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Tag: recurrency

The no-longer-annual recurrent training

Until recently, airlines subjected pilots to a recurrent training event in the simulator every 12 months, plus or minus a month. In the past few years, more and more carriers have switched to a nine-month training cycle. That means that over three years, there will be four total training events.

The airlines have collected data that shows certain pilot skills degrade too much when they are not practiced for a full year (or more). Make no mistake, this decision is not made lightly, because it comes with a significant increase in costs. But it makes sense. Just about every carrier does sim training over two days. The first day is the maneuvers validation, or MV. It’s a chance for pilots to demonstrate their skills on V1 cuts, stalls, single-engine approaches, single-engine landings, single-engine go-arounds, encounters with wind shear, and other skills that don’t get much exposure in the airplane. However, they also tend to be the skills that are most likely to suffer from a lack of practice.

Other skills can also be evaluated. Not every airline has an opportunity to do a lot of RNAV approaches, and some approaches at some airports require some pretty solid stick-and-rudder skills—especially in any kind of wind or weather (such as the River Visual to Runway 19 at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport). The MV is also an opportunity for the carrier to simply evaluate how certain everyday skills are conducted.

The second day of sim training is usually some form of line oriented evaluation (LOE), which is a flight between two cities served by the carrier. However, an anomaly is introduced that will force the crew to work together to solve a problem and safely land. Day-to-day skills can be evaluated, as can an adherence to following certain protocols and procedures. CRM is the main focus on a LOE.

Airlines have shared certain safety and training data for years in an effort to meet collective goals and targets that improve the industry for everyone. Obviously, this information is also shared with the FAA, and over the past decade or so, the transition to a nine month-cycle has gained some steam.

The influx of new pilots into the ranks is another factor. Everyone wants to keep an eye on the new, younger generation, along with the number of pilots who are changing equipment—some for the first time in years or even decades.

Training always comes with its own set of stresses and challenges, but shorter intervals will help alleviate some of that, and they will certainly allow for more learning opportunities.—Chip Wright

Airline recurrent training, Part 2

This is part two of a three-part series. Part one, on the evolution of recurrent training, can be found here.-–Ed. 

The previous post covered some of the old way of training. This segment introduces the Advanced Qualification Program (AQP).

With AQP, the airlines and the FAA recognized that there was opportunity to do a lot more with the limited time that the simulator provided. Given that airline flights operate from city A to city B, it made sense to start having events in which crews would fly a regular line flight, during which they would deal with a realistic scenario and respond accordingly. Such logic was a revelation.

The goal of the line oriented event (LOE) or line orientedf light training (LOFT) became to test the pilots as a crew, and not just on their individual performances. Instead of simply focusing on a set of trained motor skills, crews faced an evaluation of their ability to safely do their jobs. It was a novel concept.

One example might be a flight over mountainous terrain with an engine failure or a pressurization problem. Starting with the simple decisions (who’s going to fly after the event is diagnosed?), and building from there, the crew would be evaluated on how well theycompleted a number of different tasks, such as communicating with ATC, the flight attendants, the passengers, and the company; choosing an appropriate flight path based on the expected performance of the airplane (if single engine) or on the need to deploy the oxygen masks (if a pressurization problem); choosing an appropriate alternate airport; and any other criteria spelled out in the company manuals. The event is flown in real time, and often consists of just one takeoff and one landing.

In addition to the LOE/LOFT, airlines still conduct what is often called the maneuvers validation, or the MV. In the MV, many of the events that I described as a part of the old 441 ride are evaluated separately, and re-positioning is allowed. Some of the maneuvers are required, and are often called “first look,” which means that there can’t be any training, coaching, or practice. The V1 cut is the most famous. On a V1 cut, an engine fails at V1, which is the takeoff decision speed. Prior to V1, the takeoff can be aborted safely on the runway. At or after V1, the takeoff continues on the remaining engine(s), no matter how long the runway.

In the modern age, airlines have access to a lot of data from the airplane’s flight data recorders (FDR). Working with the pilot unions, the FDRs are downloaded regularly and flight crew performance is analyzed, but the data identifying the specific flights is removed. The company then looks for trends. Are crews having trouble with certain RNAV approaches? Are they inadvertently violating flap limit speeds? Are they floating too long on landing?

Hundreds of data points can be analyzed, and when trends are noticed, training can be modified immediately. In the old days, every crew had to be tested on the same approaches and maneuvers for a year. That doesn’t necessarily hold true anymore. Two examples: After Colgan 3407 crashed in Buffalo, airlines instituted both high- and low-altitude stall training right away. After Asiana crashed in San Francisco, an emphasis was placed on flying visual approaches with no electronic guidance.

A typical MV today consists of one or two precision and nonprecision approaches (usually ones that are known to be challenging), and go-arounds with all engines operating and with one engine failed. Normal and single engine approaches and landings also are graded, and of course the V1 cut is performed. Other “train to proficiency” maneuvers are included, and if there are any new procedures being introduced, this might be the time to cover them.

Today, airlines are moving toward a cycle of nine-month training events instead of one every year. The obvious advantage is that the pilots and the training center will get to interact more. Typically, every other event is an MV, and every other event is a LOE/LOFT.

