What the airlines say about their MPL pilots

The airlines, approved training organisations (ATO) and regulators have agreed that the MPL (multi-crew pilot licence) has potential, but it is a work-in-progress.

We have discussed MPL before in this blog – vigorously - but since then the ICAO has held an MPL Symposium that reviewed data on nearly 600 human products of the MPL system. These are MPL pilots who have been working in airlines all over the world. Our report on symposium findings is here.

The piloting competency standards defined and specified by ICAO are about the only aspect of the MPL system that’s not in contention, because everything else is: how best to teach to those standards, how best to assess and report on them, and how to prepare instructors for teaching to competency (compared to presenting students with a sequence of prescribed exercises).

Now the MPL is a reality in many countries, what has surprised observers is just how different the approved MPL courses are turning out to be, even if the end product is the same. The UK CAA even admits that it has approved a different MPL course for each of the British ATOs because they all fit the bill in terms of quality control and the final product.

Even ICAO admits to feeling that there must be a set of best practices that could at least guide the structure of an MPL course, and that these best practices need to be identified over time so that, while structural variations in training delivery might remain, they are not quite as wide as they are at this early stage in the MPL’s practical implementation.

But on the other hand, if the final product is good, and if continued validation at airline level shows it to be durable (ICAO already has plans to hold further MPL symposia), it should not matter how the goal was reached.

One suspects, however, that whatever form  ”MPL best practice” turns out to be at ATOs, it will be related to efficiency as well as output quality.

One of the truly brilliant things about the existence of the MPL is that the exercise of going back to the drawing board on pilot training has thrown into sharp relief the failings of the existing system, so in the long term the commercial pilot licence (CPL) training methodology will change for the better under this scrutiny.

After all, it was pilots produced under the traditional CPL/ATPL system that were at the controls in recent (and historic) accidents in which pilot misjudgement or error have been deemed a causal factor.

The end result of the soul-searching that the MPL system has prompted is that both training routes will improve. The industry needs them both because the single-pilot demands of the general aviation industry cannot be met by fresh-from-training MPLs, and airlines who prefer one concept to the other will remain free to choose.

Despite the fact that ATOs everywhere admitted they found setting up MPL courses to be an incredibly steep learning curve, the product seems to be meeting with approval. China’s CAAC says: “MPLs on the line now have about 1,500h. They are good to very good without exception.”

Lufthansa says: “Yes, it is working! However, MPL should now be further developed in the areas of theoretical training, instructor qualification and employment flexibility for MPL holders to cope with the volatility of the airline industry.”

The only weakness found consistently was that new MPLs are initially nervous about ATC communication, because the simulation of ATC in FSTDs is one of simulation’s weakest points, and MPLs get proportionately more time in FSTDs and less airborne time than CPLs.

However the much-feared lack of handling ability resulting from less airborne time does not appear to be showing up in reality. Swiss Aviation Training says: “No significant differences exist regarding quality and performance between ATPL and MPL students,” and on the other side of the world Dragonair says it cannot tell the difference either.

Right now the industry should just concentrate on ensuring that both routes to modern professional flying are not only fit for purpose, but as good as they can possibly be in terms of the quality of output. ICAO does not consider the MPL validation process complete, and maybe it never should be.

How about the idea that the product of the world’s professional pilot training system should remain under review indefinitely?


One Response to What the airlines say about their MPL pilots

  1. mike h 14 April, 2014 at 8:03 pm #

    “After all, it was pilots produced under the traditional CPL/ATPL system that were at the controls in recent (and historic) accidents in which pilot misjudgement or error have been deemed a causal factor”.

    I would suggest your logic is weak. What you have no way of determining is how many lives have been saved by those trained under the CPL/ATPL, or what the accident rate of MPL/MPL flightdecks will be.

    As a captain with a major carries, I missed any comments from any line pilots. Airlines are extremely bottom-line focused,and the line pilots generally make up for any training deficiencies.

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