A Higher Standard: Bizav Seeks More Advanced Training Programs

 - March 1, 2021, 12:26 AM

Airlines around the world have long ditched maneuvers-based training programs in favor of more progressive competency and evidence-based programs. In business aviation, most training programs are better suited for a 1960s Howard 500 piston-twin-engine aircraft than today’s G650 or Global 7500 business jets. Safety advocates from the NBAA are making a strong push to move away from those “cookie-cutter” maneuvers-based training standards and proficiency checks and would like more operators to adopt a scenario-based training philosophy that can be tailored to better fit a specific operation.

Innovation in business aviation training systems has been slow. Long recognized for being early adopters of advanced aviation technologies such as synthetic vision systems, training is one area where business aviation lags the airlines. Over the years, there have been some glimmers of hope, such as more advanced data collection systems in full-flight simulators, but this is lost if the training program cannot support or adapt to real-world analysis and findings.   

“Box checking” training events date back to the 1950s—with only a slight refresh in the 1970s with the addition of crew resource management (CRM)—and provide little value to the operator or pilot in terms of safety. These training events require the completion of a standard set of unrelated maneuvers—year after year—to satisfy a regulation.

A decade ago, the NBAA Safety Committee began to document some significant issues with training at business and corporate flight departments including: (1) Part 142 training centers transitioning from teaching to checking, (2) the Part 61.58 proficiency check is often repeated and predictable, and (3) there is a need to place greater emphasis on risk awareness, aviation decision making, and scenario-based training.    

One former corporate pilot expressed his frustration, saying, “There’s no real challenge, it’s the same series of stalls, steep turns, approaches, and V1 cuts that vary little depending on the vendor.” That pilot, now flying for a large fractional operation, enjoys the challenges of tailored training scenarios afforded through his company’s FAA-approved advanced qualification program (AQP). Now, as an example, he said, “we fly steep approaches to the London City airport and more challenging flights into and out of places like Eagle, Colorado, which builds confidence and skills.” 

Some training providers and business aviation operators are beginning to embrace competency and evidence-based training (EBT) programs. This is the future of flight training - train smarter, not harder.

Evidence-based Training

According to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), “EBT is a methodology that identifies areas for improvement and allows re-prioritization of training topics to enhance the confidence and capability of flight crews to operate the aircraft in all flight regimes and to be able to recognize and manage unexpected situations.”

CAE announced in January a new data source for its Rise Training System. By teaming with The LOSA Collaborative, CAE customers can tailor their programs based on findings from line-oriented safety audits (LOSA).

LOSA is a proactive safety program that uses peer-to-peer line observations to collect data under non-jeopardy conditions. LOSA data is rich; it is one of the most reliable methods to collect data from routine line operations. In doing so, it is one of the best sources to measure and assess flight crew performance as it relates to operational complexities and threat and error management (TEM) skills.

According to The LOSA Collaborative founder and CEO Dr. James Klinect, “Evidence-based training is all about using operational data gathered from programs like LOSA to adapt training to the real-world challenges that pilots face daily. The curriculum becomes dynamic and more effective than simple maneuver and check training.”

EBT is flexible and allows the operator to customize training rather than simply checking a box. Klinect added, “EBT results in more realistic training based on operator needs instead of regulatory requirements.”   

Using LOSA data to support the development of EBT scenarios provides a great value to the operator by recognizing just how resource-intensive training can be, Klinect said. “EBT works by building resilient competencies and enhancing TEM performance across a number of situations in what has become an ever-decreasing training footprint for operators.”

CAE’s Rise program was originally established to allow instructors to assess pilot competencies using live data during training sessions. Instructors can identify proficiency gaps using evidence-based methodologies. The Rise program provides training data to the operator to further evolve its training syllabus. Adding LOSA as an information source closes the gap between training and operational data and creates a more impactful EBT experience.

Advanced Qualification Program

Fractional giant NetJets is in the final stages of fully implementing its advanced qualification program (AQP) for all fleet-types. According to NetJets, it is the first private operator to gain FAA approval for AQP. AQP was initially implemented on NetJets' Cessna Citation Sovereign and Latitude fleet.

NetJets is huge; each year it must train nearly 2,500 pilots to fly its 750 jets around the world. In addition to the Sovereign and Latitude, the fractional provider operates the Citation XLS, Challenger 350 and 650, Global 5000, 6000, and 7500, Embraer Phenom 300, and Gulfstream G450. Every three months, the company hopes to phase in a new fleet type into AQP.  

According to the FAA, “AQP is an alternative to ‘traditional’ training programs…and encourages innovation in the methods and technology that are used during instruction and evaluation.” Flexibility is an attribute of AQP and allows the operator to customize training to meet its unique operation and crew demographics. AQP emphasizes scenario-based training and line-oriented flight training (LOFT). Today, 90 percent of all pilots flying for U.S. airlines are trained under the FAA AQP.

