‘It is the quality of our work which will please God and not the quantity’

Mahatma Gandhi

The simple answer is ‘as good as you can afford them to be’.

A normal TR course could, at least in theory, be so comprehensive that it would take a newly qualified CPL graduate and make him fit for the role he or she intends to take on in a multi-pilot or even a single pilot environment.

For most of our customers this would make a TR course too long and too expensive. The total number of weeks at the Academy can be cut and the sim hours reduced to make it more financially acceptable but with each reduction to the input the quality of the candidate must be raised if a truly competent pilot is to emerge at the end.

At my current ATO we have a few customers who need that kind of service and we have the resources to provide it. One recent milestone was to take raw PPL’s and take them all the way to graduates at our SAR training facility. Of course we are talking about training courses that are measured in years rather than weeks but if needed it can be done thanks in part to the effective use of flight simulators.

If it were up to me I would insist that all newly qualified CPL’s undertake such a full role-related course on their first type for this is the only way to deliver a competent member of the crew, single or multi-pilot. I consider it a bit of an embarrassment that we have been prepared for so long to accept what amounts to a conspiracy between the operators and the regulators to agree that it is acceptable for a vague accumulation of flight hours to be a sufficient measure of competence to allow the individual to be initiated into the role of co-pilot or, heaven forbid, aircraft commander.

What makes an unacceptable arrangement into a potentially deadly system failure is that this conspiracy allows the newly qualified CPL to return in the role as instructor in what is billed as an ‘everybody wins’ scenario. The trainee gets an affordable training course, the zero-experience instructor gets paid to fly and whilst doing so accumulates those vital flight hours that have, in reality, an overinflated value. He still arrives on day one of his first ‘real’ job with a huge skill gap that someone has to deal with.

It is impossible, as far as I am aware, to find another profession that uses newly qualified people to teach the next generation.

If the accident statistics produce by EASA and the FAA are taken as a guide then we can identify six or seven of the top ten causal factors as those that involve ‘poor decision-making’. Studies about poor decision-making in aviation cite ‘experience’ as an important ingredient in the decision-making process. Experience cannot be taught but exposure to a mind that is experienced will allow a greater variety of options to be available to the trainee decision-maker. That’s my argument for all instructors to have an ATP. I would like to be more proscriptive but it would be impractical.

A TR course at the moment is one that is ‘optimised’ so that it can be approved by the parent National Aviation Authorities (EASA & FAA) and is set at an affordable price for the majority of customers. Trainees taking the TR course are required to arrive with a minimum level of KSA. The metric used to assess suitability has to be one that is simple to apply across the piloting spectrum as most trainees come from outside the EASA/FAA area and include military, para-military and para-civil pilots too.

The reality is that a factory school receives its customers from every corner of the globe. Regrettably the kind of standards our parent regulator believes are truly representative of Europe are nothing like the standards found elsewhere. Actually, in my opinion, they are not as common in Europe as maybe our regulator imagines.

The Simulator Instructor’s job could, arguably, be done to a higher standard if the SFI was given an FI course and rating. The regulators have however decided that the task, as defined by them, is much less demanding and is simply to take an individual who meets the course entry requirements and ease him or her on through a simple change of type. How little they know. SFI’s, as envisaged by the regulators, ‘deliver’ training, not ‘teach’ it. You ask the trainee to perform a manoeuvre that he must have been capable of performing on their previous type and then coach them via observation and verbal commands so that he achieved the required standard.

This puts the SFI in an invidious position where he may be unable to cope with the lack of the trainee’s KSA and resorts to various defence strategies to avoid career-damaging issues. The kind of defence strategies I allude to are a direct result of the lack of any rigour in a tick-box system and a lack of understanding of the pressures at work on the new SFI.

I have been experimenting with analogies to get over my views on the drawbacks of a decades old licensing system in need of something better. Here’s my best one so far….

Imagine you want to gain a qualification that proves you are an expert in English Literature. You have to achieve this in two weeks and attend an approved course designed for that purpose. On arrival at the training facility you are given a list of 100 quotations from Shakespeare and told that the exam will consist of 50 questions, each one asks you to repeat one of the quotations. The pass mark is 75% and a pass will entitle you to a certificate that qualifies you to describe yourself as an expert in English Literature.

I hope that has you tearing your hair out at the very possibility that such a process could exist but think about it for a moment. Think about the pedagogy involved in our current system.

First we have a two-week technical course that requires a 75% pass mark. I presume that the regulators (EASA) use the expertise of those qualified in the science of teaching and learning when approving a license related course so the content of the two-week course is validated and the requirement to achieve 75% during the post course examination is also in accordance with their requirements. Below is a typical ‘Ebbinghaus Curve’[1] that indicates how long knowledge is retained. The ‘x’ axis is a time-line and the ‘y’ axis is the percentage of the original knowledge retained.


Garry Platt
Senior Consultant
Woodland Grange

The actual rate of ‘forgetting’ is dependent on the original teaching process used to deliver the knowledge. The methods used at a typical ATO indicate that after two weeks 80% of the knowledge is forgotten and just 20% retained. This means that the pilot achieving 80% in the technical exam would only be able to achieve 16% two weeks later which is when he would be finishing the simulator section of the Type Rating Course. How does this fit with the requirement to achieve 75% in the original exam?

Is my concern reflected by my experiences? Most certainly. There are many recurrent training trainees that clearly have reinforced their technical knowledge with the experience gained operating the AW139. Unfortunately there are also many who give the impression that they were asleep during their technical training or didn’t attend the course.

Ebbinghaus went on to indicate that repeated lessons on the required material enhances retention in the way we can see in the next illustration.


Garry Platt
Senior Consultant
Woodland Grange

I found this graphic on the Internet. It reinforces my assertion that whilst it is common for trainees to receive some training material and assistance prior to the Type Rating Course it is the postgraduate phase that offers the possibility for greater retention of knowledge. We must remember that at one stage that knowledge was deemed so important that the candidate had to demonstrate a 75% pass mark in a written exam.

[1] Hermann Ebbinghaus was a German psychologist who pioneered the experimental study of memory, and is known for his discovery of the forgetting curve and the spacing effect. He was also the first person to describe the learning curve.