Friday, June 5, 2015

Training is the fuel or power source for the industry

Training is the key to most of the success as well as the safety in helicopter operations; however it has been often overlooked for economic reasons.  Some people think of training as only the ab-initio student pilot which of course is very important in establishing the foundation for solid skills in the future.  Training beyond the initial ratings varies from region to region due to significant differences in minimum standards set by regulators.  There is also a considerable range of training standards across the industry sectors.  In many cases advanced or recurrent training is totally ignored unless expressly dictated by regulation, customer requirements or insurance.  Historically this deficiency had not severely impacted the industry until the introduction of complex technology in the aircraft.  Despite the evidence that most accidents were determined to be a result of pilot error often due to poor decisions, advanced training standards improved very little in many areas across the industry – until recently.   The industry has taken the lead in developing realistic standards and effective training techniques.  The International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) continues to address some of these issues in various publications and resources.  The Helicopter Association International (HAI) Training Committee is also working on projects recognizing that training has a higher priority as missions and equipment become more sophisticated.

 As helicopters operations continue to evolve so do the aircraft.  Complex technology is changing our aircraft and increasing our need for training.  Now we have become firmly established in the century of technology.  We think nothing of purchasing the latest smart phone or tablet and engrossing ourselves in hours of amazement and networking.  New aircraft are not simply flying machines, they are smart machines.  Smart machines that require an advanced skill set to operate successfully and safely.  Unlike the other high-tech devices to which we have become accustomed, if not addicted; high tech aircraft systems cannot be learned in the leisure of the home or office. 

So how do we address this developing requirement?  There is not one answer to address all of the situations.  Training is the fuel or power source for the industry.  It has different requirements for each aircraft class and industry sector.   In starting with the basics, student pilots should prepare for advanced operations in specific sectors as well as learning how to fly.  Student pilots are learning skills and maneuvers to pass a check ride or flight test.  The critical piece to add at this stage of training is the discipline to follow checklists, procedures and policies.   A strong professional discipline facilitates the ability to make good decisions in challenging situations.  This discipline also provides a structure for increasing the pilot workload as more complexity is introduced.  It is also important that we accept that we are never finished with our training.  Each completion simply takes us to the next level.

The skills we learn as student pilots can take us through our entire career, however many skills are perishable and must be refreshed on a regular basis.  The need for refreshing some skills such as instrument proficiency has been widely recognized in all of aviation for many years.   Most other skills have not been acknowledged as being perishable so it is important to note that any skill not practiced on a regular basis may be perishable over time.  Some additional examples of perishable skills may include autorotations, use of advanced avionics, or flight into confined areas.  Recurrent training to be effective should include all the perishable skills that may be needed for the operation.
The use of simulators has proven to be very effective for maintaining proficiency.  Pilots can be trained to manage the systems and avionics in actual aircraft during normal operation, but when it comes to abnormal operations and emergencies, this becomes risky to both pilot and aircraft.  Then if we add challenging locations such as mountainous terrain, over water or a high-rise city environment training in an aircraft can become more dangerous.  Simulation is playing an increasingly important role in providing the environment for learning and maintaining the skills necessary for flying specific operations in complex aircraft.   This is where scenario based training specific to the mission and the location is most important.   Training to a specific type of operation in a variety of weather conditions and environments prepare pilots to handle almost all the situations they will be encountering.  In the last few years, simulation has been become more available and is currently in use by the aircraft manufacturers, large training providers and many of the most successful operators.  In the United States, the NTSB recently issued a safety alert stating that the “Use of simulators can prepare helicopter pilots for emergencies and prevent accidents.”  The value of simulators is widely recognized now in Europe, United States, Canada and Brazil. 

All of the factors that lead us to require a higher standard of training for pilots are just as applicable to the maintenance personnel.  Maintenance technicians are also faced with theses “smart” flying machines that require more technology based maintenance, sophisticated equipment and tools.  Training maintenance personnel has wider range of standards than pilots.  In some regions, there are no maintenance training requirements that separate fixed wing from helicopters and in other regions aircraft specific training is mandatory.   These issues are also on the radar for the IHST and HAI Training Committees as well as the US NTSB.  Airframe and engine manufacturers have enhanced their training and in partnership with industry are providing more availability of model specific courses.

It is important to recognize the individual needs of training with respect to the level of proficiency, the environment to be flown, the specific mission, and the complexity of the aircraft.   Training insures that pilots and mechanics are prepared to handle whatever situation is encountered in the rotorcraft environment.   It is the fuel that will insure the future success of our industry.