The UK's first multi-crew pilot licence trainees graduated from Flight Training Europe at the end of August and have moved to the next stage of their preparation to become co-pilots in Flybe's Bombardier Q400 fleet.

At the same time, Flybe is taking the lead in a newly formed industry working party at the Royal Aeronautical Society, seeking to clarify the tax status of airline investment in apprenticeships for aviation skills, including piloting.

Flybe's director of safety, quality and compliance Brian Watt points out that the system for training pilots for the MPL has all the attributes of an apprenticeship, because the training meets the classic definition of a vocational skills course.

The student pilot has to be accepted by a sponsoring airline to train to fly a specific type in line service. The licence is not awarded until type rating training, base training and line acceptance checks have been passed.

In the second week of September, Flybe's six graduates completed their flying training at Flight Training Europe's Jerez, Spain school and moved to the airline's training centre at Exeter in south-west England for their Q400 ground school. They will have completed that by 4 October, when they will move to FlightSafety's Farnborough type rating training organisation for their Q400 simulator training.

MPL graduates, ©Flybe
Recent graduates of Flybe's multi-crew pilot licence training. Picture: Flybe 

The last two stages of preparation for a Flybe Q400 MPL - namely base training and line checks - take place at Exeter. Base training consists of a dozen take-offs and landings (real ones) in the Q400, followed by line checks. Only then can the young pilots claim to have won their MPL.

But unlike many newly graduated pilots, there is no "what now?" moment on graduation: they are on the line, earning money. At Flybe they are paid from the moment they join the line, in advance of passing the line check, unlike other low-cost carriers. By the time the line check is completed, says Watt, the airline has underwritten the young pilots' training to the tune of about £40,000 ($62,000) each.

In January, six more Flybe MPL "apprentices" will arrive at Exeter, this time from Oxford Aviation Academy, and they will carry out their type rating training at the airline's (by then) newly opened, purpose-built Flybe Training Academy.

Meanwhile, at a training and skills meeting at the RAeS on 1 September, a 10-person working group was set up to examine whether, within existing taxation rules, incentives could be created to encourage airlines and other aviation employers to invest in higher-level vocational skills.

This has largely been inspired by Flybe's pioneering work on apprenticeships and national vocational qualifications in numerous airline skills including engineering, cabin crew and ramp work. Watt himself is a member of the RAeS group.

There is evidence that this movement is timely, as British Airways, after years of reducing its engineering workforce as the maintenance of modern aircraft became less labour-intensive, announced in early September that it was to take on 90 engineering apprentices.

For some years Flybe has been quietly working with the UK government agency Ofqual, the office of qualifications and examinations, and GoSkills, the transport industry-specific part of the Sector Skills Council.

GoSkills' remit is to ensure training is available for recognised skills that enable the performance of essential functions in the transport industry. Apart from cabin crew, only ground-based aviation skills are now recognised for a national oc­cup­ational standard.

Flybe aims to change this, as it is working to change traditional attitudes to all forms of vocational training. For example, for its MPL pilots, specific training in threat and error management is integral to the course, even though it is not a regulatory requirement.

In September 2009 Flybe won substantial local and central government grants to help it set up its new Training Academy at Exeter airport. The academy will provide full type rating training for Q400 and Embraer 190 series pilots, but it will be a multi-skill organisation that can also train engineering staff, cabin crew and airline-orientated management skills. It will cater for Flybe's own training needs, but also for third-party customers.

GoSkills' aim is to incentivise employers to provide all the skills needed to provide "the customer journey", no matter in what mode of public transport.

In its multi-pronged approach to training, Flybe is working not only with GoSkills, but with colleges and universities to create vocational courses in a number of occupational skills for commercial aviation that would be accepted as national occupational standards.These could attract state vocational skills training subsidy in one form or another, whether via college funding or tax breaks.

Flybe has already done that for cabin crew training and its own trainee maintenance engineers by working with Exeter College and the University of Exeter. GoSkills admits that, traditionally, skills development funding has been directed well beneath degree level, but now encouraging higher skill apprenticeships has moved up the government's agenda.

Source: Flight International