A typical AQP training footprint for a NetJets pilot is five days. The first two days involve classroom training on safety, security, and aircraft-specific systems. The next three days are spent in the full-motion flight simulator at the FlightSafety International (FSI) learning center in Columbus, Ohio. Gulfstream pilots train at FSI in Savannah, Georgia. These line-oriented simulator sessions involve some standard maneuvers, but also contain a few unanticipated events and random systems failures. In addition, these sessions include the FAA-mandated extended envelope/upset prevention and recovery training. At NetJets, these training scenarios change every cycle, which is typically at nine-month intervals.

In addition to AQP, NetJets employs a few other FAA voluntary safety programs including an aviation safety action program (ASAP) and a flight operational quality assurance (FOQA) program. NetJets relies on these programs to provide data to support its AQP.

Is it Scalable?

According to Helicopter Association International, 80 percent of the operators in the helicopter community operate five aircraft or less. In business and corporate aviation, due to the size of the major fractional ownership programs and recent consolidation in the managed and charter space, this figure is probably similar. For those operators smaller than NetJets, Wheels Up, or VistaJet, is an AQP or EBT-based program an option, considering the availability of far fewer resources at a smaller operator?

Again, the NBAA is a good place to start. In its Training Management System Guide, (first published in 2011), NBAA  identifies some of the issues with training centers and Part 61.58 proficiency checks, but also offers up some solutions.

Within the guide, there is a gap analysis available that is scalable for any operator. It begins with the organization’s safety management system (SMS). SMS will identify risk. A safety risk assessment may isolate threats that can be mitigated with additional training. Simulator training is an effective tool to mitigate the level of risk of the potential consequences of threats and hazards. NBAA recommends discussing these threats and hazards with its training provider.

An operator should also share its operations manual and standard operating procedures (SOPs) with its training provider. SOP compliance should be reinforced during in-house and simulator training sessions and by establishing mentorship programs. These SOPs are the foundation of a strong safety and training culture.

Benchmarking is a great way to share ideas and learn from other flight departments. Operators can use regional NBAA forums to explore how other flight departments (your peers) conduct safety and training activities.

There are several smaller corporate operators that go above and beyond 61.58 proficiency checks by adding an additional day of simulator training that focuses on operator-specific challenges. Likewise, more progressive operators routinely hold internal safety standdowns for continuing education or attend external events such as the annual Bombardier Safety Standdown.

Consider the (Data) Source

Data plays an important role in assessing pilot competencies or developing evidence-based training scenarios. Big data and data-driven and data intelligence or visualization are all terms that have become a bit of a cliché in society and in flight safety and training circles. Before jumping on the data bandwagon, it is important to consider the source of data. Conversations about data that relate to training can be classified as either operational (safety) or training—there are major differences.

Operational or safety data is highly actionable for training program developers. Great sources of operational data include flight data monitoring (FDM/FOQA), LOSA, and to a lesser extent, the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP).

Flight data analysis and reporting, either from an FDM or FOQA program, is objective and extremely useful in developing training content. Mining that data is beneficial if there is a built-in relationship to pilot demographics (years of service, training cycles, time in the seat, etc.) and additional context provided through crew contact information (using a human factors taxonomy).     

As previously mentioned, LOSA data is gold. It is hands down, if executed properly, the best way to capture data that identifies threats, errors, and how pilots handle them in a real-world line-oriented environment.  

ASAP is a great program, but it is a limited data set that has a strong bias built-in. Reporting safety concerns is the primary objective of an ASAP. However, most ASAP reports are submitted based on an error that has been committed due to program incentives that may lessen enforcement actions. Yes, there are some great lessons to learn from ASAP reports, but it does not reflect true line pilot performance, only those who have erred.

Training data is best to measure the effectiveness of instruction and instructors, not necessarily the best way to develop training scenarios. This is important because data collected during training events (or line checks) captures “angel performance.” In the training environment, under the watchful eyes of an instructor or evaluator, pilots are on their best behavior. Out on the line, performance is typically less than angel performance.

Both CAE and FSI have developed programs that leverage large amounts of training data for the U.S. Air Force. Ten-years ago, CAE  implemented simulator FOQA (SOQA) with the Air Mobility Command on Boeing C40 and KC-135 aircraft. Last year, FSI partnered with IBM to offer the Air Education and Training Command an integrated pilot performance evaluation and training tool called “FlightSmart” on Raytheon T-6A training devices. Each program has its merits and uses powerful software tools in a training environment; CAE uses flight data analysis tools, while FSI tapped IBM’s advanced analytics and artificial intelligence tools. Each concept undoubtedly enhances the training experience, but neither provides insight into actual line operations.

As demonstrated, business and corporate operators have a lot of opportunities to advance their training programs, from standard and predictable proficiency checks to more advanced programs involving elements of competency and EBT programs. Obviously, there are benefits to using simulators to hone those stick-and-rudder skills, but that is not what typically causes accidents. A breakdown in crew resource management, poor decision making, or a lack of threat and error management skills is what gets flight crews in trouble. An investment in a progressive training program will pay dividends not only for the pilots but those who put their trust in us, to be our best on every flight.