Emirates on the modern airline pilot

Emirates has implemented evidence-based recurrent training for its pilots, on the grounds that it’s direly needed.


Not very many carriers have done. British Airways is soon to introduce EBT to its type rating training as well as its recurrent.


Emirates’ head of training standards David Mason told the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) flight crew training conference that EBT is essential in today’s highly automated, largely fault-free flying environment. Mason described the pilot mindset that reliable automation creates: “If the aircraft is always right, why check?” This mindset, he said, is what leads to a loss of resilience, so it is this that recurrent training has to combat.


“Resilience” describes the human capacity to deal calmly and competently with the unexpected, particularly “black swan” occurrences. “Black swans” are events that could not have been foreseen, or for which there are no laid-down checklist drills or standard operating procedures (SOP).


Under existing normal training regimes pilots “are trained to be reliable, not resilient,” says Mason, insisting the evidence is there to be measured. He listed some of the effects:

  • crews dont check data, and don’t scan their instruments;
  • they dont make decisions without backup from checklists or the engine instrument and crew alerting system (EICAS)  in Boeings, or the electronic centralised monitor (ECAM) in Airbuses
  • they do not question presented information.

The result of the combination of aircraft automation and systems reliability, comments Mason, is that “nowadays we dont gain experience, we just get older”. The answer, he said, is for training to provide the brain food to keep the pilots’ skills intact. Referring to the obsession of some regulators with experience rather than evidence-based quality, he asks: “Do we get 1500 hours experience or the same hour 1500 times?”


Mason says he operates a training package designed to produce resilience. The secret, he says, is to “select talent and train them well”, using evidence based assessment and training tailored to provide a string of desirable characteristics, including “understanding and mastery; judgement, confidence and leadership; scanning and manual aircraft control; how to monitor and when to intervene; when to automate and when to fly.”


Mason’s description of the Emirates training regime sounds like the diametric opposite of the old “trapper/trainer” mentality, which he describes as “schematic box-ticking of training exercises…applying training exercises for exposure rather than mastery, conferring management skill rather than leadership.”


As for ensuring that the air transport industry shifts its training priorities to meet the changed needs of airlines in today’s world, the RAeS concludes that there is a huge amount to be done, and that it needs to be completed quickly or momentum will be lost.


The four existing initiatives from which the Society hopes that results will emerge in due course are IATA’s Training and Qualification Initiative for type and recurrent training, the ICAO Multi-crew Pilot Licence  (MPL) for ab-initio and evidence-based training, the RAeS ICATEE for unusual attitudes and extended envelope training, and the RAeS/ICAO 9625 work on flight simulation training device qualification and standards to raise the integrity of training in simulators, especially at the edges of the flight envelope, while keeping costs in check.


For a comprehensive review of the issues raised at the RAeS training conference, see Flight International next week.


2 Responses to Emirates on the modern airline pilot

  1. jlaming 25 October, 2011 at 6:19 am #

    Am I the only old airman that gets confused by all these new expressions such as “evidence based training”, “competency based training” and “threat and error management? I talked to a 737 captain recently who reported that his company latest SOP after line up for take off was to say aloud (so it is recorded in the CVR: “Threat: The Threat is the wet runway. I shall “manage” the Threat by using full thrust instead of reduced thrust. The second Threat is weather on the radar on our depatrure path. I shall manage that Threat by getting you to advice ATC that we request an early turn after take off”. Maybe all this superfluous talking is to ensure everything is on record for legal reasons. But seriously – isn’t this just talking for talking sake?

    In my day, someone does a well executed hand flown ILS in a strong cross-wind and gets a tick in the well done box. Isn’t that evidence of something or other? I just shake my head and wonder if all these buzz-words are just “evidence” that the authors of this guff are re-inventing the wheel by making it a cottage industry at the same time making a dollar from running courses on it all.

  2. David Learmount 25 October, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    As an old aviator I know what you mean and understand how you feel, but evidence-based training is actually new and good. It’s a change of attitude. You will remember that recurrent trainining simulator sessions used to feel like pass/fail tests, not training. And instructors didn’t instruct, they set traps to see how you coped. And a lot of the time you knew what was coming. There was no attempt to make you better at what you do. Now, with flight operations data monitoring they know what the crews on given fleets are weak at. That’s the “evidence”. Then they train them to improve standards in the weak areas. That can’t be bad.