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Source of future accident statistics?

Wed, Oct 17, 2007 — David Evans

Briefs

Recall the expressions of concern about the Multi-crew Pilot License (MPL) program voiced at the recent Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) safety forum (see Air Accident Digest, 4 September 2007, p. 20-23, “Bowing To The Inevitable”). Some pilots disparagingly refer to MPL as “minimum pilot learning” because the program only requires 40 hours in the cockpit, as opposed to 150 hours or more in current pilot training programs.

MPL is intended to provide some relief to the global pilot shortage (see Figure A).

The subject of pilot shortages and training of replacement pilots was addressed in a 13 September radio interview in Ontario, Canada:

Reporter: The global demand for commercial pilots is growing and it seems flight schools can’t graduate pilots fast enough. Canadian airlines are feeling the pressure too and some, like the discount carrier Jazz, have reduced the amount of flying time necessary to qualify as a pilot for its fleet. Capt. Andy Wilson is President of the Air Canada Pilots Association and he joins us now.

Capt. Wilson: Good morning.

Reporter: What’s causing the shortage?

Capt. Wilson: Well, as in all situations of shortages, it’s a question of supply and demand. On the demand side, we know that the economies, particularly in China and India, are growing rapidly. There’s a lot more business travel, there’s a growing middle class and there’s a prediction that we’ll be needing over 20,000 new airline pilots a year for the foreseeable future.

Reporter: Uh huh.

Capt. Wilson: On the supply side, we have the retirement of a large group of pilots and fewer are entering the profession. So if you combine those two things, you face a crunch.

Reporter: Why is it that younger people aren’t pursuing it?

Capt. Wilson: Well, for at least the past half-century, the profession of being an airline captain has been on a par with other professions such as doctors, lawyers, engineers. And those professions have of course been keeping up with the times in terms of working conditions and remuneration. The flying profession simply has not been.

The new generation of potential pilots and young people generally are more sophisticated when they make their career choice than perhaps people of my generation. When they see the turmoil in the airline industry, they see low entry wages, they see uncertainty, bankruptcy, they see the destruction of pension plans and that the profession is not keeping pace with other professions.

Many will make other choices.

Reporter: So what kind of impact is this shortage having on the way he airlines operate?

Capt. Wilson: Well, at the present time in North America, it’s been seen at the entry level, so we see that flying schools are not able to retain flying instructors. Typically, that’s an entry level position. Now, as you mentioned, Jazz is having to reduce the experience level that they require.
At Air Canada, there still is a pool of experienced pilots to select from for hiring, but that pool will be drying up in the next very few years.

Reporter: What do you think of the practice of recruiting pilots right out of flight school who don’t have the hours?

Capt. Wilson: We believe that there is no substitute for experience and although the training is done as best can be and the standards are maintained, nonetheless, it is an issue.

Reporter: What is it that concerns you?

Capt. Wilson: Well, particularly, they say the flying profession is one based on long experience. Many of the things we do in the aircraft, the way we operate, are based on our own previous experiences.
Back when I was hired, people typically would be hired at three to five thousand hours flying experience. In other words, they’d already been commercial pilots for a number of years.

Reporter: Uh huh.

Capt. Wilson: They would fly as flight engineers, as second officers, and they’d watch a crew operate as a crew for up to 10 years before they would even become a co-pilot.

Reporter: Uh huh.

Capt. Wilson: You can imagine that people with that much experience would step into the position [of the right seat co-pilot] immediately to assume their duties following training on the particular aircraft.

Reporter: So how concerned should passengers be?

Capt. Wilson: Well, right now I don’t think there is a major cause for concern. There is a new licensing trend which is being, it’s emerging in many countries. As has been suggested here for Canada, it’s called the multi-crew pilot license, and the effort there is to reduce the actual flying hours even further.
We’re quite concerned about that particular initiative. While it’s possible that it could work in theory, we would want to be sure that it’s introduced very cautiously and with lots of checks and balances in the system before we can be sure that it can be introduced, maintaining safety levels.

Reporter: Okay, so we shouldn’t be worried about that. How else is this impacting passengers though?

Capt. Wilson: Well, you’ve got to have pilots to fly planes.

Reporter: So that’s why we’re seeing flights cancelled a lot?

Capt. Wilson: That’s what I understand, and not the experience that we’re having right now in Air Canada, but I understand in North America that is happening, yes.

Reporter: And so what do airlines do then to attract more pilots?

Capt. Wilson: Well, I think they’re got to realize that it is a profession and they have to compete with other professions to retain professionals.

Reporter: All right. Thank you so much for joining us. We’ll have to leave it here for today, captain.

Figure A

Graduation of First Ever MPL Trained Pilots in Europe
Press Release, 3 September 2007:

Today marks a historic event in European aviation as the first group of MPL trained pilots graduate from Center Air Pilot Academy in Roskilde, Denmark.

What began as a strategic partnership three years ago between Center Air Pilot Academy and the Scandinavian low cost carrier Sterling Airlines culminates today with the first group of pilots trained after the new MPL (Multi-crew Pilot License) training curriculum.

“We are obviously highly excited about having achieved this milestone in our work to modernize the way commercial pilot training is being executed,” says Chief Ground Instructor from Center Pilot Academy, Anna Kjaer, and she continues, “The dramatically increasing demand for commercial pilots all over the world pushes both the airline and the training organizations to innovate and develop the training procedures inside a framework of airline safety to sustain the constant growth in the airline sector.”

Also, from the side of the airlines, there is enthusiasm on the evolution of the MPL training system.

Center Air Pilot Academy’s partner in the project, Sterling Airlines, will hire the newly graduate MPL pilots …


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