Switzerland special: Image conscious trainers

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Swiss Aviation Training is putting its faith in the multi-crew pilot licence as it builds links with its new Lufhansa sister organisation

The worldwide surge in air travel might seem a strange thing to trouble the boss of a business that makes its money training pilots, but Manfred Brennwald, recently-appointed chief executive of Swiss Aviation Training, is worried about the prospect of the entry barriers to becoming a pilot being lowered if air transport becomes a just another "commodity". The industry has a responsibility to "polish the image the pilot profession has" and ensure quality students are attracted to a career flying airliners, he says.

It is part of the reason the Zurich-based organisation has no plans to grow its fledgling ab initio training venture into a global business with flying schools in emerging economies. Instead, the company - like parent Swiss International Air Lines now part of Lufthansa Group - is putting the emphasis on its new multi-crew pilot licence programme designed to equip novices to fly right-hand seat, with courses designed for needs of specific airline customers.

 
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Airline-specific training, says SAT, is all about "pre-wiring the pilot to your philosophy"

Rigorous screening process

The first seven MPL candidates graduate in August and the second intake of 10 will complete the course in March 2009. Eventually, SAT hopes to run four classes of 18 students a year. Four out of five students are Swiss nationals and will end up flying for the parent airline. The organisation - which also offers a conventional air transport pilot (ATP) syllabus - has a "rigorous screening process" to select candidates. "It's all about making sure we get the right people," says Brennwald.

Brennwald, a captain himself and previously chief operating officer with Swiss, believes strongly that the MPL is "the future way of training pilots", adding: "Because it is tailored to the individual company, you have the opportunity to pre-wire the pilot to your philosophy."

Like its former stablemate SR Technics, SAT has recovered strongly from the collapse of former parent Swissair in the wake of 9/11, building a sizeable third-party business, including in Asia where it operates a Singapore-based Embraer 170/190 facility in partnership with the Brazilian airframer. Now, under Lufthansa, SAT is looking at how best to attack the market alongside its new sister operation Lufthansa Flight Training.

SAT - which had been jointly owned by Swiss and General Electric's training division GECAT since Swissair's bankrupcy - was taken over fully by Swiss last year. The company, Embraer's preferred training provider for Europe, the Middle East and Asia, operates seven full-flight simulators - two Airbus A320s, two A330/A340s, one Embraer ERJ-145, one 170, and one Boeing MD-80 - as well as four fixed-base light aircraft simulators. It also has mock-ups for crew evacuation and cabin service training.

Its machines are in around-the-clock demand and, although the company has no room for more, one possibility is replacing either or both the MD-80 and the ERJ-145 - which serve declining markets - for one or more Embraer 190s. "It is no secret that we could expand with an additional simulator," says Brennwald. However, any future acquisition of equipment will be decided in conjuction with its new sister organisation.

Core business

The two will remain separately branded, with Swiss's core business remaining Airbus training for its parent airline and possibly expanding its regional jet offering with a Bombardier machine, while LFT continues to provide training across the Airbus and Boeing products. "We don't forsee a merger between LFT and SAT, but it makes sense for us to maximise our synergies and market ourselves in an intelligent way, so we have a win-win situation in the third party market," says Brennwald.

Although the booming market for pilot and crew training means that around 70% of its revenues now come from outside customers, Brennwald says the organisation's main priority is "making sure Swiss has the right professionals at the right time" and lowering the costs to Swiss of providing in-house training.

Other opportunities include expanding crew resource management and human factors expertise into markets such as nuclear, hospitals and fire-fighting, where the same principles of communication, teamworking and problem-solving apply. "It's a small but growing part of our business," says Brennwald. "It makes use of our brand equity, and, unlike the airline market, it is un-cyclic."