David Learmount/LONDONPaul Lewis/HONG KONG
IT SEEMS CERTAIN that, in the future, the average airline pilot will be simultaneously qualified on more aircraft types than are today's aircrew. Most major-carrier commercial pilots today are "type-rated" on one aircraft only.
One of the reasons for the change is that aircraft manufacturers are competing to provide families of airliners which minimise the cross-crew-qualification (CCQ) training costs of "mixed-fleet operation". Another reason is that airlines are seeking ways of achieving greater crew-rostering flexibility. This desire to achieve more efficient CCQ is forcing air-transport rulemakers to review traditional philosophies on the safety of multiple type-rating for pilots.
The advent of the fly-by-wire era is a strong argument for further advance into the CCQ arena. Airbus Industrie designs all its fly-by-wire types (A319/320/321/330/340) not only with standardised - or at least generic - cockpits, but with near-identical handling response to any given crew control-input.
The only factor which fly-by-wire cannot neutralise is the differing aircraft mass in a fleet ranging from, say, the 130-seat A319 to the 350-seat A340-300. Airbus' conventionally controlled A300-600 and A310 share a common type-rating, but only with each other.
It is not only within near-identical-cockpit fleets that ways are being sought to minimise CCQ training costs. Operators and manufacturers are seeking to identify what exactly constitutes the kind of similarity which should enable aircraft types to be grouped for CCQ. Beyond the Boeing types, which already share common type-ratings (757/767 and the glass-cockpit 737 series), the company is beginning to argue that all Boeings have a flightdeck in which Boeing pilots feel at home.
Now that the regulatory spotlight has been directed at the CCQ issue, questions are also being asked about whether pilots today are unnecessarily restricted in the number of type-ratings they may have on their licence.
Looking at the issue historically, Cathay Pacific Airways' Airbus fleet flying-training manager Capt John Bent thanks the Boeing 757/767 pair for bringing respectability to common type-ratings, but he gives Airbus the credit for pioneering extended CCQ. Bent manages flying training for a fleet which, including subsidiary company Dragonair, includes A320s, A330s and A340s. He says: "With the exclusion of the [number of] engines, the Airbus [fly-by-wire] family of aircraft has been designed to be identical machines from the outset. This is another stage in the development of the idea of a family of aircraft."
Capt Paddy Carver, flight-operations chief at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, predicts that the European Joint Airworthiness Authorities (JAA) will move toward much broader type-groupings than today's individual European national aviation authorities permit. He concedes, however, that "...there has to be a maximum number of types [on any one pilot's licence]", although he will not commit to what that number might be.
Taking a broad view, airliners are getting easier to fly and, no matter which manufacturer makes them, there are more similarities than differences among many of them. Nevertheless, Carver observes that, from an operational point of view, differences between complex onboard equipment such as flight-management systems could be considered almost as important as the differences between the some aircraft types.
Carver cautions, however, that the regulators are to some extent having to venture into the unknown as they determine how to ensure that crews are fully capable of managing - perhaps under conditions of stress and fatigue - the different aircraft with which they may be entrusted.
Some of the arguments and questions raised are not new. Carver cites as an example the issue of whether the greatest danger lies with totally dissimilar aircraft or with aircraft of the same type whose cockpits are identical except for a few small items - like switch or instrument location. Whether safe or not, fleets of same-type of aircraft, obtained by an airline from different original operators with differently specified cockpit layouts, are operated all over the world. Crews are simply left to cope with these anomalies under one type-rating and one set of company standard operating procedures. Carver says: "You have as many opinions as training captains on the issue of whether small differences or big differences are potentially more risky, but there is no real evidence. The issue has not been studied."
This lack of empirical data can result in contradictory messages. Cathay's Bent, referring to the 757/767 common type-rating, sees merit in controlled differences. "Once aircrew get on top of their job they tend to find that a great deal of it is monotonous and routine," he says. "Therefore, any kind of extra dimension to their work is of good value in terms of motivating them to do their job...variety is a very important factor." Next, however - and unconsciously doffing his hat to traditional regulatory philosophy - he praises similarity, saying: "Fly-by-wire makes the A320, which is a very tiny aeroplane, and the bigger A330 and A340, very similar; but the 330 and 340 are already the same airframe size, so they're the same eye-height [for the pilot at landing]. There is no difference between the landing characteristics of the A330 and A340. I can say that I have flown for months now on both aeroplanes and I know that from personal experience."
