Pilots slam MPL as first European pilots win their licences

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Danish low-fare carrier Sterling Airlines is preparing to accept an initial batch of new pilots which, it claims, are the first in Europe to qualify following multi-crew licence (MPL) training.

At the same time the European Cockpit Association (ECA), which has been monitoring the implementation of the new International Civil Aviation Organisation-sanctioned pilot licence in Europe, warns that "the system is not working as planned".

The ECA explains: "It was agreed to set up monitoring mechanisms [for MPL-trained pilots] which included not only the authorities but also pilot associations. Unfortunately the system is not working as planned.

"The introduction of the MPL is not being done in a transparent way. Some authorities have not included pilot associations in monitoring MPL programmes and have failed to communicate the necessary information to the JAA [Joint Aviation Authorities], as required in the JARS [Joint Aviation Requirements]."

An MPL training course is specifically designed to prepare ab-initio pilot trainees to operate from the beginning as part of a crew of two, ready for direct entry to the co-pilot's seat of an airliner upon completion of the course.

It allows a reduction in the flying hours needed to qualify, and places a greater reliance on the use of simulation. National aviation authorities are supposed to approve the content and methodology of MPL training courses set up in their countries to ensure compliance with the ICAO-specified performance levels pilots must demonstrate to win their licence.

But the ECA warns: "We are now in a critical phase of the implementation of MPL. If the first courses do not comply with the strict requirements of the ICAO PANS-Training [standards], safety will be at risk. That is why ECA Member Associations are writing to their authorities asking for compliance with ICAO guidelines and for closer monitoring of the courses under development."

The ECA says it is "in close contact with the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA Transition) and with the European Aviation Safety Agency to promote a harmonised and controlled introduction of the MPL in Europe. It is important that the first MPL projects are professionally developed from the beginning."

Meanwhile Denmark's Center Air Pilot Academy in Roskild has just seen the first four MPL trainees graduate, After they receive formal approval from the Danish civil aviation authority - expected on 17 or 18 September - they should start flying as Boeing 737 crew for Sterling before the end of the month.

Sterling flight operations director Claus Gammelgaard says that the MPL course appears to have creating pilots with standards and skill levels exceeding those which would have been expected under previous training regimes.

The Centre Air Pilot Academy says that the initial four pilots have been undergoing a 'beta test' training programme, and that this will be evaluated by the Danish CAA at the end of this month. "We're not starting full training until after this evaluation," he says.