Various factors could compromise the excellence of future pilots entering the cockpits of business jets. What are these factors, and what could the industry do to maintain a high caliber of pilots? Andre Fodor reflects…
By invitation, I recently attended a gathering of industry leaders. The theme was to address the upcoming challenges facing Business Aviation and the discussion focused on how to identify and proactively manage those challenges.
The gathering drew a good mix of participants, including managers of large flight departments, engineers, product development executives from the OEMs, and systems integration and test and certification pilots. Of interest to everyone was the pilot shortage and how to attract new pilots to the corporate flight deck without compromising the high levels of operational capability and safety currently prevalent in Business Aviation.
An influx of low-time, less experienced pilots could suffer from a loss of mentorship as seasoned pilots leave Business Aviation cockpits in favor of the airlines or retirement. So, the question was: ‘What will be the caliber of the next generation of corporate pilots and flight department managers?’
With aircraft cockpits becoming increasingly sophisticated and complex and airspace requiring a higher degree of navigational accuracy there is concern that there could be a deficit of seasoned experience. Airmanship and real-life experiences acquired through flight hours under the oversight of a seasoned pilot are proven safety enhancers.
Pilot Training Examples
So how are some of the new pilots entering the job market today coping? On a recent trip to the Middle East, the lead instructor of an ab-initio flight academy for a major airline told me his trainees begin with zero time and progress to 257 hours, all in jet aircraft.
From the start, the training syllabus utilizes the same Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), call-outs and profiles they will use in the airline’s cockpits. The students reside at the training facility, dress in airline uniform and the flight training format is the same as for the airline’s mainline flight training program.
The goal is to deliver standardization and focused procedural training. The next aircraft flown by these graduates will be the large airliners that fly long-haul international trips.
By contrast, one test pilot described to me his training with the Air Force. By the time he was 24 he was in charge of a fully-armed F16 flying in harmful territory. He described his level of proficiency as ‘very high’, although his total time was well below 700 hours. He attributed his proficiency to scenario-based training.
That training had a high focus on simulations of failures and abnormalities. The goal he was set was to successfully complete his tasks without compromising safety while remaining under very specific guidelines.
Only recently I learned about ‘fault tolerance’, which describes how an aircraft system can withstand a malfunction and using sensors and automation identify a fault, run it through a logic matrix, and automatically cope with the malfunction. Only then will it display the fault to the crew along with any additional procedures that may be required to manage the condition.
Compared to redundancy (where there is a back-up to the primary system) fault tolerance aims to reduce human workload by preventing task saturation and managing the performance deficit of a low-experience pilot handling the high demands of modern aircraft and airspace.
Consider the following example of fault tolerance during an aircraft’s malfunction:
The sensors identify and send a message to the fault tolerance management computer (FTMC). A generator has failed. The logic attempts to troubleshoot using a diagnostic application that looks for unusual conditions of the electrical system and the decision matrix accomplishes a generator re-set which is done automatically and in the background.
The FTMC senses a new trip of the same generator, analyses the energy load requirements of the aircraft and re-configures the electrical distribution. It then sends an email message to maintenance control alerting of the malfunctions and what parts may be affected.
Only after all these tasks are concluded does the Crew Alerting System (CAS) display an advisory message to the crew with instructions of any limitations or procedures that must be followed.
It has managed the fault before giving notice of it without increasing workload – thus allowing the crew to focus on flying the aircraft.
In due time, Fault Tolerance may grow beyond a maintenance application and become integral to crew resource management – just like having an additional crew member on-board. Conceptually, these new operational tools may play a role in broadening the use of single-pilot-flown or autonomously-flown aircraft.
Such advancements in workload management will complement the human skill sets that are required to fly higher and faster in highly complex airplanes.
Decision-Maker or Spectator?
The greatest challenge to these leaps in technology is to maintain a solid interface between humans and technology. We must make sure that ultimately, the pilot is still the integral decision-maker and not a spectator to the technological wonders of automation.
All these ‘bells and whistles’ must enhance the pilot’s ability to become better aviators and not replace our instincts, human prowess and decision-making for a few thousand lines of logic programing.
During the Leaders gathering, we concluded that more than anything, it’s our responsibility to attract new talent to Business Aviation. For that to succeed, we need to deliver long-term career opportunities, with chances to progress, which are also a viable alternative to the airline cockpit.
Most importantly, we need to shore-up training and experience with a strong mentorship and skill-transfer process that will help deliver the next generation of successful Business Aviation pilots and industry leaders.