The number of training programs preparing flight crew for the new multi-crew pilot license (MPL) continues to multiply. Before year-end, there will likely be 30 or more active MPL programs around the world with well over 3,000 cadets in the pipeline. The MPL is intended as a competency-based training license focused on preparing new pilots to become airline first officers.
However, a global airline pilots’ union is expressing reservations that the more than 1,000 MPL graduates to date have not received adequate training. On June 17, the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA), through its human performance committee, issued a 10-page position paper that argued its case. “Even in well managed MPL training programs, several key areas of pilot professional development need focus and improvement,” said the paper. “Specifically, they are basic flying skills, airmanship, CRM (cockpit resource management), and ATC situational awareness.” IFALPA said it based its conclusions on feedback from member airline pilots, “many with considerable first-hand experience flying with MPL graduates.”
IFALPA’s primary concern centers on its assertion that the competency-based MPL scheme relies significantly more on simulator time, and less on flight time compared with traditional commercial pilot license (CPL) training. “While simulators are adequate for most skill development, they are inadequate for providing real-world exposure or building the situational awareness and experience necessary for sound judgment and decision making,” said the pilot union group.
Countering IFALPA’s viewpoint, Mitch Fox, air navigation bureau chief with ICAO’s flight operations section, told a recent pilot training conference that airlines and captains from approved training organizations expressed satisfaction with the performance of MPL graduates. “Programs are getting good results,” he said. “Pass rates coming out of line training are on the order of 99 percent. That’s really incredible for a brand-new license.”
Fox acknowledged that a December “proof-of-concept” MPL symposium, which drew 300 attendees, exposed some areas for improvement, including program oversight by regulators, air traffic control communications and guidance on instructor competencies. “We need to continue a rigorous application of the MPL concept, joining with industry partners, continuing to gather and analyze data,” Fox said.
In fact, IFALPA agrees that some MPL programs have proved effective. “However, none are perfect. IFALPA has drawn on its resources to highlight aspects that may need improvement,” said Mike Jackson, IFALPA’s technical liaison to ICAO.
The new Etihad Flight College in Abu Dhabi plans to offer MPL for United Arab Emirates nationals. Japan Air Lines claims the first MPL program in Japan through an arrangement with CAE Oxford Aviation Academy. Lufthansa Flight Training (the largest MPL school so far with 1,326 students) recently added courses for All Nippon Airways Boeing 777 pilots in Germany, the U.S. and Japan. FlightSafety International provided training and support for the core and basic MPL phases for several years at its academy in Vero Beach, Florida.
According to Dieter Harms, a consultant with the International Air Transport Association and a former CEO of Lufthansa Flight Training involved in establishing MPL, the new license is now well established. He said that IATA would update its Guidance Material and Best Practices for MPL Implementation publication by year-end.
The Global MPL Course Tracker datebase that Harms maintains for IATA reflects the wide variations in metrics of the 25 MPL programs activated to date, including aircraft flight time, simulator hours and course length. With the exception of the 36-month course offered by Sweden’s Lund University School of Aviation (LUSA), which also grants a university degree, all the MPL curricula run 14 to 24 months before an airline’s initial operating experience.
The controversial aircraft cockpit time requirements for MPL programs range from a low of 61.5 hours for AeronautX and its Austrian airline partner Niki to 112 hours for the program that Boeing subsidiary Alteon developed for China Eastern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines. Typical MPL flight hours run between 80 and 100, including solo time. Flight simulation training devices occupy two to three times as many hours as aircraft for MPL students, from a low of 148.5 hours (Lufthansa Flight Training for All Nippon Airways) to a high of 239 hours (CAE for AirAsia). Total hours in aircraft and synthetic training devices fluctuate in a fairly narrow range, from 240 to 325 hours.
One of the most controversial debates involves the number of required takeoffs and landings in the aircraft type the new pilots will be flying. ICAO recommends 12, but it allows for an exception of as few as six. Almost all MPL programs target 12, though CAFUC’s requirement is 20. Harms suggested a better measure for a competency-based program might be “three consecutive competent landings.”
The number of sectors a new MPL pilot must fly during initial operating experience also varies widely by airline, from as few as 40 by LUSA to as many as 200 for Civil Aviation Flight University of China (CAFUC) graduates flying in China.
Even some of those involved in promoting MPL admit that a few programs have been little more than traditional training packages dressed up as MPL, but without being truly competency-driven.