An Editorial Opinion
Wanted: Zero T i m e Pilots by Howard M. Coflett A concept ahead of its time? Perhaps. But when you think of it, that's exactly what the military does. They take a 22-year old college graduate (one service requires only a high school diploma), train him in the finer arts of military life with generous amounts of flight training thrown in, and bang/- two years later he is pilot in command one of the most sophisticated aircraft available in the world. With this military precedence, the current pilot shortage is affecting the way commercial airlines are beginning to think about pilot training. A recent conference in Grand Forks, ND was held to discuss a growing demand for airline qualified pilots, and a need to train ab initio, or "from the beginning" to airline entry level standards. The conference, co-sponsored by the University of North Dakota Center for Aerospace Sciences (CAS) and Northwest Aerospace Training Corporation (NATCO), focused on a projected shortage of well-trained experienced pilots, and the resultant need to train zero- or low-time pilots specifically for the airline mission. More than 70 representatives came from major and regional airlines, the FAA, NTSB, NASA and a host of private and industry organizations. In discussing the ab initio concept of pilot training to airline standards, conference speakers emphasized the need for effective screening procedures and specific training relative to airline flying. Speaker topics addressed human factors training, problem solving/judgment training, crew coordination, cockpit resource management, and training for new generation aircraft and the electronic cockpit. A panel of airline representatives reiterated the industry-wide concern to maintain an adequate supply of pilots qualified to fly sophisticated airline equipment in the complex hub and spoke environment of today's air traffic system.
Conference proceedings provided additional insight for NATCO and CAS in their joint-venture to develop the nation's first ab initio airline pilot training program. Signaling a milestone in that venture, the two broke ground in September for their new $6 million Aerospace Training and Research Center in Grand Forks, ND. Funded equally by the FAA and Northwest Airlines, the 57,000 square-foot center will house flight simulators, classrooms and research and development laboratories. Facilities will primarily serve the NATCO/CAS venture to train beginning pilots to airline entry level standards. The training curriculum is expected to have an 18-month duration and will take candidates from first flight in simple, singleengine airplanes to first officer qualification in transport category aircraft. "Airlines have traditionally enjoyed an ample supply of experienced military and civilian pilots from which to choose," said John D. Odegard, Dean of UND Center. "Now that this supply of experienced pilots is drying up, airlines will increasingly look to top educational institutions as preferred sources for new hires. Our joint venture with NATCO combines the Center's expertise with Northwest Airline's 60 years of experience training airline pilots." "In the United States, the current concept of pilot training system trains individuals in light aircraft only, with little or no airline orientation," says Captain H. Tom Nunn, NATCO Executive Vice President. "We plan to develop, through input from Northwest and other major and regional airlines, the first instructional program to incorporate airline operations, crew coordination procedures, cockpit resource management and advanced training in air transport category equipment."
I f that can be done for the airlines and the military, what about air medical service? And don't tell me about the thousands of hours it takes for a safe pilot! Current data shows that the average flight time for aeromedical pilots involved in accidents is very close to overall EMS pilot experience. More importantly, it appears that while most accidents are suffered by high-time pilots, many such pilots had few hours in EMS or in the aircraft assigned when they had their accident. Perhaps the real culprit is mission specific training, or the lack thereof. And that is what ab initio training is all about. The current pilot shortage is largely due to fewer pilots being trained by the militaD'. To complicate matters, peak military recruiting occurred nearly 20 years ago. As a result, we will soon reach the peak of 20-year retirees, and the number of retiring pilots will begin to diminish. Further, many pilots leaving military ranks after their first tour do not have enough hours to qualify for most civil jobs. So the pressure for qualified civil pilots is increasing. For the aeromedical industry, increased pilot needs created by more four-pilot EMS contracts and raised standards to 3,000 hours and IFR proficiency is causing supply to rapidly fall behind demand. Ab initio training, initially for low time pilots and potentially for no-time pilots, is certainly one alternative worth consideration. Such training is possible in EMS circles, considering the proliferation of larger twin-engine helicopters which can carry a seasoned pilot in command and a low-time co-pilot without compromising the medical mission. For more information about the CAS/NATCO concept, contact Alec White, Marketing Director, Northwest Aerospace Training Corp., MSP Int'l Airport, St. Paul, MN 55111; or call 612-726-7438. HOSPITAL AVIATION, JANUARY 1988 5