Photo: Aviation Voice/Remigijus Stugys
Most airline pilots approach their annual recurrent training simulator time with apprehension. They perceive the exercise to be more about testing than training or learning, and with most airlines there is a lot of truth in that perception.
Some airlines provide more recurrent training than regulations require because flight operations data monitoring (FDM) – a requirement in Europe – flags up what crews need to practise. But still most train only to the legal minimums, partly for cost reasons, and partly because the compulsory exercises are defined – albeit based on aviation as it was in the 1970s.
Additional training may be costly, but incidents, particularly related to shortcomings flagged up by FDM, could be even more expensive. At Ryanair, head of training Capt Andy O’Shea has come up with a solution: helping pilots to train themselves. At no cost, Ryanair pilots can book a fully capable flight simulation training device (FSTD) for the Boeing 737-800, and practise the skills they know they need to improve, with just a colleague in the other seat: no instructor and no “Big Brother” oversight.
Ryanair’s plan, already launched, is to bring on stream nine additional advanced fixed-base FSTDs beyond those needed to cope with growth.
Three are already up and running, and early trials show it is popular with crews who have tried it – 96% say they would book the device again.
O’Shea has long wanted to give pilots the opportunity to develop their skills in their own time, but the carrier’s investment in sophisticated equipment has to be justified. So he needed a scheme to discourage misuse that might result in what he calls a “negative training” experience. That is, how can Ryanair give pilots the freedom to learn but discourage them from barrel-rolling a 737-800 for fun, all while convincing them that Big Brother isn’t watching?
A compromise is suggested in the programme’s name: Ryanair Controlled Training. The pilots who voluntarily book the simulator time will be alone and unwatched in the device. It has a normal, fully capable instructor operating station, but that does not have to be manned. When pilots book the session, they can choose from a menu of “lesson plans” entailing an origin, a destination and flightplan, and they upload it to the simulator when they start the session.
Pilots start by loading the simulator with the payload and weather data they need to derive performance figures for the “flight” and “take off”. They don’t know what else will happen en route – but things will.
If the crew has trouble with a scenario, they can freeze the simulator and discuss it, or try again. Sessions are recorded, but O’Shea says: “We have no desire or intention to review each session for video or FDM events. Our hope is that crews come to the FTD, practise their skills, improve their knowledge and leave feeling good about themselves.”
So if exceeding FDM limits will not trigger the curiosity of the Ryanair training department, what would? One event is straying outside the 737’s flight envelope; that freezes the simulator, which then has to be reset. Why that occurs would matter. For example, upset prevention training (UPT) is programmed into some lesson plans, but recovery from extreme attitudes is not.
Usage so far shows bookings by captains at 19% of the total, first officers 37%, and cadets 44%.
O’Shea says the new system provides a whole array of motivations for voluntary pilot bookings, including maintaining handling or raw data flying skills, UPT, left-hand seat practice for prospective captains, right-hand seat practice for prospective instructors, and improving recurrent simulator training core competencies.