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Fri, Aug 24, 2007

First Students Progress Through Controversial Training Program

Critics Warn Safety Could Be Comprised In Rush To Fill Pilot Shortage

A new pilot training program that relies very heavily on simulator training is being hailed as an answer to the ever-growing pilot shortage faced by the international industry. The program was developed in 2000 by the UN agency in charge of civil air traffic, the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal.

The new program, named the Multi-Crew Pilot's License, cuts ground school time and solo flying time by making greater use of sims, according to the Associated Press. It only requires 64 hours of actual flight time as PIC, and allows a student to qualify as a co-pilot in 45 weeks, roughly the time required to obtain an ordinary driver's license in Europe.

Experts, not surprisingly, warn this may not be such a good idea.

Critics say it is merely a quick-fix scheme to cover pilot shortages and will compromise safety. Supporters argue it improves the ability of new co-pilots to integrate into flight crew member positions, instead of spending long hours flying solo.

"The whole idea of MPL is to have a modern training concept tailored to meet today's requirements, because the role of pilot has changed from a stick-and-rudder-pusher to a manager of highly technologically advanced systems," said Capt. Chris Schroeder of the International Air Transport Association.

"We had to move away from the old training scheme where the emphasis was on flying skills without any system management whatsoever. Instead, we now have fully integrated competency-based training for cockpit managers in aircraft such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner."

The first six participants in the program are from China Eastern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines. They are due to graduate later this year.

Critics contend such sweeping changes are made from an economic standpoint, rather than a quality one.

"Simulators are good to teach system operations, but real flying is needed to learn airmanship, the very basis of safety," said Philip von Schoppenthau, secretary-general of the Brussels-based European Cockpit Association. "We're not fundamentally against the MPL idea, but let's not reduce flying hours drastically so that the knowledge base of airline pilots can be maintained."

According to estimates by Alteon, the Boeing Co.'s training subsidiary, carriers worldwide are going to need 17,000 new pilots a year until 2024 just to keep up with new aircraft deliveries.

Primary demand for pilots will be from China, India, the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia.

Most European aviation regulatory agencies and the Federal Aviation Administration haven't exactly warmed to the idea of the MPL program. Pressure is reportedly building for its use, though, and its speculated the program will eventually be used by established flight schools.

Those for and against agree on one issue, though. The program and its outcomes must be fully and carefully watched and studied.

"By itself the MPL is neither good nor bad," said Jean Benoit Toulouse, an Air France pilot who is creating a French MPL program. "We obviously had to modernize training because simulation devices are now so sophisticated that they can be used in most of it. But the MPL can also end up as a dangerous thing - like giving a license to a co-pilot who is not up to scratch - unless national regulatory agencies maintain strict oversight of the program."

The first test course is being conducted in Brisbane, Australia. Alteon selected Airline Academy Australia to deliver the core and basic phase of training using Diamond DA-40 aircraft and a DA-40 Level 5 Flight Training Device equipped with a Rockwell Collins EP-10 daylight visual system.

FMI: www.alteontraining.com, www.iata.org, www.eurocockpit.be, www.icao.int

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