Friday, May 22, 2015

Training to Proficiency

Training is a key element in maintaining safety in our daily flight operations.  One of the most indefinable areas of training is the recurrent segment, despite the fact that this may be the most effective area for mitigating risk and maintaining proficiency.
During recurrent training and flight reviews we are tasked with training to proficiency.  Proficiency can be interpreted at many levels, but most often it is kept to the minimum standards stated by regulation.   The FAA defines proficiency as “the outcome of the maneuver is never in doubt, be it a standards maneuver or emergency procedure.”  Some training standards will specify maneuvers and tasks that demonstrate meeting these requirements. 

It is what is beyond these stated standards that should be considered most relevant to our safety.  Proficiency should be taken to a personal as well as a professional level.  If we can determine by an honest self-appraisal, the knowledge and performance that require additional training, our competency will improve.  Practice in specific areas that we recognize as needing improvement will enhance our ability to make more confident decisions in all situations including emergencies. 

Most of the time, this does not require a major change to standard training programs.  Each training session should allow for the pilot to request practice and/or training in skills or maneuvers that might lose proficiency over time.  There are many skills that fall into a “perishable skill” list especially when regular flight time does not meet certain conditions.  The most obvious of these is flight in low visibility conditions.  IFR and inadvertent flight into IMC are frequently addressed as an area of additional training.   Other perishable skills are often overlooked.   Maneuvers and equipment not employed on a regular basis such as autorotations or night vision goggles may not be sufficiently addressed in recurrent training. Normal training sessions might avoid emergency procedures that are difficult to replicate in an aircraft without significant risk.   This is an area where scenario based training in flight simulators is extremely effective.   Most risk factors including visibility restriction and emergency procedures can be practiced to proficiency in simulators.

Beyond the perishable skills, consideration should be given to the areas where the pilot may have limited experience especially when changing jobs or locations.   A pilot flying specific routes such as tour operations may not be comfortable with overwater flights to a platform with no land in sight.   Specific geographical areas and terrain may offer different challenges to different pilots.  A pilot flying offshore for a considerable period of time might find a lack of proficiency when switching to a mountainous flight environment.   A law enforcement pilot flying in a remote area may be uncomfortable with the communications procedures when moving to a congested environment.  All of us can recognize areas where our experience is limited.  Many companies have established training programs that include specific requirements based on the type of operation certification, however in some areas this is vague and does not take in consideration a lack of recent experience.  Since conditions vary significantly in different types of operation, training should include anything that is unique along with the typical.  Proficiency in training should include the particular environmental requirements that fit the situation.

Technology proficiency is a whole new focus area for training.  Switching from analog to a digital or glass cockpit may take extra time for some pilots.  The reverse is also true.  Pilots with mostly glass cockpit experience may find difficulty in developing an effective scan in an analog cockpit.  Then if we look beyond the original aircraft configuration, we find that new technology is routinely being added to the aircraft.  New models of navigation, radar and terrain awareness equipment are providing more accurate information and warnings.  Most often as technology is added to an aircraft, training is minimal.  The technology itself can be a great asset to safe operation; however lack of proficiency can have the opposite effect.  There are numerous documented accidents that show, despite terrain awareness equipment installed on the aircraft, warnings were either misunderstood or ignored.  In some cases the equipment wasn’t used even though it was available.  This can be attributed to a lack of confidence in the equipment due to a lack of training.  If we are not comfortable or trained on high-tech equipment, most likely we won’t use it.  Compare this to your computer, tablet or smart phone.  There are allot of great features, you probably don’t use because you don’t know how.  In an aircraft using technology proficiently can reduce our workload.  Without proper training the same equipment can be a liability, distraction and ultimately increase our workload.

Lastly let’s consider how we interface with others.  Single pilot procedures can differ considerably from a multi-crew environment.  Military pilots that came from a structured crew environment may feel challenged by a single pilot operation.  The same can be said for pilots with a multitude of hours flying single pilot placed in a two pilot cockpit with different procedures and split duties.   Single pilot operation and multi-crew coordination should be a part of training from both the operation and human factor perspective.  Consideration should also be given to training in communication and multi-tasking that includes interfacing with the non-flying crew that are prevalent in the law enforcement, fire, rescue, air medical, and utility type operations.  Proficiency in single pilot operations as well as crew environments requires practice and discipline.

The most important factor to takeaway is that training should meet the personal and operational goals and requirements of the pilot in addition to any regulatory obligations.  Proficiency is the expertise and confidence in your ability to fly the aircraft in the specific operation, under all circumstances and make professional decisions based on knowledge and a solid foundation of skill.

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