Following years of airline industry debate about how pilot training should be delivered in the digital age, Europe’s aircrew training philosophy is about to be changed almost beyond recognition in the next four years. Starting this year, the planned changes should be – and in many cases already are – in the pipeline at airline training departments and approved training organisations (ATO). The European Aviation Safety Agency has ruled that the new training theory and practise will become mandatory by 31 January 2022 “at the latest”.

So European airlines and ATO are now in a transition phase, allowing for the old systems to be phased out, the new phased in, and for instructors and examiners to be prepared for their new tasks. By mid-2019, the new, updated European Central Question Bank theory examination questions will be released and maintained.

There are two parallel strands to the training changes. The first strand is on the practical training delivery side, involving the move away from syllabus-based and hours-based instruction in ab initio flying training toward competency-based training and assessment, and toward evidence-based training at the type-rating and recurrent level.

Some major airlines have been gradually moving to evidence-based recurrent training over the last five years, and the rate of adoption is accelerating. As EASA describes it, the evidence-based project “is a global safety initiative whose objective is to determine the relevance of existing pilot training according to aircraft generation”; the project is “designed to identify areas for improvement and allows the re-prioritisation of training topics”. It is a change in recurrent training philosophy rather than a new set of rules, and follows on from the advanced training and qualification programme adopted by many European operators in the last decade.

The second strand is a huge change in the teaching, learning and examining philosophy for the theoretical knowledge pilots are required to have – especially at the ab initio level. It is described by EASA as “a move away from silo learning and testing”, and also a move away from hours-based teaching on the ground and in the air.

Student pilots will still need to learn air law, navigation, meteorology and all the traditional theory subjects, but under a new EASA scheme called Area 100 KSA (Knowledge, Skills and Attitude), they will need to demonstrate a greater depth of understanding and ability to act on the learned knowledge and skills, which the traditional system does not test.

EASA explains the theory changes like this: “The new Area 100 KSA is not a traditional subject, but rather allows the ATO to consolidate students’ understanding of the different theoretical knowledge subjects applied to practical scenarios.” It is not a subject, EASA insists, but a change in training philosophy. KSA is an add-on to an existing pilot training course like the commercial pilot licence and instrument rating (CPL/IR) course, and as such adds an estimated 20h to the training task, which will cause heads of finance and students some grief.


Evidence of the need for additional knowledge and skills training came, above all, from the experience of the airline recruitment and training departments at EasyJet and Ryanair. They were – independently – discovering that about 50% of fully licensed pilots applying to work for them, many with previous airline experience, would fail their simulator assessments, despite having been provided with the details well in advance, and having plenty of time to prepare for them.

Ryanair’s head of training is Capt Andy O’Shea, who also chairs the European Aircrew Training Policy Group (ATPG) that has been essential to EASA’s development of its new training philosophy. O’Shea worked out that the missing component in pilot performance among those who failed was, above all, a lack of in-depth understanding of facts and theory, including their significance and how to apply them in real life scenarios.

In its notice of proposed amendment on the subject, EASA said: “Current teaching and learning tools are not sufficiently developed to encourage future pilots to use analytic and synthetic thinking or to challenge student pilots to enhance their decision-making skills, their problem-solving ability, and their level of understanding of assimilated knowledge. This may result in a lack of assimilation of various pieces of information that student pilots receive during the theoretical knowledge course, and encourages rote learning [learning by heart].”

O’Shea knew something had to be done, and working with industry, EASA and the Royal Aeronautical Society through the ATPG, the group devised a solution. Ryanair applied such a solution voluntarily some time ago, and has now launched a mentored cadet training programme with the Cork-based ATO Atlantic Flight Training Academy, which will incorporate the KSA philosophy and new EASA standards.

It has long been accepted that CPL/IR licence holders, who are trained to competency in solo piloting skills on light piston twins, need additional modules in a multi-crew co-operation and jet orientation course (MCC/JOC) to prepare them for airline flight decks. Airline recruiting experience, however, has demonstrated that this was still not enough.

