Learning to fly the A350XWB at Toulouse

If you go to Airbus for your A350XWB type rating training, you’ll have some fun. Officially.

Since modern aeroplanes are racks of computers surrounded by an airframe that’s actually just an ordinary aircraft, Airbus has studied the way  in which people – especially children- learn to operate a  new electronic device, and modified its A350 type rating course accordingly.

Children – and most adults -  don’t even use the quick-start guide with a new gadget, but just turn it on and start to find out how it works by experimenting with it. It’s called “learning by discovery”. As Airbus’ head  of flight crew development Christian Norden points out, this not only leads to quick learning, “it is also more fun”.

But there’s more to it than that. Accident and incident data for the last 15y unequivocally show that, across the world fleet, pilots manual aircraft management skills are declining significantly, so Airbus is going to use a more hands-on learning process for pilots – from the start – to allow them to familiarise themselves with the aircraft and its manual handling characteristics. They’ll have a bunch of new training devices including a full flight simulator to play with. They have two days of this, during which they are not allowed to turn on the flight directors or any of the automatics. When the “gamers” start to feel familiar with their environment and more confident about handling the aircraft, they will start the formal type rating training.

Airbus has made a science of studying the skills needed specifically to fly the world’s highly automated aircraft, and has come up with more than 300 essentials, according to Capt David Owens, head of flight crew training policy.

It has distilled these down to just four “Golden Rules”, and boxes of wallet-size plastic cards printed with these arrived at the Toulouse Training Centre when I was there two days ago.

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This is what it says:

1.    1.  Fly, navigate and communicate (in this order and with appropriate task-sharing)

2.    2.  Use the appropriate level of automation at alltimes

3.     3. Understand the flight mode annunciator at all times

4.      4.Take action if things do not go as expected

If you were converting to a 707 you’d just have the first one. That sounds simple, but would you honestly opt to go back there?

The message is: feel at home with your aeroplane as a manual flying machine. The automation is good, so use it, but watch it, and if you don’t like what you see, trip it out.

It’s about time somebody not only said it, but started training people to do it.

The first to benefit will be the first A350 pilots who start training very soon. But gradually Airbus will adopt this training philosophy across all its types.

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3 Responses to Learning to fly the A350XWB at Toulouse

  1. Cristian Garcia 16 January, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    Hi, I’m A320 pilot and I’m very interested about all the warnings and info that Airbus and the FAA are giving about to train manual flying skills. However, what does that means in the day to day Airbus operation? perform more AP off approaches? A/THR off takeoff? I’d like to, but the Airbus training it is not focus on that so I thing detail procedures should be delivered in order to do it with confidence.

    Best regards and happy landings

  2. David Learmount 16 January, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    Cristian, Airbus will train you to be able to fly everything manually when you have to, but to use automatics when it makes sense, which most of the time it does. Whether your airline will choose to write SOPs that respect the new Airbus Golden Rules is up to the airline.

  3. Lukas 23 January, 2013 at 9:00 pm #


    Although I think Airbus had some Golden Rules before that were similar.

    A B707 pilot still had to fly it , point it, sort it and use his crew rather than an FMGS.

    and Amen: “It’s about time somebody not only said it, but started training people to do it.”

    Come on EASA – the Integrated and MPL training needs sorting out in this regard and airlines need to look again at recruiting from experienced Military and GA backgrounds.

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