In the Airline Industry
It has become too easy to blame the pilot when an accident occurs. But the truth is, in today's world where most operations are conducted on automation, pilots are only as good as the training they receive. Unfortunately airlines are cutting training to save money. Safety Culture is lacking. Manual flight is limited. Last week I received an interesting email related to my book based on my research, Normalization of Deviance, a Threat to Aviation Safety.
Below is the email with names redacted. The reality of what is happening in the aviation industry and the feelings of a pilot emerging from training and feeling unprepared, parallels the research.
The pilot said...
"I read your book with great interest because of much it intersected with my own training and line experience at (blank).
I never felt fully trained or confident of my own skills,
despite passing the systems tests
and the ATP/type rides
Some of what you wrote applied to (blank) AQP. My class was roughly 1/3 rd cadets, millennials who had been at ATP (mostly), become instructors with 1250 hrs, several ex-Army rotorwing pilots with a smattering of ex-corporate jet pilots, and a few “bucket listers” like me, people who’d always flown but incidentally to their main career, heeding the call of the airline flight deck before it was too late. I was one of the oldest.
We had 10 days of basic classroom, mostly on airline polices (SOPs) and part 121 FARs. Then we all went home and spent about a week doing on-line systems training and testing. I believe all students received “gouges”, shared amongst the class via Airdrop. The instructors (I believe) knew this but looked the other way. We also received all the answers to the oral test document in advance and drilled those. As a result all learning was at the rote level, and we all got 100%.
Then we moved to procedures training simulators, and that’s where my personal wheels started to come off. I find rote memorization very hard, I can learn things but only if I understand the principles behind them. I was actually told by one trainer to:
“Just be a trained monkey
and press the buttons”
I started asking for extra help, but never received it, not from the company. The upgrading captain I was paired with was little help at all – other captains spent extra time with their FO trainees, mine disappeared instantly a session was done. After every session, my training book was signed by the sim instructor with “normal progress”. Eventually I created my own unofficial sessions after the school closed for the evening with an FO friend who’d completed training 6 months before and was now flying the line.
I remember crying one day after a session because I just wasn’t getting it, but I desperately wanted to. I’d never felt like that at any stage of flying training before. I said to myself that they’d have to fire me because I wasn’t quitting until I got it.
Next was a more sophisticated non-motion sim, still with touch screens now laid out like a cockpit, but without flight controls. I was still very confused, lacking understanding or confidence. I passed the oral “Systems Validation” with no problems but failed my first “Procedures Validation” – because I took too long to program my nemesis, the FMS. I got one extra training session and passed the PV on the second attempt. The whole time I was asking for extra help, but since I only actually failed one step, I didn’t get it.
Then it was off to for sim training in a level 4 sim. Finally the upgrading captain had nothing else to do, and I got some guidance from him, but it was still mostly me alone trying to hammer the procedures into my head. I was actually told not to flare on landing – we were expected to crash land the airplane so as to hit the TD zone on every approach ending on a landing.
That’s why the CA in your book
was having to teach new FOs how the land
– we weren’t taught that in training.
We had six 4-hour sim sessions. I remained unable to manage the automation and learn the SOPs (ironically, my hand flying was fine). We had one LOFT session, then the Maneuvers Validation, which I failed. The problems were the SE ILS and an automated non-precision VOR approach. After the failure, the examiner had me do the 2 approaches again, this time he instructed me on a few simple tricks-of-the-trade and I did both to standard on the second attempt. I was super frustrated that no-one had told me before the tricks he taught me – too late.
After a break I got 3 or 4 extra sessions in the sim, and retook the MV and LOE, getting the xxxx type and ATP certificate. The next Monday I started IOE, supposedly fully trained and capable of flying safely.
Was I? NO.
I certainly never felt trained,
confident, and capable.
I could actually make the airplane go from point A to B and back, and after a while I could get all my FO duties performed within 20 minutes, program the damned FMS and get off the gate on time. Every time I had to do a visual approach, I was nervous and delayed turning off the AP until as late as possible. That feeling of not being really competent was part of the reason I quit after flying the line for only a few months (the other reasons were the pressure and lifestyle of a regional pilot).
I did NOT want to be the pilot featured
in the next keynote airline accident.
The people who did best were the ATP graduates and private jet pilots. They were already trained in airline-style procedures and jet-cockpit automation. About 2/3rd of the military helicopter pilots survived the course. I was the only one of the “bucket-list” pilots to make it to the line, all the rest dropped out in training. For us, the hand flying wasn’t the problem, it was the automation – especially the FMS and guidance panel.
I feel I was failed by the training department
and the AQP –
And even though I asked for extra training and help, I didn’t get it. I even wrote to the training director but was ignored.
A few months later I started type training in the CE750 Citation X at a major training company, I suspect I was picked because the flight deck is very like the xxxx – 5 Honeywell Primus DUs with an FMS almost identical to the airliner. The main difference is lack of autothrottles.
Systems training was in person and we were given the opportunity to puzzle through failures. The sim training went well and I passed the checkrides first time with no problems, and started contract flying the real jet towards the end of last year. I proved that I could have got through (Blanks) training with fewer problems if they’d cared to try, I didn’t have to ask for additional training from xxxx. Not being under an airline’s SOP I can make decisions on the ground or in flight based on what I think is needed, not what an SOP says. There is much less schedule pressure, I have time to do what is right for safety without being dinged for a late departure.
"The airline SAID safety came first,
but their actions said SCHEDULE was most important"
All in all, I feel proud that I finally achieved my boyhood dream of flying for an airline, I too have now walked through the terminal knowing everyone is looking at the uniform. I’ve flown around the US and into Mexico, and landed a jet at (blank) and (blank) (International Airports). I’m sorry it wasn’t a better experience however, and I’m slightly jealous of the rest of my class (at least the ones still with a job).
I blame the training"
The above email presents an experience of a pilot. The research and pilots comments within the book Normalization of Deviance, a Threat to Aviation Safety explain the why. This pilot could not be more correct.
Blame the training not the pilot.
But who should we blame
for inadequate training?
Just as the professor asked at the end of my defense,
"What do you think they will do?"
Get your copy today
and let me know what you think.
Enjoy the Journey!