Airlines and the world’s aviation authorities have been warned that if they miss the opportunity to modernise pilot training now, when the International Pilot Training Consortium (IPTC) and ICAO have finished preparing the ground for change, they may be stuck with 1950s-based training regulations for the foreseeable future.

The industry has acknowledged that airline pilot training desperately needs updating for the modern piloting task, but national aviation authorities (NAA) are doing nothing to enable it.

In September 2013, a US Federal Aviation Administration-led committee published a study demonstrating that pilot training needs radical change if it is to prepare aviators for the specific task of flying the latest generation of complex, highly automated modern airliners safely.

In parallel, a cross-organisational expert group called the IPTC was working to define the changes in pilot training philosophy that would deliver the goods.

Based on operational incident and accident data, the FAA-led study established that the flying task and navigational environment has evolved with advancing technology, but training for the task has not evolved at all, so safety was suffering. It concluded that pilots are sometimes proving unprepared for today’s flightdeck and air traffic management environments.

Since this is a recognised global phenomenon, several years ago, the UK-based Royal Aeronautical Society drew up a partnership with two other international industry bodies to identify what action was needed. Overseen by ICAO, the RAeS joined forces with IATA and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations and set up the IPTC. More recently, manufacturing industry body the International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Associations (ICCAIA) has also joined the IPTC.

Pilot training

The IPTC was formed to bring together several groups working to modernise flightcrew education

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Before the formation of the IPTC, each of these bodies was working individually on what might be done to correct the mismatch between traditionally trained pilots and state-of-the-art flightdecks. The automation itself was not reckoned to be the problem – it was making aeroplanes safer and more efficient. So the correction, according to logic, had to be at piloting level, on the grounds that pilots remain essential components of a safely operated airliner.

ICAO, IATA, IFALPA, RAeS and ICCAIA together look like a formidable set of big guns to train on what is, ostensibly, a simple problem: to modernise and harmonise pilot training. The IPTC’s stated mandate is this: “To improve the safety, quality and efficiency of commercial aviation by developing international agreement on a common set of pilot training, instruction and evaluation standards and processes.”

Meanwhile a lot of work had already been done through ICAO to determine what modern pilot training should look like. One of several results was the development of the competency-based training system that leads to the multi-crew pilot licence (MPL).

What has transpired, however, is that the industry and NAAs have proved to have such deeply-embedded inertia, prejudice and resistance to change that broad-based action still seems impossibly distant.

This has become so clear that, at the end of the 2014 RAeS International Flight Crew Training Conference (IFCTC) at its London headquarters in September, the IPTC’s outgoing executive chairman Peter Barrett effectively asked the participants whether they wanted to renew the consortium’s researching and campaigning mandate, or just give up.

As it happened, the conference renewed the IPTC’s mandate, but the work is still completely unfunded and continues to be carried out voluntarily by industry people with busy day jobs.

IPTC has worked hard with ICAO to create a series of updated training standards, but the resulting published ICAO standards and recommended practises (SARPs) on pilot training are being comprehensively ignored in almost all the organisation’s 192 signatory states. Speaking at the RAeS IFCTC, the director of ICAO’s air navigation bureau Nancy Graham said the increased frequency of fatal accidents resulting from loss of control in flight (LOC-I) is a major focus for the organisation, which it believes is one result of traditional pilot training being mismatched with the modern airline flying task.

The situation today, Barrett observes, does not represent a failure to agree that change is needed, it is failure to implement the new SARPs that would bring about the change.

But while Capt John Bent, chairman of the IPTC’s training practices workstream, laments the failure of implementation, he has noted that at least “a broad global interest is being generated.” It seems to be this faith that the word is getting through – even if nothing is being implemented yet – that led Barrett to propose a three-year extension of the IPTC and its work programme through 2017. He said to the IFCTC as he closed it: “We will publish a report [summing up the findings of the IPTC workstreams as reported to the conference]. Please do not read that report and do nothing about it.”

Barrett also announced that there will be a meeting at ICAO’s Montreal headquarters in Spring 2017 as the three-year mandate approaches its end, to review progress – if any – on implementing the IPTC’s recommendations for pilot training modernisation, improvement and standardisation.