Graduates of the multi-crew pilot licence (MPL) course theoretically should meet the new specification, because it has always been structured to produce airline-ready co-pilots. But some airlines have a problem with the MPL: basically, they are reluctant to commit to the approximately 18-month training partnership with an individual student pilot that the course entails. Thus the flexibility conferred by the CPL/IR plus MCC/JOC is still attractive to many employers – but only if graduate quality can be improved.

This is where the ATPG’s solution comes in. It is a bolt-on to the traditional CPL/IR course, described as an enhanced MCC, but called the Airline Pilot Standard MCC course. It is effectively an updated MCC/JOC with knowledge consolidation and scenario training thrown in. Any CPL/IR graduate who passes this is awarded an Airline Pilot Certificate, which validates the graduate’s airline-readiness. Problem, apparently, solved; and what is more, EASA is happy with it – although the scheme will remain voluntary.


Ryanair’s new arrangement with the Atlantic Flight Training Academy will incorporate just such a training upgrade, creating ab initio licensed pilots ready to go straight into a Ryanair type-rating course and pass it. O’Shea says this is the first of many ATO partnerships it intends to set up across Europe to ensure it has a supply of airline-ready co-pilots for the future.

Meanwhile, “attitude” – that newly specified component within EASA’s “KSA” definition – describes a desired approach by the student pilots toward their career as a professional aviator, and to the learning process itself. EASA says the “attitude” in KSA encompasses “leadership, determination, teamwork and communication”, which suggests it is seen at least as a component of that difficult-to-define traditional term “airmanship”.

Traditionally, ab initio flying training has been considered a largely practical exercise in learning to operate a machine in an unfamiliar three-dimensional environment. If a student passed the flying and knowledge tests within the prescribed number of hours, they were licensed. Now, for the first time, the cognitive learning processes involved in mastering the aviation environment are being tested against learning theories more associated with academia.

EASA links Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy of mental skills to the new instructional and testing philosophy. Bloom defines stages of student progress: from a base level of “remembering” or “knowing” there is progressive mastery leading to understanding, application, analysis, evaluation and, ultimately, creativity. If pilots reach the top level, they can confidently use their knowledge and skills to solve problems not encountered before, while continuing to operate the aircraft safely.

This approach, as EASA explains it, is intended to “develop and elicit a higher level of thinking in future pilots already during their ground training, and to challenge student pilots to enhance their decision-making skills, their problem-solving ability, their level of understanding of assimilated knowledge, and generally to facilitate the development of their core competencies”. One of the components all students will now have to expect is regular tests of mental arithmetic as applied to ordinary aircraft management, like rates of descent or fuel consumption against distance. This should improve the likelihood, for example, that they would recognise an erroneous flight management system output that stemmed from an unnoticed input error.

A trainee pilot who achieves the top level in aviation knowledge and skills as defined by Bloom’s taxonomy should have achieved the elusive qualitative goal of “resilience”, a characteristic that all airlines want to see in their crew. A resilient pilot, says the Bloom definition, will have “the mental skills to integrate elements from different areas to solve problems”.

During its early deliberations about the need to improve training outcomes, EASA stated: “An analysis of fatal aircraft accidents worldwide for the period 2010–2011 shows that in more than 50% of these accidents the actions of the flight crew were the primary causal factor (UK CAA). This analysis shows that flightcrew handling skills were a factor in 14% of the accidents, whereas flightcrew non-technical skills were a factor in more than twice as many (32%)”.

But if the new training, learning and testing system works as intended, even the ab initio graduate should have a fair degree of resilience, and be able to renew and extend that characteristic through recurrent training, rather than relying on the experience of thousands of uneventful hours in the right-hand seat of a highly-automated airliner to – somehow – deliver it.

According to training industry guru Peter Moxham, co-chairman of the ATPG, the next issue that needs to be addressed is candidate selection. At present It remains tempting for some ATOs to take on students who are temperamentally unsuitable for a commercial piloting career, just because they keep on insisting they have always wanted to do it. Is it, however, the training industry’s job to keep on telling them they are wasting their money?

Source: Flight International