Cathy Pacific Airways is trying to build support for a "cruise co-pilot" multi-crew pilot license (MPL) under ICAO rules as another solution to meeting pilot demand.

At the World Aviation Training conference in Orlando, Florida on 19 April, Cathay manager of flying training Alan Wilson, who has 21 years experience with the airline, listed "lowering of experience and age in our cockpits and reactive regulation" among current industry challenges to staffing cockpits. To mitigate pilot experience issues, he says, "Let's get down to competency-based training," referring to the MPL.

Wilson says Cathay was not involved in discussions that led to the creation of the MPL in 2006, and the current MPL protocol is a non-starter for a long-haul carrier due to the number of required landings in the actual aircraft. Wilson says new pilots at present do takeoffs and landings in the actual aircraft when upgraded to first officer, typically after 2-5 years of service.  Under current MPL rules, the pilots would have to perform actual takeoffs and landings at both the cruise co-pilot stage and the first officer transition stage, possibly doubling the training budget. "I cannot justify doubling the aircraft-based training to my CFO," says Wilson, adding that "Not being active in the development [of the MPL] has left us hamstrung".

Cathay for the past 22 years has successfully turned out pilots in its "fairly conventional" ab initio pilot training. The programme runs 15 months long and consists of 200 hours in light aircraft and 60 in jet transport simulators. Threat and error management and crew resource management competencies are embedded throughout the course.

"MPL competency-based training would allow us to deploy a number of training devices appropriate to the phase of training with the aim of producing a competent first officer in a wide body aircraft," notes Wilson.

The MPL is also a plus in that it is heavily weighted to the multi-crew environment and focused on core competencies required, adds Wilson.

"Our [Cathay's] set of core competencies - and where I expect the MPL would deliver a better pilot to us are in aviation knowledge, aircraft control, leadership, flight management, communication, monitoring, situational awareness, problem-solving and decision-making, and professional responsibility," says Wilson.

He describes Cathay's operational environment as "quite difficult", one in which pilot candidates with low time and experience can develop flying skills. The reason is that Cathay predominately flies wide-bodies on ultra-long-haul operations. And a typical crew of four must share landing and other opportunities to maintain and improve competency. Ab initios act as co-pilot when the co-pilot is resting, a role the cruise-copilot MPL would focus on as a graduated step in an aviation career.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news