He says that, given the similarities, the existing rule which denies common type-rating to aircraft with a different number of engines needs reviewing, insisting: "The A330 and A340 are even more similar than the 757 and 767."
Regulations, both in the UK and the USA, acknowledge the remarkable degree of A330/ A340 commonality. They require very short CCQ "differences" courses to win the second type-rating, no matter which one the pilot starts with. Because of the engine-number difference, the course is three days if going from A330 to A340, or two days the other way round. Cathay is being conservative, says Bent, by making the differences course five days either way for the time being.
Cathay is a CCQ pioneer for Airbus. The regulators have accepted that, once the A330 and A340 type-ratings are gained, the only recurrent training that needs to be repeated is that associated with engine failures and emergencies. Even in this respect, Cathay is hoping, after some experience, to be able to "rotate" (alternate) the engine training annually.
Glass cockpits have tended to simplify and standardise flightdecks, at least within types, despite customer specification, and to some extent within manufacturers' ranges.
Boeing, however, is now offering an unprecedented degree of instrument-display flexibility for its new 737-600/700/800 series. This is an individually uploadable flight-instrument display for its flat-panel screens which can, for example, emulate the traditional "T" layout of "classic" 737s, or the early glass-cockpit 737 instrument displays. The intention is at least to simplify CCQ, and perhaps make common type-ratings available for its entire extended 737 series.
While manufacturers strive to standardise cockpits within a series, and even to keep their entire in-production ranges at least generic, the airlines' attitudes to what is on offer vary. They like having the option of low-cost CCQ, but may not always elect to use it. Common type-ratings, however, do appear almost always to be extensively used: for example, among those carriers which operate both 757s and 767s. Lufthansa's charter carrier, Condor, says that its pilots, once trained, operate both types without restriction. British Airways and Britannia Airways do the same.
Meanwhile Lufthansa operates large fleets of A320/A321s and A340s, but does not make as much use of the cross-crewing potential between the long-range and short-range fleets as it had originally planned. It has found that each of the two fleets is sufficiently large for integral rostering to be efficient. The airline explains: "As soon as you have a large core of pilots, the productivity gains you get by having pilots qualified on more than one type are reduced." Now, says Lufthansa, it keeps only its training captains fully cross-crew current, adding: "We still have some [line] pilots A320/ A340-rated, but not for productivity reasons - we are investigating the possibilities."
Austrian Airlines, far smaller than Lufthansa, has recently decided to re-equip with an all-Airbus fleet, disposing of McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and obtaining A340s and the A320 series. Asked whether CCQ availability came into its type-acquisition decision, Austrian calmly asserts that it was not an issue because the Boeing range offered similar possibilities. It seems, therefore, that CCQ potential is something which airlines have come to expect from manufacturers, which leaves the regulators as targets for pressure.
BEYOND THE GROUP
BA, meanwhile, is experimenting more radically. A group of five management pilots is to be type-rated on both the A320 and the 737. This is a deliberate seeking out of two aircraft whose only commonality is size, and even that is approximate. BA's director of flight operations, Capt Jock Lowe, says that the airline is doing it "...to see if there are any issues". The CAA's Carver is watching BA's experiment with interest to see what cross-crew regulatory lessons may be learned.
Any issues which become apparent from any of the pioneering CCQ or different-type programmes may eventually affect the wording of the JAA's freshly framed airline-operations regulations (JAR Ops 1). BA's experiment, however, is isolated and preliminary. Whether different types will ever gain some equivalent of CCQ, at least for recurrent training once the original type-ratings have been won, is questionable. The regulators would need evidence that differences are not as risky as they had been judged in the past, even with the proviso of frequent and timely training.
The potential complexities associated with more flexible CCQ will have to be subjected to detailed regulatory guidelines for the airlines' training departments. The JAA calls these guidelines "acceptable means of compliance" (AMC). Carver believes that this will take the form of a move of emphasis, as in the new JAR Flight Crew Licensing (JAR FCL) regulations, away from the quantity of training - which gave undue weight to the accumulation of flying hours --towards quality (Flight International, 22-28 February, P25).
