Last October, a post on the International Association of Flight Training Professionals (IAFTP) website launched a discussion about training for business aviation pilots. The writer, an IAFTP member from Europe, worries that “the world’s aviation training community is focusing on air carrier training issues and ignoring the unique training needs of the global corporate and business aircraft community.” The question posed to fellow IAFTP members was, “What training initiatives exist or are being developed for us?”
Of course, extensive training resources serve corporate pilots, from the big three training organizations–CAE, FlightSafety International and SimCom–to single-simulator-based training providers like Loft (which also has jets for in-airplane training) to instructors specializing in in-aircraft-only training. But business aviation is looking for something more.
One reason, as a commenter to the original IAFTP post wrote, is that a projected pilot shortage will affect business aviation and not just airlines. Another important reason, another commenter wrote, “is that the existing training programs key in on educating our existing and future pilots to be systems monitors. In the new training design, there must be a mix between automation technology in the cockpit and handling skills. A carefully designed pilot training program can address this issue.”
Business Aviation Pilot Training Project
Steve Charbonneau, a corporate pilot flying Gulfstreams who is also secretary of the NBAA Safety Committee, has volunteered to lead an effort to delve into these issues. Charbonneau added to the IAFTP comments by outlining the Business Aviation Pilot Training Project, a Safety Committee effort launched at a two-day business aviation training symposium held last August. “The project’s goal,” he noted, “is to improve the value proposition of business aviation pilot training.” Symposium participants included NBAA members, FAA personnel and training vendors.
The project will develop three key documents: an NBAA guide on skills that pilots need to work in business aviation and the training program needed for that pilot; guidance for training vendors, he said, “on how to cultivate a program to sell to the membership that really meets the needs of the business pilot”; and a position paper from the NBAA recommending how 14 CFR § 61.58 can be changed “or how to amend it to better meet the needs of the business pilot.”
The latter issue is fundamental, according to Charbonneau, because training currently focuses on recertifying pilots, to the exclusion of using valuable simulator training time to focus on issues that are causing accidents. He does not blame training vendors and praises them for delivering high-quality training. “At issue is not the quality of what’s being presented,” he explained. “It is: is what is being presented everything that we need? And I think that’s a better question to ask.”
During the symposium, participants agreed that current training practices, where business aviation pilots go twice a year for recurrency training, has become a recertification effort instead of a training opportunity. “They go to a vendor and the vendor gives them a recertification of their IFR proficiency,” said Charbonneau. “There are no real opportunities to expand on that pilot’s skill set beyond what’s required for that test. And when we look at recent high-profile accidents, we realize that the environment for business pilots is such that our highest risks are not being addressed in the simulator. Pilots have stalled and not even realized that they’ve stalled the airplane, and yet in the simulator they’re not actually stalling the airplane; they’re just flying some rote profile that satisfies the pilot test standard. In effect we’re not getting training in the simulator; we’re just recertifying our proficiency check. And over the years, flight departments have stopped doing training in the airplane. All is done in the simulator. And so in essence pilot skills training has almost fallen by the wayside.”
More Efficient Use of Training Time
Additionally, Charbonneau notes, 14 CFR § 61.58 actually requires only one proficiency check per year. “But the training providers have created a culture where it is accepted to train twice per year, every six months.” Twice-yearly training is fine, but since the regs require pilots flying two-pilot jets to complete just one proficiency check yearly, there is a huge opportunity to take advantage of that second six-month training event. “I think we need to address the whole value of training and how we can make it more efficient,” he explained. “There are opportunities to train once a year and check once per year. So once a year you do some training, and once a year you recertify your 61.58. You’re still going every six months.”
