Pilots and flight academy delegates congregated in Aqaba two months ago for the Middle East's first
Multi-Crew Pilot Licence forum.
As global airlines continue to expand, the shortage of qualified pilots is becoming more apparent. With the global aviation industry expecting 17,000 aircraft during the next 12 years, a solution to the problem is urgently required.
Captain Chris Schroeder, head of global flight operations at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) says: "Fleet growth and fluctuation will require approximately 235,000 additional pilots until 2020, which equals to more than 19,000 pilots annually." To address the problem IATA has launched a training and qualification initiative (ITQI).
The project will focus on several key areas, including teaching standards, safety, guidelines for staff recruitment and training equipment configuration. According to IATA's management, the pilots shortage could have severe ramifications, particularly for safety.
"The shortage of qualified, licensed pilots could have an effect on sustainable growth," Schroeder says. "There is a potential risk of a drop in quality and standards due to the high demand."
In addition, he argues having various syllables for different training schemes has a negative impact on flight safety. Captain Dieter Harms, IATA senior advisor, believes the new Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (MPL) was not developed as a counter measure to the pilot shortage.
"In 2002, when the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Flight Crew Licensing and Training Panel (FCLTP) first developed the scheme there wasn't a problem because of oil and the after affects of 9/11," says Harms. Instead he believes the MPL was introduced to improve the quality of pilot training worldwide. The licence, which enables the holder to perform co-pilot duties on multi-crew aircraft, is designed to complement rather than replace existing training programmes.
Advocators of the licence argue it offers higher levels of safety, which according to IATA is the number one priority for flight academies. By incorporating specific risk control measures into the syllabus, safety issues can be more carefully monitored. In addition, the course puts greater emphasis on flight simulators, allowing pilots to train for dangerous scenarios in safe surroundings.
At present, there are four flight schools that have implemented MPL, including Denmark's Centre Air Pilot Academy (CAPA), Alteon Boeing, Lufthansa Flight Training and Swiss Aviation Training. Aqaba-based Ayla Aviation Academy, which plans to adopt the programme later this year, has already begun tailoring its current courses accordingly. The MPL licence training is split into four modules and requires 240 hours flying time in aircraft or simulators.
Firstly, trainees undergo the core skills flying phase, where students learn to fly an aircraft as a single pilot. This stage, which is similar to the private pilot licence syllabus, teaches pupils fundamental aeronautical knowledge.
The basic phase follows, introducing an advanced technology training module that focuses on multi-crew operations. Once this stage is complete students continue to the intermediate phase, focusing on instrument flight rules (IFR) where pilots learn to operate their aircraft using digital data. Developed as an alternative to visual flight rules (VFR), IFR enables the pilot to fly even when visibility is low. Finally students continue to the advanced phase where they specialise with one aircraft type.
Academies planning to hold MPL courses have to secure International Civil Aviation Organization approval by satisfying the industry body's stringent criteria. They also have to continually monitor the course and assess students' performance during the licence programme.
Chris Long, managing director of Aktual Aviation Consultancy, says using sophisticated training techniques in MPL training will help develop more experienced pilots. However, Long also acknowledges the need for academies to fine-tune their respective programmes.
"We have some issues we need to address, such as how to recruit and keep instructors," he says. "We need to be honest about the issues we need to look into." According to MPL supporters, there are several common misconceptions about the licence, which has led to criticism from the industry.
This is largely due to inaccurate statements and Long is keen to dispel any myths. "People need to know more about MPL and it's our job to inform them honestly and accurately, and re-assure people that there are some misunderstandings," Long says. "The programme has not been designed to be less expensive or any quicker. Nor will it be any less effective than other methods that's another common misunderstanding," he adds.
Like Long, Ayla Aviation Academy's CEO Marwan Atalla agrees criticism of MPL is unjust. "MPL is not a cheap, low quality, fast-track to the right seat of an airliner," he says.
"It's a high quality, safety-driven, airline orientated pilot training scheme with a stringent selection criteria." Ayla Aviation is already preparing to implement MPL and will launch the programme this October.
With a qualified instructor team, strict safety requirements and plans to purchase a new generic jet simulator for use in the basic phase, the school's management feel the programme will be an instant success.
Egyptian Aviation Academy (EAA) is another training provider planning to introduce an MPL course. Captain Ahmed Negm, business co-ordinator of Egyptian Aviation Academy (EAA), says the institution hopes to implement the programme by year end.
At present the academy is home to three schools; the MISR flying college, the air traffic control college, and the civil aviation management training college. "We have all the tools to implement the programme," Negm says. "We have in our fleet around 28 aircraft and next year this will increase to 34. These will include single engine, complex aircraft, multi-engine aircraft and jet light aircraft."
According to EAA, the goal for aviation academies launching MPL programmes is to encourage team work among pilots. The academy's management added it will hold talks with Egypt Air about implementing the course to address industry needs.
"We all agree the core will be the private pilot licence (PPL) in a single engine aircraft, which includes solo flights," Negm says. "After that we'll start with the MPL course from phase two, which will focus on IFR because the PPL focuses on VFR." He adds that phase two is important for enabling the transition from the left seat, where PPL training takes place, to the right seat, where students learn IFR.
Judging by a recent study, the need for pilot training schemes has never been greater. The report carried out by IATA found that human error is the biggest cause of air traffic accidents. Approximately half of all crashes in 2007 occurred during landing and could have been avoided with more adequate flight safety training.
With this in mind, Negm believes crew resource management training and threat and error management is an essential part of the MPL programme. They cover situational awareness, communication skills, problem solving, decision-making and teamwork, helping increase safety levels.
Before the EAA adopts the programme, Negm says there is one key issue ICAO needs to address. Despite setting a 240 hour minimum flight time, the organisation has failed to provide flight schools with set requirements for each section.
"ICAO must put the minimum in each phase, and then each Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) can work on that," says Negm. "If you leave all the hours open there'll be a big difference between one country and another. Some countries might reach 80% on the simulators and 20% on the aircraft for money reasons, while some countries will be the opposite," he adds.
Negm stresses the importance of working with the industry to implement this type of programme. "Our suggestion is to find out what the industry really needs before implementing the course," he says. "IATA or ICAO will find some sort of guideline for this course. After that we can modify the course to enhance the good points."