‘If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.’


Helicopter training using the resources of an ATO are expensive. Why would anyone spend so much money on a training course and not want it to be as good and as efficient as it can be? Why would any organisation offer these training courses, then not deliver them in the best way possible using all the expertise, teaching skills and knowledge at its disposal? Surely optimisation would be an element covered by the course approval?

Nothing puzzles me more in my activities as both a trainee on a simulator-based course or a simulator instructor, than ignorance of the need to deliver the best possible training and to optimise all that effort and expense.

Can you imagine booking and prepaying for a stay at a hotel with a Michelin Star Restaurant and then, after your arrival you find that on three nights of your two-week stay you have to eat your much-anticipated gourmet dinner at midnight and, heaven forbid, on two days at 4 am. It’s difficult to enjoy the experience when your body is tuned to sleep rather than eat. You would be justified in believing that the experience was not good value for money. Still, we shouldn’t worry. The hotel bill is paid by your employer, and the boss doesn’t care if you were given the best or not so long as the box ticked ‘dinner’ was ticked. So, that’s all right then. We know that the Michelin Inspectors don’t work night shift so the restaurant’s ‘stars’ are in no danger.

Those employers that do care about the service provided will no doubt complain when they find out that their staff have been served up complex material when their brains were fast asleep. When they do, they will find that the world of simulator training has turned from a ‘blessing’ into a ‘curse’.

The aviation industry has created a monster. A monster is a tool that makes the training and testing of pilots much better and much easier to manage but is so popular that the simulator ‘slots’ are fully booked. When you find out that the lesson delivered at midnight needs to be repeated because the pilots were unable to demonstrate the required progress you find that such repetition is impossible because the only available slots are at best in the middle of the night or, even worse, next month.

That situation puts enormous pressure on the teaching staff to keep the show on the road, but the result is what you would expect – candidates do not reach their full potential. They leave the training school having achieved a lower standard than they could otherwise have achieved if they had received their training during the optimum circadian rhythm.

The teaching profession is a calling. You are motivated to satisfy the needs of your students, and you have been given the resources to deliver the necessary teaching and learning, so it is hard to accept when the management – who are invariably NOT teachers – organise the training so as to fail to optimise the results of our efforts. What a waste of time and money!

The key to this problem is understanding the organisational impact on knowledge retention. The Internet is full of academic papers that explain the science behind ‘circadian rhythms’ and the ideal methods for delivering complex subjects. These seem to have been totally ignored by the regulators who could if they so wished, rule that attention must be paid to these issues.

It is my opinion that recurrent training can take place at any time of the day that you may reasonably be expected to work. As pilots, we could say that this means anytime, night or day.

However, I believe that it is an entirely different issue when you are trying to deliver complex concepts and protocols for the first time on a type rating. These should be delivered during the optimum time within the circadian rhythms – say between 6 am and 10 pm. Briefing time included. To try and pump FMS routines into a brain running at treacle speed at twelve midnight is a waste of time and energy and amounts to nothing more than box ticking. The problem is that we all know this is an issue but have chosen to ignore it for the convenience of the schedulers and commercial pressures.

Retention of the information passed to the student is very much dependent upon the mechanism used to deliver it. Once again the Internet is full of academic papers detailing these principles. It’s not rocket science. If we are going to spend a small fortune on creating a course and then charge the client a load of cash, then we need to make the delivery as efficient as possible and thereby make the learning process effective too.

I can hear the regulator reminding me that 99% of the trainees pass the course so the competence management process must be healthy. I hate to disabuse them, but a ‘compliance-based’ or ‘syllabus-based’ process has little to do with competence unless you, the SFI, along with the SFE (or TRE) make it so. Less than half of the students I have worked with in the last ten years could be described as competent.

The problem is a factory school cannot be the world’s policeman when it comes to such issues. The factory ATO must deliver type-rated pilots to meet the customer’s demands. If the regulator says ‘show us how you intend to do that’ and then ‘approves’ that course then compliance is, from that moment on, the sole requirement.’

I remember during my Flight Safety Officer’s course learning the difference between Quality Control and Quality Assurance. The former looks at the finished product and verifies that it meets the required standard using various metrics (akin to a ‘skill test’), but the latter examined the whole process and checked that it was fit for purpose. I believe we have both at my ATO but while the QC is carried out by a qualified flight examiner, the former appears to be carried out by non-aviators who do not understand the implications of any shortcomings in the system itself. It might be better if properly trained instructors, who knew and understood the business of teaching and learning in an aviation environment, carried out the QA. An independent auditor would be even better.

Of course, the QA system at my ATO is ‘approved’ so is itself ‘compliant’ – now you begin to appreciate the malaise that is ‘compliance’. It can lead to everyone doing everything to the lowest acceptable standard. Many find this unacceptable, but there is no regulatory incentive to work in any other way. We have chosen to be willfully ignorant.

If a job is worth doing, then it is worth doing well. Let us make a conscious decision to optimise the learning process rather than complain about it when things go wrong, and accidents occur as a result of poor application of the basic rules of pedagogy.