But redesigning the training curriculum is not as simple as snapping a finger at the training vendor and saying, “make it so.” The simulator training companies must meet 14 CFR Part 142 regulations, and there are thus constraints limiting what a training vendor can offer. The FAA designed the Part 142 regulations, Charbonneau explained, to allow training to be done in high-fidelity simulators rather than in airplanes. “By doing so, [it has] allowed operators to benefit from training in a realistic environment given certain criteria, which ensures a consistent and high-quality program. Operators have to train in a 142 center with an approved curriculum. Once approved, the vendor is expected to follow those curricula. So deviating from the curriculum is something that the FAA is highly motivated to prevent. You train in a simulator, thus avoiding the risk of training in an airplane, but you have to do so with an approved curriculum.”
The FAA is receptive to the Training Project’s ideas on curriculum changes, according to Charbonneau, as long as it doesn’t involve changing regulations, which is an enormously time-consuming process. “The FAA is interested and motivated to adopt innovative new ways of providing high-quality training,” he said. “[But] we need to provide solutions in the form of a curriculum that could be approved by the FAA. So somehow we have to get there. And those curricula have to be beyond the scope of a 61.58; they have to actually allow for training, not just checking.”
The simulator companies are also receptive, and two major vendors are participating in the Training Project. “They’re stakeholders in this,” he said. “For 30 years or more we’ve partnered with our vendors to provide us with our training. Somehow along the way it’s migrated into where we’re at today, so we need to rely on that partnership with them to help move us back where we need to be.”
The project team is working on identifying issues that need to be addressed, but obvious subjects include loss of control, runway excursions and stall accidents. A meeting this August in Washington, D.C., will examine these subjects, but drafts of the actual Training Project deliverables won’t be presented until a meeting next year, with final presentation planned at the 2013 NBAA Convention. Meanwhile, the project team plans to survey NBAA members to find out what they see as key training issues.
From his perspective as a long-time professional pilot, Charbonneau has his own ideas about how training could be improved and getting away from recurrency events that are much the same year after year. He is aware that as the customer, he has some influence on the product that his flight department is buying, but it’s more than just a matter of complaining and asking for something new and different. There is also the matter of time, because meeting the elements of 61.58 takes most of the allotted time in the simulator. There might be 20 minutes at the end where pilots can choose something specific to practice, but they still need to know what is a useful training exercise so as not to waste that available time.
For one example, he explained that under the FAA regulations, “Simulators are certified and authorized to conduct training only at certain airports. The FAA certifies certain visual packages, and those few visual packages are the only ones approved for training.” Under 61.58 pilots are required to conduct circling approaches, but in the simulators in which he trains, only two airports are approved for the circling maneuver. “I can fly that circling approach with one eye closed because I’ve done it every single time,” he said.
He would like to practice circling approaches at Chicago’s Midway airport, because he flies there, and often is given an approach to Runway 31C with a circle to Runway 22. “You’re always circling at Midway, and for flow control they want you coming in 180 knots to the final approach fix, so now you’re flying fast. You’re inherently flying an unstable approach–circling–and then when you circle around, it’s a difficult airport. And we fly there a lot. I would love to get that airport certified for use in training but it just hasn’t happened.
“This is where I think we need to get a little bit lighter on our feet, and we may be able to approach the FAA and say, ‘OK, how can we expedite and make the approval processes for visual packages more efficient?’ They can do it. It just takes time and resources and then you have to get the FAA to come in and certify those airports. It’s a process. Even though you may want to do things differently, the fact is that only certain airports are authorized for training, and it drives the training program to those airports. You end up flying at those airports more often than not.”
Charbonneau emphasizes that twice-yearly training remains beneficial. “I think the vendors have done a really good job with developing a culture within business aviation to train twice a year.” And he believes that the training vendors will get on board with a training and checking system, provided it is well designed. And designing the future training programs means, he said, developing “core skills and standards for business aviation pilots. If we document industry-specific skills and standards for us, then it’ll be easier to generate training programs that can meet and teach those skills and standards.”
The survey will be posted on the NBAA website, and Charbonneau encourages members to provide as much feedback as possible about what they would like to see in future training sessions. “People have passion about this,” Charbonneau concludes. “I’ve got a lot of passion about it, too. I think if we ask the right questions, we’ll get people to respond.”