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Pilot Proficiency in the Age of COVID-19

A recent article published online* brought to light several aspects of reduced currency that are intuitive for most pilots, and highlighted some lessons that have been validated by our observations of pilots training with us at APS at this time.

The article centered on a flight in Indonesia that momentarily veered off the runway after landing on September 15th, sparking an investigation by the country’s transport safety regulator. The investigation found the pilot had flown less than three hours in the previous 90 days. The first officer hadn’t flown at all since February 1. Lack of currency has been cited as a possible contributing factor in other accidents under investigation.

In fact, this trend and the resulting safety implications has inspired APS to offer a new ½-Day Jet Manual Handling Skills Course to address the threat of declining manual flight operations proficiency for jet pilots across the aviation industry.

The Impact

Proficiency, confidence, focus, and decision making are all impacted by the reduction in flying hours seen by so many pilots this year. In a survey conducted by APS in the June to August timeframe of 2020, 55% of responding Corporate Pilots identified that the reduction in flight hours had reduced their manual flight operations proficiency. For airline pilots asked the same question, 65% recognized an impact.

A third of the world’s passenger jets remain in storage and thousands of pilots have been laid off or furloughed. Many older, more experienced pilots have taken options for early retirements. At some airlines and flight departments this has resulted in a reduction in the overall average of years of experience and flight hours for their pilots.

Non-linear Degradation of Knowledge and Skills

Many corporate flight operations, military organizations, and government departments have used the reduced operational tempo to send their pilots for Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) with APS. This steady flow of recurrent training has made it easy to see certain aspects of pilot performance.

The first is that the trail off in proficiency and recall of information is non-linear; it gets worse with time. It is not difficult to see the increase in “rust” pilots display depending on whether they did their initial training with us one, two, or three years earlier. This concept is intuitive to most pilots, and although at APS we are working in the upset domain, it is a sure bet that this reduction in proficiency applies to normal flight operations as well. This should be concerning as the reduced flight operations tempo of so many operators extends into the future.

The good news is that with recurrent UPRT at APS, these pilots leave with renewed proficiency and demonstrated competency in upset prevention and recovery skills as well as manual flying skills.

The Best of Both Worlds

So how can we respond to the reduction in proficiency as a result of reduced flight hours? No doubt flight simulation must be used as it always has to meet certain requirements for training, even though some of those training requirements have been relaxed due to current conditions.

However, there is another way that currency and proficiency can be regained that will not only bring skills back to where they were, but add new skills as well. By its nature, UPRT provides extensive manual handling in a compressed period of time. At the same time it can provide additional recovery skills that augment the requirements of mandated training. UPRT compliments required simulator training by providing competencies outside of the normal flight envelope, where standard training ends.

Required simulator training along with UPRT at regular intervals results in the most robust pilot training regimen possible. This provides improved overall pilot proficiency over a broader range of the operational spectrum and creates resiliency in pilots.

The Silver Lining

We are all living through unique times, and many operators have turned it into an opportunity. A standard challenge we have for those wishing to attend our training is trying to find the time to fit it into a hectic operational schedule. In many cases reduced demands for travel have allowed some to invest their time in receiving UPRT to polish their skills. Because proficiency shined by practice is far superior to skills tarnished by lack of use.

We look forward to flying with you.

*Reference article published in BUSINESSTECH on Rusty Pilots in relation to the COVID 19 pandemic

APS ½-Day Jet Manual Handling Skills Course

Initial offering limited to fifty (50) course slots.


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