Initial and continuing courses are available to all flight department members.
By Shannon Forrest
President, Turbine Mentor
ATP/CFII. Challenger 604/605, Gulfstream IV, MU2B
In 1973, a supposedly competent pilot sat in the captain’s seat of a Sovereign Airlines Boeing 707 as it taxied toward the runway at SFO (Intl, San Francisco CA). The pilot looked like a typical captain should – he wore a blazer with 4 stripes and sported a captain’s hat.
At his side was a bulky leather flight case full of Jeppesen binders typical of the era. Unfortunately, this captain was here against his will. Prior to his arrival, hijackers had taken control of the aircraft and were requesting an “overseas pilot” to augment the first officer (FO) and flight engineer who were already aboard.
Upon entering the cockpit at gunpoint, the captain said to the FO, “You wanna put us in takeoff position?” The wording of the request was odd, but the FO and flight engineer began preflight preparations. Once the engines were started and the aircraft began moving, the visibly perplexed FO said to the person in the left seat, “Excuse me, Captain? I know this may sound silly, but can you fly?” The retort was quick. “Nope.
Never had a lesson,” replied the captain. A second later, he jammed on the brakes, sending the hijacker in the cockpit to the floor and allowing him to be subdued. The captain then grabbed the hijacker’s pistol and used it to eliminate the remaining hijacker in the cabin.
Fans of Clint Eastwood films will have recognized immediately that this scenario is fictitious. It’s a scene from the movie Magnum Force, which portrays the life of San Francisco Police Inspector Harry Callahan, also known as Dirty Harry.
In the movie, Callahan happens to be at the airport when the hijacking takes place. He hatches a plan to dress as a pilot and does his best to play the role without being detected. It works well right until his lack of technical skills gives him away. The moral of the story is that, no matter how much someone tries to fake it, being ill-trained – or not trained at all – will eventually reveal itself in the form of substandard or poor
For decades, corporate flight departments sought ex-military pilots precisely because of the rigorous and standardized training curriculum and technical skills required for success. Within the military, those who fell below standards or failed to make progress were eliminated from the pilot career track.
When hiring a former military pilot, a civilian chief pilot had a reasonable idea of what he was getting, at least in terms of “stick-and-rudder” skills. Even regional airlines (historically referred to as the commuters) once maintained a “9 to the line” paradigm, meaning a new hire received 9 simulator sessions to develop the skills required to be a line pilot. If he couldn’t get through 9 simulator sessions without a failure, he was terminated.
About a decade ago, airline interviews switched from a more technically-based approach to one that evaluated “softer” skills. The theory behind this could be summed up in the question: “What good is the ‘ace of the base’ if he turns out to be a narcissistic jerk who treats customers poorly and no one wants to fly with him?”
The other side of the argument involved the matter of inclusion. Some held the belief that otherwise good candidates were being excluded from consideration because they didn’t look like the traditional pilot straight out of central casting. Interview questions like “What’s the difference between N1 and N2?” were replaced with things like “Let’s talk about a time you had a conflict with a coworker. How did you resolve the problem and what steps did you use?”
Within publicly-traded companies, candidates for a pilot position began to be screened initially by the human resources department, not by the chief pilot, as in the past. A person interviewing for a pilot position had to jump through the same hoops as an accountant or office staff.
The paradigm shift in interviewing was a tacit dismissal of prior background, experience, and training. In essence, it was more about the person, not the pilot. For this argument to be true, the company or flight department doing the hiring had to believe that their training program – whether delivered in-house or by a subcontractor – could produce a pilot to their standards and bridge any gaps or shortfalls that might exist.
The pilot shortage effect
The current dearth of pilots at all levels of the career ladder has placed even more focus on training as opposed to background. Pilots with fat logbooks and decades full of experience are not typically the ones showing up for interviews these days. Those pilots already have jobs and pay and benefits commensurate with their experience.
Whether there’s a true pilot shortage – which has been a controversial topic for at least the past 40 years – or a kink in the pilot training pipeline, or the fact that an entire generation is no longer enamored with aviation, the result across the industry is that employers are eschewing traditional methods of hiring pilots.
Past philosophies that insist that “there’s only one way to get here” have been replaced by multiple paths of entry or gateways, like ab initio programs and internships.
The pedigree of a 4-year degree from an expensive private aviation college – or any degree, for that matter – is no longer afforded the credibility it once had, and is no longer required. The question that must be asked is whether it should ever have been. There are more than a few pilots who have degrees in oceanography or political science.
Aside from making for interesting conversation on a transcontinental red eye, these degrees have no advantage when it comes to flying an ILS to minimums at HPN (White Plains NY) in the winter. It’s the same argument that says 2000 hours of right-seat time doing pattern work in a Cessna 152 doesn’t translate well to being proficient flying the north Atlantic tracks in a Dassault Falcon 900.
