Piloting through the pandemic

| Updated on July 11, 2021

Flight grounded:The lockdown brought the industry to a grinding halt and pilots were kept away from their aeroplanes and mandatory training   -  ISTOCK.COM

How AirAsia India innovated with a distance-learning training programme for its cockpit crew

Capt Arun Nair

As glamorous as it may appear, commercial aviation is serious business. It involves ferrying priceless lives across destinations with safety and efficiency. The responsibility on the cockpit crew is immense. Without doubt, advancements in technology and automation have enhanced safety, reduced the workload and fatigue of pilots. However, it has also expanded the scope of operations and training needs exponentially. Round-the-clock and all-weather operations have led to unique challenges for the crew. There is no room for error.

Modern aeroplanes employ advanced technology, and it requires in-depth knowledge, refined skills and quick decision making for the optimum utilisation of onboard computers and systems. It takes years of systematic and extensive training to reach the desired levels of proficiency to pilot a commercial jet. In the constantly evolving world of aviation, staying abreast of new developments and honing one’s knowledge and skills is a continuous process for an airline’s training department.

The industry has evolved to encompass exhaustive training patterns over the years, with classroom lectures and testing apart from simulator training and proficiency checks. No matter how experienced one is, stringent standards have to be met and demonstrated always. An ecosystem exists behind the scenes to ensure that the cockpit crew is well trained and their skills assessed regularly. The Hudson incident [when a US Airways flight made an emergency landing in the river in 2009] was no fluke; it was the result of years of training and practice that saved invaluable lives.

In touch, remotely

The fallout of the pandemic has been devastating. The lockdown brought the industry to a grinding halt and pilots were kept away from their aeroplanes and training. A worry for the industry was that reduced flying, delayed training and the stress of infection or losing a loved one could affect their proficiency. Whether an aeroplane flies four times a day or once in 40 days, it has to be flown the same way, with utmost safety. An effective alternative had to be found quickly.

The AirAsia India training team came up with a novel Distance Learning Training Programme (DLTP) for the airline’s crew. Lectures were conducted over platforms such as Zoom and Google during the lockdown to keep pilots’ knowledge refreshed. This idea mooted by AirAsia soon gained traction across the Indian aviation industry, leading to it being granted regulatory approval as an alternate means of conducting regulatory training without diluting required standards. When the skies opened up again after almost two months in May 2020, the pilots were at ease in the cockpit. The DLTP programme effectively substituted for the existing training pattern across the industry. The safe and efficient operations in recent times are testimony to that. DLTP may have been a serendipitous find, but without doubt, it is the future of pilots’ regulatory training needs and should be included as an alternate means of training once we emerge from the pandemic.

Captain Arun Nair


The writer is the Chief Pilot Training and Standards, AirAsia India

Published on July 11, 2021

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