Aptitude is not enough to win airline sponsorship for today's ab initio pilot-training courses.

David Learmount/LONDON

IT IS ALREADY axiomatic in the airline industry that today's airline pilots are expected not only to retain traditional piloting and airmanship skills (despite practising them less on the modern flight deck) but also to gain new technical and team-management skills.

British Airways wants more from its pilots, however. The young people who have been undergoing selection for the 100 or so places in the first year of BA's new ab initio pilot-recruitment programme may have expected to be judged on the traditional hand/eye co-ordination checks, mental agility, critical thinking and leadership potential. They may not, however, have guessed that BA expects its recruits to demonstrate a genuine interest in the business side of air transport.

Capt David Lusher, general manager of flight training, explains: "The role of the flight crew is still that of delivering passengers and cargo safely from A to B, but now...flight crew must understand all aspects of the business. We need to select people who are capable of playing their part in the company team, let alone the CRM [crew-resource management] concept."

The application form for recruits consists mostly of large white spaces in which the aspiring pilots have the opportunity to give examples of why they would make good BA aircrew. Jack Wheale, BA's human-resources manager for flight operations, says that, if the applicant heads any kind of team or association, it does not make a difference unless the candidate can convince the airline that he or she is genuinely motivated in doing it. He explains: "Motivation is important, but it has to be backed up with evidence of motivation, not just enthusiasm. We are not looking for excellence in everything, but motivation and team abilities are vital."


BA has to recruit, Lusher says, because the 1962-76 "bulge" graduates from the airlines own former ab initio pilot-training school at Hamble on the UK's south coast will retire within ten years. The recruit-intake rate will increase gradually, from 100 entrants in the first year to about 200 in year four. BA then plans to have a continual intake, with numbers varying to meet needs.

The Hamble cadets have, on the whole, made good captains, observes Wheale. Nevertheless, his department has conducted studies to determine whether selection methods should change. The studies include:

a detailed review of the modern pilot's task, using the responses to a questionnaire which was sent to a random sample of 100 BA pilots;

a re-assessment by a forum of management pilots of the nature of the "team-member" qualities needed in the modern cockpit;

a detailed examination of the long-term results of the old Hamble procedure.

The studies do not indicate the need for radical changes from the Hamble model, says Wheale, observing that the current selection criteria are "...established wisdom applied to an up-to-date situation. Some of the [selection] principles established just after the war are still appropriate as a bedrock."

Lusher explains: "It is quite right and proper that aircrew should be conservative with a little 'c', and yet they are going to have to have the ability to understand the need for change."

This time, the airline has increased its efforts to encourage applications from women and ethnic minorities. Wheale emphasises that identical selection standards are applied to all candidates, but he adds: "We scrutinised our selection procedure to make sure it does not disadvantage one category of applicant."

Looking at previous experience, Wheale remarks: "In the past, men had performed better at mechanical comprehension than women, but mechanical comprehension, for the modern syllabus, turns out to be less of a good indicator [for ultimate success]. The later Hamble experience shows this." Lusher's view puts this into context: "We still need the technocrat, but do they have the abilities to learn the skills they may not have - like basic computer literacy?"

BA has not operated its own flying school since 1976. Referring to its recently chosen ab initio training schools, the Australian Aviation College in Adelaide, Australia and Cabair College of Air Training, Cranfield, UK Lusher says: "We have had group meetings with the flying colleges, to ensure that they will fit into the BA culture and produce not only a trained pilot, but a BA staff member. On this selection procedure, we are going to get a good feedback loop to determine whether it is delivering the profile we want and, if it doesn't, we'll have to discover why."


Lusher states: "We have made it clear to the colleges that success is not necessarily everybody passing. If they say someone is just not coping, we will look back at the selection process to see whether there are any clues we missed. They are the experts in ab initio training, but we are the experts in airline operation." A system for closing the loop on training effectiveness at all levels is a part of the BA system, says commercial manager Concorde Capt Jock Lowe.

Traditional handling skills are recognised as essential, despite increasing flight deck automation. Lusher is not unduly concerned that pilots operating fly-by-wire types might forget basic skills, remarking: "Ab initio training has a disproportionate effect on any pilot. People never really forget what they learned in the early days."


Source: Flight International