Type-specific training (in concert with job-specific training) is a better predictor of success, and produces a safer and more efficient pilot.
The majority of type-specific turboprop and jet training is targeted toward pilots who make their living flying the aircraft. The remaining demographic is made up of high-net-worth individuals or owner/operators who have the resources to acquire and maintain a turbine aircraft for personal use.
Training is designated as initial (in which a pilot is encountering the aircraft for the first time) or continuing qualification (otherwise known as recurrent).
Training can be conducted in an aircraft itself or entirely within a simulator. There are pluses and minuses to each option, and these typically include cost, convenience, availability, and personal preference.
When it comes to in-aircraft training, some facilities or individuals are considered industry “gurus” or experts on a specific aircraft type. The more unusual the aircraft type, the greater the likelihood that there’s a guru for it. Two examples are Howell Enterprises in Smyrna TN, which specializes in the MU-2 turboprop, and the King Air Academy in Phoenix AZ, which is strictly dedicated to King Airs.
There’s also the question of whether to use a static or dynamic training device if going the simulator route. A static device uses visuals that replicate the flying environment, but the device cannot produce motion like a dynamic device would. Static devices are commonly used on higher-end piston reciprocating aircraft like the Cessna 400 series, the Piper Navajo, and entry-level light jets and turboprops.
SimCom provides both static and dynamic options for jet and turboprop operators. The company’s portfolio also includes maintenance and specialty training, with courses covering hypoxia and upset recovery. SimCom is authorized to deliver factory training on Daher TBM turboprops for both pilots and maintenance techs.
The company is also an authorized training partner for the Eclipse, Pilatus PC-12, Mitsubishi MU-2, and Piper M series aircraft, and now offers training for Gulfstream G650, Bombardier Challenger 300/350, and Embraer Phenom 300.
Canadian Aviation Electronics (CAE) is a top-tier provider of dynamic simulator-based initial, recurrent, and ab initio pilot training. Although CAE is the common moniker used within the aviation community, few know that the company didn’t get its start producing simulators and training pilots.
CAE started as a company that repaired and overhauled ground communications equipment, and installing and servicing antenna farms in the Arctic for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).
CAE started building simulators in 1952 under a contract with the RCAF to develop a training device for the Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck fighter twin jet. The results were so successful that in 1955 CAE was contracted to produce the first Canadian-built commercial flight simulator. The analog Douglas DC-6 simulator – state-of-the-art at the time – was used to train Canadian Pacific Air Lines pilots.
Today, CAE operates more than 250 civil aviation full flight simulators in 50-plus international locations. The DFW (Dallas–Fort Worth TX) location is the largest corporate aviation training center in the world, at 426,000 sq ft. Actually, CAE has 2 campuses in Dallas – one for corporate pilots and one for airlines. In addition to pilot training, CAE offers training for maintenance technicians, cabin crew, and ground personnel in all facets of the industry, whether fixed- or rotary-wing.
FlightSafety International (FSI) began around the same time as CAE. Al Ueltschi, a former Pan Am pilot, started the company in 1951 at the Marine Air Terminal at LGA (La Guardia, New York NY). His belief was that corporate pilots should have access to the safety benefits of simulator training, much like the airlines and the military did.
FSI began with one rented Link trainer, and eventually expanded with the purchase of a Link Translator flight simulator. In 1966, Dassault Falcon named FSI as its factory-authorized training provider, followed by Gulfstream in 1969. FSI has also been the authorized training provider for Pratt & Whitney Canada since 2010.
Today, FSI operates the world’s largest fleet of advanced flight simulators and delivers more than 1.4 million hours of training per year to pilots and maintenance technicians.
Both CAE and FSI deliver specialized courses in addition to aircraft type-specific training. These are ancillary courses that are required based on the type of operation in which the pilot is expected to engage. Examples include international procedures, reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM), crew resource management (CRM), and cold weather operations.
CAE and FSI also offer turbine transition courses that introduce piston pilots to the intricacies and nuances of flying a jet. This is especially important, given the fact that both airlines and corporate flight departments are seeing applicants with less experience than in the past.
Although there can be vast disparities in the cost of initial and recurrent training across providers, flight departments are usually brand loyal and tend to stick with one provider or the other rather than price shop. Consistency of the product is the overall goal, and flight departments that stick with the same provider know what they’re getting.
It’s important to note that all of the leading training providers embrace the latest philosophies regarding student-centered learning. Adults learn differently, and training to proficiency rather than “9 to the line” is now the name of the game.
Shannon Forrest is a current line pilot, CRM facilitator, and aviation safety consultant. He has more than 10,000 hrs TT and holds a degree in behavioral psychology.