Six Aeroflot flight instructors have qualified in the Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ100) after undergoing 40 days of training at the manufacturer’s Zhukovsky base near Moscow. These pilots will be flying the Russian carrier’s first SSJ100 to enter revenue service, with initial passenger flights expected later this summer.
Aeroflot became the new jetliner’s launch customer by placing firm order for 30 SSJ100s in 2005. The carrier will assign 11 pilots to each aircraft, driving a need for 330 SSJ100 pilots in 2014, when deliveries are due to be completed.
The SSJ100-qualified instructors are Aeroflot’s most experienced Airbus A320 pilots, each with more than 10,000 flight hours in five or more types. They were selected carefully so as to ensure high flight safety standards in the absence, for the time being, of a full-flight simulator (FFS) for the SSJ100. “Both aircraft have a sidestick and a glass cockpit,” explained Aeroflot’s head of cockpit crew training Aleksander Miroshnichenko. “Thanks to this similarity, a good A320 pilot can master the SSJ100 with no problem.”
The use of a level-five training device helped somewhat to get the SSJ100 training program under way. With 24 hours on this device, the half-dozen pilots gained the necessary flying skills in an SSJ100 prototype, with each pilot amassing eight flight hours in 15 missions under the guidance of Sukhoi test pilots.
Praise for Superjet
The Aeroflot flight instructors were full of admiration for the Superjet when they met with AIN ahead of this week’s Paris Air Show. “It handles similarly to Airbus narrowbodies. The Sukhoi has controllability reminiscent of the A319 and is as flyable as the A321,” commented Oleg Engels.
“During training flights the angle of attack peaked at 25 to 27 degrees, at which the airplane demonstrated that it is safe to fly thanks to well-done flight controls and envelope protection system,” added his colleague Igor Treibert. Comparing the SSJ100 to the A320, Sergei Bodrov noted that, “The Sukhoi is better trimmed in yaw, bank and pitch channels” and “handles better with one engine out, with the automatic flight controls doing all necessary compensations.”
The second phase of the SSJ100 crew training program will see these six instructors teaching less experienced pilots. Flying for that phase will be done out of Aeroflot’s main base at Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport (for night operations) and from the city of Ivanovo (during daylight hours).
For those transitioning from A320s, the conversion program will take two-and-a-half monthsand includes eight flight hours in an SSJ100. It the future this will be reduced to just one-and-a-half months and five flight hours
“For the time being, much of the training is done in classes and on real aircraft since the FFS is not ready yet,” said Stanislav Tulsky, director of the Aeroflot Aviation School (AAS). He explained that Aeroflot used to send its flight crews to Boeing, Airbus and European airlines for training, but, “Now we do everything in-house.”
Tulsky said he has experienced “several cycles of the learning curve” in the West, starting in 1991. He also added some interesting personal details that give a clearer picture of the experience base on which Aeroflot is building its future crewing needs: “I underwent training in the 737, 767 and 777 at Boeing in Seattle, and in the A320 and A330 at Airbus in Toulouse. My school [that is, the AAS] uses experience that my colleagues and I have amassed in the past twenty years. We accumulated experience in over 10 foreign training centers and fused it with that of our own. These 20 years of learning will pay off. We have amassed the necessary skills, and more recently got hold of some superb training equipment. Our aviation school prepares good cabin and cockpit crews, and does that on a very competitive basis.”
AAS instructors have many personal friends among their foreign colleagues and especially from Airbus’s training organization. “They visited us recently and said they are deeply impressed and pleased with this school,” said Tulsky.
The cooperation with the European airframer is now focused on perfecting the A320 and A330 syllabuses. “When you get all the necessary equipment in place, it is the instructors and their methodical approach to training that becomes priority number one,” explained Tulsky. “It is impossible to prepare an airline pilot without good training devices, and yet it is the instructor who does the teaching.”
Training in the SSJ100 is conducted in English, even when both instructor and trainee are Russian. Pilots are required to have at least level-four English, as defined by the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization.
“Although the aircraft is a Sukhoi, the airplane has got a lot of Western systems,” said Tulsky. “This airplane is intended for sales to foreign airlines, and that means using English.”
Computer-based training (CBT) is carried out in a dedicated class, after 100 hours of lectures. The class is equipped with four SSJ100 “kiosks” seating eight crewmembers, and 16 more for Airbus narrowbodies. Since the A320 and SSJ100 are broadly similar in systems architecture and design philosophy, training syllabuses are purposely unified.
In March, Aeroflot took delivery of a procedures training device for teaching cockpit and cabin crews how to disembark the airplane in normal and emergency landing situations. Called the ASP (after the Russian acronym for emergency, escape, rescue procedures), this simulator represents a cylindrical fuselage section equipped with doors that can be open or dropped when configured for a particular situation.
Aeroflot conducts escape drills involving cockpit and cabin crews so they learn to cooperate in a dangerous situation. Facilities include a special device representing a fragment of an Ilyushin Il-96 airframe on moving platform where crews simulate rescue operations from an airplane with a broken landing gear. There is a water reservoir to practice evacuation from a ditched airplane using rafts. “The cockpit and cabin crews need to coordinate their actions in conducting a proper evacuation of passengers and themselves, which is very challenging and therefore needs special skills,” Tulsky commented.
“We have amassed a unique experience preparing A320 pilots with such limited flying experience; few schools in the world do this,” said Tulsky. “And we do this to high standards so that our graduates are qualified to pass Aeroflot exams and meet Airbus requirements. However, we have modified the training programs that Airbus suggested to take into account the peculiarities of our entrants and our airline.”
Aeroflot has been receiving A320 series aircraft since 2003 and it continues to grow its Airbus fleet. Starting with 18 of the A320 family, it now operates 69 and expects this number to rise to 82.
Superjet FSS Due Soon
The Russian carrier has four FFSs: an Il-96-300 unit, a Tupolev Tu-154M and two A320s. Their capacity is just enough to qualify 160 new pilots annually, each with 80 simulator hours. Simulator capacity is undoubtedly a bottleneck in the training process, especially given the need to make the equipment available for recurrent training as well.
Aeroflot currently is awaiting delivery of FFSs for both the A330 and the new Boeing 787. In the meantime, it has removed an A310 FFS to make room for an SSJ100 FFS that is due to be installed next year. The level-D simulator has been developed by Thales as part of the program partnership struck between Sukhoi and the French avionics group in 2006 and 2007.
“There is nothing special in mastering the Superjet, and until the FFS is in place, Aeroflot will continue to populate SSJ100 cockpits with experienced A320 pilots,” said Tulsky. “As soon as the simulator is available, we will start training of new pilots without A320 experience, and it will take us three months to get them qualified.”
Tulsky would not say how many pilots will be in the second batch of SSJ100 trainees. “We will do what it takes to ensure that the number of pilots always matches the number of aircraft available,” he said. “Technically, everything is in place to prepare enough pilots in time so that when the next Superjet is delivered to Aeroflot it will not stay on the ground.”
The fact is that Aeroflot has to be mindful of training costs. An SSJ100 FFS costs $12 million, when the airline is only paying $17 million for the aircraft itself, having enjoyed maximum possible discounts as the launch customer for the SSJ100. [The list price is understood to be between $23 million and $25 million.–Ed.]
Aeroflot funds its new pilots’ two-year training program, a cost that is repaid over a five-year contract under which they work as copilots flying an average of 80 hours per month.