How BizAv Can Plan for Long-Term Pilot Proficiency

What can flight departments and flight training providers be doing to promote long-term pilot proficiency? Mario Pierobon spoke with FRASCA’s Randy Gawenda to find out his thoughts...

Mario Pierobon  |  08th July 2022
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Mario Pierobon
Mario Pierobon

Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University London,...

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Cessna Citation Mustang simulator training at FRASCA

For corporate flight departments it’s vitally important to manage both the initial and recurrent flight training well. Business aircraft operators need to be as proactive as possible to manage the availability of training slots, to source instructors, and to plan for proficiency in the long-term.

“During Covid, pilot shortages and the rapid turnover that can result meant the level of uncertainty and difficulty in planning has never been higher,” notes Randy Gawenda, Business Development Manager at FRASCA.

“The coordination and scheduling of slots can get derailed very quickly due to time constraints with ‘on-boarding’ new hires. Everything takes longer right now, so getting as much paperwork completed ahead of time can help,” Gawenda says – though admittedly he says this doesn’t solve the major challenges.

During the Covid pandemic, international training was heavily impacted with significant cutbacks. Indeed, according to Gawenda, it was almost non-existent in some cases. “But even prior to the pandemic, international operators were having significant issues getting new hires to training, due to some of the United States’ foreign flight training policies,” he argues.

“That really hasn’t gone away. While recurrent training has traditionally tended to be more stable and predictable, even that has grown more complex as the operators try to fill their ranks.”

While larger flight department may have more elasticity, both in terms of resources and negotiated training slots, flight training is a tightrope for many operators. “Smaller flight departments may want to grow their network so they can gain better options when things do not go as planned”, Gawenda suggests.

“This makes a bigger marketplace, which may help maintain a higher level of capacity and throughput to the benefit of everyone involved.”

Addressing the Need for Experienced Instructors

There is a set of best practices for operators to follow to source instructors that are experienced on their aircraft types. They should start talking to instructors early about how they can pass on their knowledge and experience, Gawenda suggests.

“Retirement, or a failed medical does not mean a pilot’s aviation career is necessarily over. We do not promote the importance of good instruction enough,” he says.

“We often mistake demonstrating manoeuvres over-and- over again for instruction in the early stages of training, and we mistake ticking the boxes as good instruction for the more mature training stages later. That’s not instructing or teaching. We lack a consistent cadence to teach better aeronautical decision-making.”

So how does one transfer, say, 35 years of high-level corporate aviation experience? “There needs to be more emphasis on scenario-based training and evidence-based training, because these concepts are not exclusive to the airlines by any means,” Gawenda says.

“Surely, one does always need to demonstrate one can fly to the skills and standards of their certificate,” he argues. “But while we all know training can be expensive, and everyone has less and less time, how do we impart better aeronautical decision making? How do we teach threat and risk assessment?

“It can take 30 years of flying the aircraft to acquire that knowledge, so that’s obviously not the answer. One way is to engage pilots that have that experience and the desire to pass it on via scenario-based, and evidence-based training.”

Planning for Long-Term Proficiency

In their proactive training management efforts, corporate flight department managers should plan for long-term proficiency, both in terms of training content and training slots.

According to Gawenda, training courses need to account for a continuing level of proficiency in all facets of flying. “This includes full automation, degraded automation, and raw data. Unfortunately, none of these skills are like riding a bike – they’re refined skills requiring a regular cadence to maintain proficiency, not just recency.

“A good mix of scenario-based training that flows into evidence-based training is also needed,” he adds. “Perhaps pilot training should be a bit more like our medical records, as our skills are never a constant from year-to-year. They vary due to what we fly, how often, and the environments and situations we experience that year. It is never static though.”

Training should address the gaps and weak areas, not a static or fixed curriculum each time, says Gawenda. “This requires a higher level of coordination, from the FAA, insurance industry, the training centers, the pilots, and the instructors.

“Everyone would need to buy in. But at some point, we need to get beyond the fear of saying we are not proficient at something because we have not done it in a long time.

“It just means that this will be a bigger part of the next training session and maybe some higher minimums in the pilot’s ops specs are needed if they are likely to encounter that type of situation due to weather, airport, etc.

“It is hard to fix or address the necessary areas when we think at the end of a training session we’re 100% good to go for the next six, 12, or 24 months,” Gawenda warns.

Consider Major League Baseball (MLB) pitchers for an analogy. “Everyone can pitch. Some are starters, some are short relief, some are long relief, some are set-up, and others are closers. All of them are MLB pitchers but they get optimized for a role, based on their strengths and weaknesses”, Gawenda illustrates.

“Think about a middle reliever: they can be a starter, but they’ll need more spring training to get their arm stretched out and build endurance up. That comes from training.

“It would be ideal if we could get pilot training to a place where the training becomes holistic, yet flexible enough to make sure each ‘pitcher’ can fill any role equally as well,” he concludes.

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