I have just rounded off my 49th year in aviation the big ‘5’ ‘0’ come in November. For two years, back in the ‘80s I taught and examined in the S61 simulators in Aberdeen and Stavanger. For much of the last ten years I have worked at the Leonardo (nee Agusta Westland) Training Academies in Italy and Malaysia, as an AW139 simulator instructor. During that period, I was also involved in projects in Russia, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Brazil for some other customers.
Sitting at the instructor console in any of the many types of Flight Simulation Training Devices (FSTDs) is a privilege few pilots enjoy. Doing it every working day for year after year exposes you to a large number of students – in my case just a few short of four hundred and fifty AW139 and three or four dozen S61 students. They came from fifty-eight different countries and worked in many different sectors of the industry – offshore, HEMS, law enforcement, corporate, firefighting, military, VIP, VVIP. I am fortunate to have worked in all these sectors bar firefighting, so I understand the unique language that accompanies each role and know intimately the challenges that face each one. It is easy to underestimate the value and credibility that derives from sharing such experience with your student. This is not apparently understood by all the Heads of Training out there. Taking offshore pilots for recurrent training requires an instructor with an intimate knowledge of that role, but scheduling is apparently about having the correct number of instructors not having the instructors with the correct experience. This is just one small issue out of many that I feel we have to get to grips with.
Simulator instructors and examiners are arguably becoming the most important link in the pilot competency chain. The huge growth in the use of simulators in the rotary wing world has enabled a step change in the quality and quantity of pilot training, but from where I sit, at the coalface, there is much to do to ensure that the potential benefits are fully realised.
Most of my working time is spent with my students, and like nearly all teachers I work alone. This lack of interaction with other flight instructors has led to me to develop, as you have discovered from my comments above, some firm views about my industry that have not benefitted from much debate or discussion. As a result, I have some firmly held beliefs waiting to be aired. My editor, however, is not interested in simply providing a platform for an opinionated old goat like me. He wants interesting copy that ‘informs’ his readers. So – here goes.
More than 50% of the students that I have had the pleasure of sharing a simulator with could not be described as ‘competent.’ There you have it – some information. Yes, it’s an opinion but one that has its basis in fact. The problem is that this ‘fact’ is voiced by one, cranky, reactionary chap who lives in the deepest darkest corner of Europe known as ‘Cornwall.’ But, wait a moment, supposing there were other sim instructors out there who, when they scratched their heads, recognized the disturbing lack of competency in 50%, or more, of the world’s rotary wing pilots. A disturbing inability to safely manage malfunctions and emergencies when under pressure. How do I communicate with them and how do I solicit their views? The answer is here – on Geoffrey’s column. Write to me at HeliOps and tell me what you know about life as an SFI (Synthetic Flight Instructor – the regulator’s less than flattering title we sim instructors have to wear in the formal environment of the ‘rule book’).