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Comment: new pilot recurrent training regime is demanding

It's about time recurrent training for airline pilots was dragged out of the era of Boeing Stratocruisers and Lockheed Constellations. America began this process nearly 18 years ago under the Federal Aviation Administration's advanced qualification programme, but not all carriers there have taken up the challenge.

Meanwhile, European carriers are only just beginning to move with their own version - the advanced training and qualification programme.

The fact is, getting AQP and ATQP right is a real challenge, and no-one should take it up lightly.

Airlines that do get it right will be blessed with crews trained more appropriately for the kind of operations they fly and the challenges their pilots genuinely face, as evidenced from sources like operational flight data monitoring. Airlines that don't get it right risk getting too focused on local issues to the detriment of the minimum set-piece exercises rightly demanded by regulations.

But they can only get it wrong if their national aviation authorities let them. It's essential that the authorities really challenge the carriers, not only to argue their case for their ATQP, but then to demonstrate improved crew performance, and prove that no new weaknesses creep in to replace the old ones ATQP has eliminated.

ATQP is supposed to be tailored not only to an individual carrier's needs, but to training needs for pilots on specific fleets within the airline. In Europe, although the Joint Aviation Authorities has drawn up regulations and guidelines for ATQP, it will be left to national aviation authorities to monitor airlines registered in their states.

So in Europe the potential quantity of ATQP variations will equal the number of airlines that take it up, multiplied by the number of types they operate, multiplied again by the number of national authorities. This need not matter, but they must all be well designed and audited.

In theory airlines can reduce the frequency of statutory exercises like engine failure at take-off from twice a year to once, releasing time for practice in manually flying visual circling approaches. Loss of control is, statistically, today's big killer.

Engines don't fail as often now as they did in Strato­cruisers, and today's aircraft have far more power to spare if they do. But the airline still has to ensure crews maintain engine failure at take-off competence despite the reduced training/testing frequency.

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