Boeing’s Alteon Training, is also looking to grow its MPL activities. In late 2008, six cadets from China Eastern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines completed the MPL beta trial conducted by Boeing and AAA. “Although we were partners with Boeing in the first MPL beta trial, our present customer base requires their cadets to be training in ‘traditional’ methods,” says AAA’s Brooks. He adds: “We are in the process of working with some Asian based customers on MPL but currently we are 100 per cent traditional.”
Brooks believes MPL holds great promise for the region. “We believe that with the volume of pilots required in the Asia-Pacific and India, and the large number of aircraft on order, airlines in the region are already seeing the benefits that MPL can offer,” he says.
“The key advantage of the MPL-trained cadet is not that it is necessarily a cheaper option, but it should be seen as a more effective option in preparing students to make the leap ‘from the street to the right hand seat’,” says Brooks. It is possible to produce a quality pilot in a shorter time frame as long as a training organisation can ensure a good team of quality instructors to deliver a quality syllabus, he says.
In readiness for establishing its MPL business, AAA has purchased two state-of-the-art general aviation simulators in the past 12 months, with a third due to arrive in December 2012. “Staggering improvements in technology have made these devices available to training organisations, not just airlines, and their relevance is ever increasing in the training sphere,” says Brooks.
Massey University does not currently offer any MPL training and does not believe it will become the backbone of ab initio training in the near future. There is likely to be more MPL training in coming years, but there will not be rapid proliferation for a number of reasons, Poduval believes. Firstly, due to the rate at which regulators introduce the licence and regulations. “There will also be an issue regarding the recognition of an MPL issued by one contracting state in another contracting state that might have slightly different regulations around the issue of an MPL. For example, there is no stipulation as to the number of fixed wing flight hours required for an MPL…How will these states reconcile mutual recognition of MPL if a licence holder has to move from one state to another?” he questions. STAA’s Peh also concedes that such “patchwork provision” requires global oversight.
In addition, Poduval points out that MPL can only be a pathway if there is an air transport operator who is sponsoring the programme as it requires extensive training in level C and D simulators which are normally type specific. The majority of ab initio flight training providers would not be able to acquire and operate the type of simulators required for a major portion of MPL training due to their cost or have the flight instructors with the necessary ratings and competencies, he says.
STAA approached this by starting from scratch when it devised its MPL programme, working closely with Captain Dieter Harms, senior advisor to the International Air Transport Association and a major player in MPL development. Harms trained the trainers first, coming up with a training programme specifically for MPL and working closely with all the relevant stakeholders, including airlines and regulatory authorities.
Whatever the role MPL will play in the future, training providers have already had to change their training provision to meet today’s requirements and are facing a number of challenges.
With fly-by-wire control systems and the high levels of automation, the skill set has changed significantly, says Massey’s Poduval. “In contemporary air transport aircraft, the skills required are increasingly becoming ‘flight management’ skills and not ‘seat of the pants’ flying skills. The requirements are to make decisions based on understanding of the automation systems and their operation,” he says. “This is not to deny that the basic skill of flying an aircraft remains important. However, the application of the principles required to ‘operate’ a modern air transport aircraft is executed differently with such high degrees of automation,” he adds.
Providers are incorporating enhanced upset recovery training programmes, human factors and scenario based training to enhance decision making to enable less experienced pilots to control more complex aircraft.
Today’s student is also very different to that of a decade ago, points out Brooks. “They learn differently, study differently, use different media and interact socially differently,” all of which impact training. “Contemporary training organisations cannot continue to train as they did even two to three years ago or they will fast become irrelevant. It is no longer good enough to train a student in a 30-year-old aircraft and de-brief using a model airplane. AAA uses a modern fleet of aircraft and simulators,” he explains.
Regulators, however, also need to keep up with a changing industry. “Regulators need to be more proactive in keeping pace with industry change, as does ICAO,” says Poduval, pointing to training manuals dating back to 1985.
“The basic training techniques used and endorsed by the regulators are generally those that have been used for decades. There still seems to be an ‘us and them’ perception by the regulator and industry,” says AAA’s Brooks. He adds: “Industry has great ideas and data to back these up – organisations are wishing to use technology to aid in training, but this can only be done when it is ‘dumbed down’ to meet decades-old legislation. For true innovation to occur the regulators need to move faster as often times before legislation becomes law, it is already out of date.”
Training providers worldwide continue to face the problem of retaining qualified flying instructors, with many operating their own in-house instructor schools and establishing career paths for instructors in order to retain them. AAA, for example, which has 30 instructors on staff, runs its own flight instructor school which produces a consistent stream of new instructors. “In addition to our regular syllabus, we now supplement the programme with specialist training modules over and above the regulator’s core syllabus,” says Brooks. External experts are also used to cover subjects including principles and methods of instruction, cultural awareness, assessment methodologies, evidence based training and aviation technology. “The retention of experienced instructors is one of the greatest issues facing training organisations. Whilst there will always be a percentage of instructors clearly focused on a career in the airlines, we believe there is also a career path available for the professional flight instructor,” says Brooks. He adds: “To achieve this, we need to provide conditions and/or renumeration that would make this an attractive option.” AAA offers scholarships for potential flight instructors with a “return of service” requirement.
Massey University, which currently has 21 instructors including the chief flight instructor, runs its own flight instructors course (FIC) which is part of the third year of the Bachelor of Aviation ATP programme. It normally puts 10 students on this course – the highest performers from the first two years, says Poduval. “The FIC takes nearly a year to complete, as opposed to no more than 10-12 weeks for a flight instructor’s course offered by flight training organisations. It is a highly intensive programme that focuses on pedagogy, instructional techniques and in-flight instruction. Our graduate instructors are highly reputed and well sought after,” he says.
Likewise, STAA, which has four students to one instructor, trains its own instructors and has developed a professional career path for them, including teaching them management skills, instructional methods and other skills. Even then some 50 per cent will eventually leave for an airline job, says Peh.
English language skills, or lack of them, are still an issue in some parts of Asia, providers agree. “While the ICAO English language ratings are a step in the right direction, it is still insufficient to address the issue adequately,” believes Massey’s Poduval. Brooks says AAA works with its airline partners to ensure students have minimum English skills before they arrive in Australia. “We also have a strict policy that all communication whilst in training is in English and that all students’ cellphones use English as their base operating system language. It’s the little things that make a big difference,” he says.
As 70 per cent of its customers are from China, with airline customers including Hainan Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines, English language skills are a concern for STAA, says Peh. As a result, students are required to complete three months of intensive English language training in China before they even arrive for training in Australia, with further aviation-specific language training in order to reach ICAO levels conducted in Australia.
Rote-learning, prevalent in some Asian countries, can also be an issue but Massey’s Poduval says this is not an issue if the training organsiation has a well-designed syllabus and sound testing regime that “examines the student for application of learning rather than a regurgitation of practiced manouevres”. AAA also ensures it spends a lot of time ensuring cadets have an in-depth knowledge of the subject matter, says Brooks. “This becomes obvious quite early in the syllabus and our instructors are trained to identify shallow levels of understanding and implement strategies to develop deeper foundations,” he adds. “The use of simulation provides an ideal environment to challenge trainees in the unexpected and to introduce scenarios that mandate non-rote solutions so that the cadets can counter-intuitively solve the scenarios,” says Brooks.