ICAO mulls multi-crew pilot license proposal

 - December 18, 2007, 6:48 AM

Sixty years ago, with the outcome of the World War II still nearly 12 months in the future, 52 nations met in Chicago to agree on a format for the worldwide development of civil aviation in the post-war environment. As codicils to the Chicago Convention of Dec. 7, 1944, which formalized the existence of ICAO, each operational remit area was amplified by means of a numbered Annex. Annex Number One detailed personnel licensing standards for all those involved in flight operations, including flight crewmembers, maintenance technicians, air traffic controllers and flight dispatchers. ICAO has undertaken a major review (the first in 30 years) that includes an amendment in the proposal stage that will lead to a major change in the recruitment and training of flight-deck crew. The proposal, for a multi-crew pilot license (MPL), is the subject of intense argument and is creating divisions among providers of airline flight crew training.

In January, Ron Elder of the British CAA presented the outline proposals to the ICAO Air Navigation Commission. The Commission accepted the proposals in principle, clearing the way for the final format to be formally presented to ICAO for acceptance in early 2006.

The format of this license has been under discussion since last December by the 18-member ICAO Flight Crew Licensing and Training Panel (FCLTP), which includes representatives from 14 countries as well as from IAOPA, IATA, IBAC and IFALPA.

Brian Morgan, a former airline pilot and flight instructor at British Aerospace Flying College in Adelaide, Australia, formulated the MPL concept some five years ago. Along with other flight instructors at the college, he recognized that the then-current flight training syllabus did little to smooth the passage of trainee pilots into the right seat of a modern jet airliner and proposed an ab initio course tailored to meet airline requirements.

Many flight schools currently provide simulator-based CRM and LOFT training, but the amount is limited and it is a non-compulsory supplement to the flight course. The object then was to build a syllabus that reduced the amount of visual flight and substituted simulator work, but retained enough elements of the commercial pilot license (CPL) course to allow a progression from a multi-crew license to a CPL, if required.

ICAO Considers Competency-based Training
ICAO first formally presented the MPL to the flight training industry at the WATS2004 conference in Phoenix. Although the license is still under development, the grant of an MPL will be based entirely on competency, rather than hours flown, and will incorporate training elements that are already effective in several ICAO states.

The present ICAO CPL/IR (instrument rating) calls for a minimum total time of 180 hours. Those hours must include 170 hours of command time, a minimum of 15 hours under instruction and 40 hours in a “synthetic training device.”

The MPL proposal calls for a total time of 240 hours, with a core element of approximately 60 flight hours that will include upset training, inverted flight and instrument appreciation and issue of a private pilot license on completion. From this point on, all training will be in a flight simulator, with the student spending an initial 30 hours as pilot not flying and 30 hours as pilot flying on a level-A simulator, which will be a generic turbine type with advanced visuals but no motion.

This initial training is intended to provide a basic level of competency before leading into an intermediate level with a further 30 hours of pilot flying and 30 hours of pilot not flying time, still on a level-A simulator. The final 60 hours will also be divided equally between pilot flying and pilot not flying time, but these hours will be spent in a level-D simulator that provides full motion and visuals and represents the aircraft type to be flown. Core competencies to be assessed will include threat and error management, as well as ground and full flight profile.

Speaking at the annual general meeting of the UK’s General Aviation Manufacturers and Traders Association (now merged with the Business Aircraft Users Association to become the British Business and General Aviation Association), Graham Forbes, the CAA head of personnel licensing, outlined the present state of the general review of ICAO Annexes with respect to flight crew licensing, including certification and approval of training organizations.

Morgan’s proposal has undergone a metamorphosis, as is so often the case when such ideas reach the hands of government departments. What started as a syllabus change to focus on airline requirements, while retaining enough elements of the CPL course to allow a bridging course to progress from MPL to CPL, was now targeted at a purely airline vocation by the introduction of a significant amount of simulated flight.

The MPL has received a mixed response within the flight training industry as it is doubtful whether many schools could afford the level-A and -D flight simulators required for the projected course. A spokesman for Flight Training Europe, located at Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, told AIN that, with some reservations, his company sees the MPL enhancing the potential for young pilots to start flying for an airline.

However, because of the costs, few private individuals will be able to afford the training, and the airlines might be forced to sponsor MPL candidates through the training syllabus and at the same time guarantee them employment upon graduation. With the limited amount of flight time in proportion to simulator time likely driving up the cost of the course, airlines will have to take a deep breath when they make such guarantees to a candidate.

On the negative side, the flight school feels that while the graduates of the course will have in-depth knowledge of the onboard automation and cockpit displays, the limited amount of actual flight content means that they will be lacking in air sense, decision-making and airmanship. Right-seat flying time erodes those deficiencies, but some observers note that this negates the advantages claimed for the new license. In addition, flight schools will have to wrestle with the decision whether or not to invest in the required infrastructure, as there is likely to be only limited demand for the course.

The European Association of Airline Pilot Schools, which represents many commercial schools, adopts a cautious approach. In a statement it said it welcomes the principle of directing ab initio training toward the multi-pilot environment as it feels that the present training requirements are too old-fashioned and are single-pilot oriented.

The organization believes that the current CPL course requires too many solo flight hours with extensive training in single-engine operations. The association believes that this training method does not reflect modern views on competency training as the best way to train for the airline environment, in which the pilot is primarily the flight manager. In principle the association welcomes the concept of competency-based training, but at the same time, the competencies required have not yet been detailed.

In view of the aviation industry’s notorious volatility, it is quite possible there will be no right seat vacant when candidates have graduated with a multi-crew license. Under Morgan’s original proposals, candidates could have progressed to a CPL, which would have opened alternative employment opportunities within the industry. But with the syllabus outlined by the ICAO FCLTP, pilots will have to spend a great deal more money to reach a basic CPL/IR standard.

While the new license will make for a smoother entry onto the flight deck for the new pilot, the increased infrastructure investment required of the flight schools and the training costs that result might militate against more than a limited uptake by independent schools. It could also lead to the establishment of a limited number of flight schools owned by major airlines to provide flight crew solely for their own operations.


Let us not forget Alpha Aviation Group's disaster of an MPL program in Clark, Philippines. It is well-known throughout the industry and paticularly among ICAO in Montreal that AAG lured several cohorts of MPL cadets into a program that had no airline sponsor--a critical fact that was hidden from the cadets until their training was over and all the fees paid. (Cebu Pacific Air, the airline that sponsored the first two MPL cohorts, pulled out after long delays and quality problems with the MPL cadets--but AAG didn't tell this to CAAP or the following groups of cadets.) It was a travesty because soon enough ICAO knew exactly what was going on and did nothing to put a stop to it. And AAG would not give refunds to those cadets who rightfully requested their money back after the deception and the necessarily useless MPL's. Finally, the CAAP Director-General stepped in and put a stop to the fraud. The primary AAG manager who slept well through all this (Andy, a truly bad kind of Apple) is no longer with AAG. A closer look at the parent company, C&C Alpha group, will show that this type of harmful mismanagement is how they do their business in a variety of their other ventures such as subpar mental hospitals in the UK and withering almond crops in California. AAG may quote 99% placement rates of cadets with airlines... but the real question is how many of them are actually flying? Its about 1 in 3. The rest are waiting to be called for actual salaried work, or have moved on. This is not surprising at all, considering the 100% acceptance rate of MPL cadet applicants during this time this all happened. There are no MPL holders left in the Philippines--ALL of them went back to flight school and converted their licenses to CPL. Shame on the lot of all those involved!

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