Meanwhile last year, the FAA-led study – extracting operational data to understand the reasons for the very same problems that the IPTC was confronting – confirmed beyond argument that traditional pilot training methods often leave pilots ill-prepared for complex modern aircraft. The ultimate result is, said the report, that pilots from time to time, lose control of a perfectly serviceable aeroplane with fatal consequences for everyone on board.

The FAA-led report, called “The operational use of flight path management systems” was based on extensive study by the performance-based operations rulemaking committee working with the Commercial Aviation Safety Team’s flight deck automation working group (FltDAWG). Its conclusions were entirely data-driven.

FltDAWG warns that future operations will demand that automatic systems become even more dominant in pilots’ working lives, so it is vital to find – quickly – a way of enabling pilots to retain their skills and situational awareness while working with the advanced systems. The IPTC has, independently, come to the same conclusion.

But the FAA, having established the case for action, has now handed the problem back to the industry to work out practical solutions for adapting pilot training in the USA to today’s needs. It would rather that US carriers, having been provided with a stark picture of the existing system’s failings, come up with the answers because after all they – and the world’s air training organisations (ATO) – are supposed to be the experts in what it takes to conduct safe operations.

Pilot training vintage

The industry has been warned that is must update a training regime with its roots in the 1950s

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The FAA may have led global thinking on this subject – as it often does – with a ground-breaking report, but it does not intend to impose a solution on its own carriers, let alone foreign ones. It is also one of the many (almost all, in fact) NAAs that has not adopted ICAO’s new training SARPs. Neither has Europe’s EASA. In fact the FAA is particularly badly placed at present as far as global training harmonisation is concerned, because legislation passed recently by Congress requiring a minimum 1,500h flying for copilots flying commercial passenger aeroplanes means that the MPL training and licensing system, which is competency-based not hours-based, would not work in the USA.

And the fact that neither EASA nor the FAA has openly adopted ICAO’s updated PANS-TRG (procedures for air navigation services – training) leaves the world rather short of regulatory role models where pilot training and licencing is concerned.

ICAO’s PANS-TRG Doc 9995 addresses the new system known as evidence-based training (EBT) that an increasing number of top-line carriers – unwilling to wait for the regulators – are adopting for their crews’ recurrent training. This is a system of monitoring real pilot performance in line operations via flight data monitoring (FDM) and line operation safety auditing to identify where training is clearly needed, and supplying it accordingly.

However, these airlines are based in countries where the NAA is prepared to approve an alternative training and qualification programme (ATQP).

EASA, however, has this to say: “We are aware that the ICAO document on evidence-based training is released. It was mainly developed by an IATA working group, but the agency was involved in one of the IATA-led subgroups when the EBT documents had been developed.”

EASA says it does indeed plan action, explaining: “We have included a task in our rulemaking programme [RMT.0599] in order to address this subject [EBT] and the subject of the ATQP. The task description in the published RMP states that ‘…the review will include the following items: EBT taking into account recent ICAO amendments; ATQP taking into account experience gained in commercial air transport aeroplane operations and extension to CAT helicopter operations’.”

So at least EASA is on the case, even if implementation will take a few more years. The FAA says it has already acted in the spirit of ICAO Doc 9995, explaining: “EBT is a voluntary competency-based training program a state may offer to its operators. The FAA offered a voluntary competency-based training programme to its operators starting in 1990 in the form of the Advanced Qualification Program [US equivalent of ATQP]. At this point, 90% of pilots have transitioned to this programme and 10% have not. There is no need for the FAA to engage in additional rule-making, as the Advanced Qualification Programme rules provides all the flexibility offered by EBT.” The inconsistency is that the old rules remain on the books as well as the voluntary AQP.


The objective of the 2014 RAeS IFCTC was to assess where the IPTC’s work stands now, and where it is to go from here. The verdict at the meeting was that the IPTC can show none of its planned deliverables – yet, but there is a consensus that awareness of the need for change is growing. For that reason, the conference decided, the IPTC should continue in existence but focus on implementation. There is distress that most NAAs do not seem to be prepared to push EBT and ATQP, and that “petty politicking” takes place in corners of the IPTC, and this threatens its effectiveness.

So the IPTC has had its life extended, but only with a fragile sense of confidence. As outgoing chairman Barrett observed as he closed the show: “I don’t think this industry will get a second chance if they don’t take this one.”

Source: Flight International