Carver suggests that, as basic CCQ regulation gradually extends aircraft-type groups, the AMCs will have to ensure that safe standards are met in the pilot-training process. This process, he believes, will have to take account of the aircraft/aircrew combination as well as the characteristics of the aircraft involved in any given multiple type-rating. AMCs would have to consider factors such as:
- aircrew total experience, and experience on the types involved;
- line-operation consolidation on a given type before extension of pilot type-ratings to additional types in the group;
- pilot "recency" on types;
- airline supervision resources and practices;
- airline standard operating procedures on the group types;
- cockpit-resource management training;
- relative types of operation of the group aircraft (long/short-haul), and the experience of the crew on both types of operation.
NOT A SAFETY ISSUE
Lufthansa's Airbus fleet chief Capt Klaus Walendy says that Lufthansa is still evaluating the economic benefits of CCQ, "...knowing that it is not a safety issue". He says that cross-crewing with the A320 and A340 is easy for pilots, but the aircraft still require separate type-ratings. The German civil aviation authority, the LBA, however, has drawn up A320/A340 CCQ requirements which give credit for the cockpits' generic similarities and the fly-by-wire-tailored handling commonality, reducing recurrent training and checks to far less than those required for two dissimilar types. Walendy warns, however, that, if the JARs were finally framed so as to treat them as two unrelated types for recurrent training, any economic advantage from A320/A340 cross-crewing flexibility is negated.
Walendy points out that, at Lufthansa it makes sense to operate a "family concept", which would mean that Boeing pilots stay in the Boeing part of the fleet, and Airbus pilots in theirs. He adds, however, that this is industrially difficult.
Boeing, meanwhile, claims that to convert a pilot with any conventionally controlled type on his licence to the fly-by-wire 777 takes up to two weeks less than it takes to convert him to an A340 because the control laws of the 777 are designed to provide handling characteristics similar to those of a conventionally controlled type.
Airbus' Capt John Scully puts the CCQ issue in context, saying: "Mixed-fleet flying is in its infancy at this time...we are now just defining the recurrent training policy for our crews". Airbus, like the others, will propose; the regulators will dispose.
Because there has been virtually no serious research into the effects of cross-crewing, the regulators cannot claim that it has been proven more risky than single-type flying. They are obliged, however, to ensure that ventures into a new field are conducted cautiously.
Cross-crew qualification regulatory issues
If its pilots are licensed to fly more than one aircraft type, an airline gains crew-rostering flexibility but, depending upon how different the types are, the carrier may have to meet the cost of additional pilot-licensing and training-standards surveillance requirements.
The regulatory issues are reflected in the training and line-operation experience which a pilot has to have achieved to gain a type-rated licence and then to keep it current. The components are:
Pilot's licence: once obtained, a licence to fly is permanent unless downgraded/withdrawn by the authorities for medical or competency reasons.
Type rating: an airline pilot cannot use a licence unless it is endorsed with a type rating, which reflects the successful completion of authorised minimum systems-knowledge and flying-skills training on a specific aircraft type.
Licence currency: currency is conditional on the completion of a minimum amount of flying operation in a given calendar period, and a set amount of type-specific continuation training and line-checking. When applied to more than one type, "recency" rules may apply to each aircraft type, specifying the maximum time which may elapse since the pilot last flew that type.
Common type-rating: Some types are so similar in systems, flying characteristics and operational role that the authorities grant a "common type-rating". Among the in-production large airliners, common type-ratings apply to the Airbus Industrie A319/320/321 series, the A310 and A300-600; the glass-cockpit Boeing 737 series and the 757/767; and the glass-cockpit McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series. The training for a common type-rating consists of a full course, plus specified minimum line-operational experience on one of the types, then a "differences course" for the other(s), which does not normally need to be repeated. Continuation training and checks are kept to the same cost as that for a single-type rating by "flip-flop" training: this means that the pilot's simulator training and route checks alternate each year between one type and the other.
Cross-crew qualification (CCQ): the system of training a pilot to a full type-rating on one aircraft within a group of aircraft which are ruled to be generically similar (but not sufficiently similar for a common type-rating), then being able to gain full ratings on the others with a shortened type-training course.
Mixed-fleet flying: airline operation which makes full use of CCQ by virtue of flying aircraft which are in an accepted group.
Source: Flight International