Judgment, and the Day

It was windy yesterday—blowing hard out of the south and gusting to near 40 knots, according to the anemometer mounted on the top of the FBO building that sits midfield at our little airport tucked into the Mad River Valley, near Warren, Vermont. Weather was inbound. But for the day conditions were still high overcast, with just a few scattered, scraggly cumulous. Nothing towering. Maybe some wave action from the wind flowing over the undulating Green Mountains and White Mountains to the south and east.

Sometimes it is better to be on the ground than in the air.

Sometimes it is better to be on the ground than in the air.

Definitely some turbulence.

All that, and I wanted to fly. No, seriously, I was aching to fly. Just two days before I’d had the opportunity to get back into a Schleicher ASK-21 two-place fiberglass sailplane. A sexy ship if there ever was one, with an excellent 40:1 glide ratio and plenty of capability (even for aerobatics, if you are skilled in that realm).

Sunday’s flight with Rick Hanson (who has been with Sugarbush Soaring so long no one I know can remember the place without him and his wife, Ginny) was all about re-familiarization. I’d flown a ship just like her the year before, in Minden, Nevada. Vermont’s conditions, on that Sunday, at least, were tame compared to the way I’d gotten my butt kicked by rising thermals and developing dust devils in the high Nevada desert. This year staying behind the tow plane, even boxing its wake was just an exercise, not a wrestling match.

Thermaling came back to me pretty quickly, too. Last year the thermals were leaning towers, tilting with the afternoon valley winds. This year, though they moved with the prevailing flow, they seemed a little wider. Finding that ball of rising air in the middle seemed easier, more intuitive. Maybe it is just that I’ve only let a year go by. Before Minden I’d had a two year hiatus from soaring. It could be that two years is just too long, leaving me just too rusty and out of practice.

In any case, by Monday’s flight I was feeling competent. My instructors that day were John and Jen, and they were a dream to fly with (as they all have been, really). It was an excellent day for soaring, with light winds and towering cumulous streets of clouds that did not over develop. One expert soaring pilot riding a capable steed made his way to Stowe, Vermont, and back. And yes, someone else called (actually he had his wife call for him, hmmm…) to ask for an aero-retrieve from 40 miles east. The good news was that he’d landed at an airport.

Landing out. That’s soaring-speak for not making it back to your point of origin. An aero-retrieve means you pay the tow plane to fly to you, and then give you a tow home. Some pilots combat this problem by flying a motor glider, firing up the engine when they get to the point where they are too low to return to their home base, perhaps because they misjudged the lift conditions, or how long the lift would hold out at the end of the day. Other pilots use better judgment to make sure they get back to home base every time.

My instructors on Monday spent plenty of time helping me “see” all of the possible acceptable off-airport landing sites in the valley, and just beyond. We were high enough to see the Adirondacks looming over Lake Champlain, and hear the Québécois’ French chatter in Canada, which I could see clearly to the north with every circle as I climbed to cloud base, rolled out, pushed over for speed, and commenced to glide to the next decent thermal.

We crossed the valley practicing wing-overs, crazy-eights, stalls and steep turns, until they felt I knew all the possible quirks of the fine machine I’d chosen to master. Landings required another skill—understanding that I was much closer to the ground at flare than in my usual ride, the RV-10. That took a bit of coaching, too, but ultimately I got the visual picture and our touchdowns were smooth and on the mark. The thing about sailplanes: though you can control your trajectory to landing nicely with dive brakes, you don’t get to go around if you come up short or long. Making it back to home base from altitude is all about calculating your inertia, choosing your descent speed, setting your trajectory with your dive brakes, and making your initial pattern entry point, downwind, base, final and landing spots on speed and on altitude. Add airport traffic into the mix and you’ve got a great scenario for teaching any pilot great judgment skills.

By day’s end on Monday I’d thermaled, reviewed primary skills, proven my pattern, landing, and even emergency landing prowess, and received my sign-off for solo in the ASK-21. Tuesday’s conditions, however, were nowhere near what I’d proved myself in, and I knew it. The sailplane sat ready for me at the end of the runway, and the tow plane pilot, Steve, eyed me, waiting to know what I wanted to do. The wind was whistling through the gaps in the window frame of the not-ready-for-winter FBO. Sure, I’d flown in some gnarly winds in Minden. But not solo. In fact the last time I’d soloed a glider was in benign conditions over flat land.

“Um…no. I’m not going up today,” I said definitively.

Steve smiled. Good call.

That afternoon I hiked up a cliffside to sit on a sheltered hunk of granite that provided me a view of  half the Champlain Valley. It wasn’t quite as splendid as my perch in the sailplane, but it did sooth. The clouds streamed by, harbingers of the rain that would follow. I was happy to be on terra firma, and ready to fly another day.

Amy Laboda has been writing, editing and publishing print materials for more than 28 years on an international scale. From conception to design to production, Laboda helps businesses and associations communicate through various media with their clients, valued donors, or struggling students who aspire to earn scholarships and one day lead. An ATP-rated pilot with multiple flight instructor ratings, Laboda enjoys flying her two experimental aircraft and being active in the airpark community in which she lives.