Airbus radically changes pilot training for A350

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Airbus is using its preparations for the entry into service of the A350 in the second half of 2014 to radically change the way it trains pilots for today's aircraft.

With 582 A350-family aircraft on order, says Airbus, it will need to ready 9,000 pilots to operate the fleet.

Having studied data as diverse as the techniques that young people use to become adept on computers and the facts of pilot involvement in accident causes during the last 15 years, Airbus has developed a programme for trainee A350 pilots to "learn by doing".

The principle echoes the way in which people - especially children - with a new electronic device frequently ignore the quick-start guide, instead simply turning it on and starting to find out how it works by experimenting.

As Christian Norden, Airbus head of flight crew development points out, this not only leads to quick learning, "it is also more fun".

Accident and incident data for the last 15 years unequivocally shows that, across the world fleet, pilots' manual aircraft management skills are declining significantly. As a result, Airbus plans to use the hands-on learning process for pilots to familiarise themselves with the aircraft and its manual handling characteristics immediately they begin the course, using a range of training devices including a full flight simulator.

And as the trainees become more familiar with their environment, and more confident about handling the aircraft, they also gradually gain expertise at using the appropriate automated systems.

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

It has boiled these down to just four "Golden Rules". These are: "Fly, navigate and communicate (in this order and with appropriate task-sharing); use the appropriate level of automation at all times; understand the flight mode annunciator at all times; take action if things do not go as expected."

Owens says pilots should be more ready to trip out the automatic systems if they are not happy with what they see, and that the training regime should prepare them better to do this.