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Captains fantastic

Posted 16 October 2019 · Add Comment

With airlines growing around the world, pilots are in demand and the training industry is rapidly expanding to meet expectations. Dave Calderwood reviews the Middle East’s progress, including cockpit-ready first officers.

In September, OxfordSaudia, a new venture between the Saudi National Aviation Company (SNCA) and leading pilot training company, CAE, will start flight training with its first batch of 400 cadet pilots.
They will be flying brand new Diamond DA40 single-engine piston and DA42 twin-engine aircraft – the first of a total of 60 ordered – at an equally brand new facility at King Fahad International Airport, Dammam.
It’s on a dedicated 40,000sqm site complete with hangar and flight operations offices.
At the time of writing, there were 500 students going through phase 1 training in the English language, maths and physics – the basics for any potential pilot.
Once that 500 have been whittled down to 400 and flight-training begins, they’ll also be using Frasca level 6 flight-training devices (FTDs) leading on to CAE full flight simulators (FFS) configured for an Airbus A320 type rating.
The SNCA-CAE school will be teaching the General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) syllabus leading to an air transport pilot licence (ATPL) with an Airbus A320 type rating and, most importantly, cockpit-ready first officers.
“We are attempting to meet the needs of the local carriers by offering them a captain qualified to fly their aircraft when completing the training with OxfordSaudia, thereby removing the risk to the airlines that the captain might not perform to standards in their training,” explained Captain Larry Page, CEO of OxfordSaudia (the Oxford part is because of links with CAE’s premier and long-standing training location at the UK’s London Oxford Airport).
OxfordSaudia is a massive investment by SNCA, announced nearly two years ago at the 2017 Dubai Air Show.
Under the terms of the agreement, CAE will provide the authorised training centre in Dammam, Saudi Arabia; the key elements for world-class cadet training, such as commercial pilot licence curriculum and courseware; the training of staff and instructors; and safety and quality control systems.
“Developing the pilots of tomorrow is our priority and, as the leading worldwide training organisation, CAE is the best suitable partner to help us with the launch of this project,” said Othman Al Moutairi, president & CEO, SNCA.
“This centre gives us the ability to supply locally trained pilots to our growing regional and global airlines, while also providing a highly skilled career opportunity for students.”
Al Moutairi hit the nail on the head when he said “growing regional and global airlines”. In June this year, Boeing released its latest Pilot & Technician Outlook 2019-2038, the industry’s most respected forecast of personnel demand. It projects that 804,000 new civil aviation pilots, 769,000 new maintenance technicians and 914,000 new cabin crew will be needed to fly and maintain the world fleet over the next 20 years.
The forecast includes commercial aviation, business aviation and civil helicopter operators.
“The demand will stem from a mix of fleet growth, retirements, and attrition,” said the forecast. “Meeting this strong demand will require a collective effort from across the global aviation industry. As several hundred thousand pilots and technicians reach retirement age over the next decade, educational outreach and career pathway programmes will be essential to inspiring and recruiting the next generation of personnel.”
The Middle East share of this booming demand is 68,000 new pilots. This is some way behind the Asia Pacific region with 266,000, North America 212,00, and Europe 148,000, but ahead of Latin America’s 54,000, Africa’s 29,000 and Russia/Central Asia’s 27,000.
But that’s not the full story. Many of the regions that were once termed ‘emerging markets’, such as Asia Pacific, are short of experienced captains to work alongside the newly minted and low-hour first officers. Airlines in these regions are filling the gaps by paying extraordinary salaries to tempt captains away from more established regions such as Europe and North America.
That, in turn, creates early promotion opportunities for bright and high-achieving first officers with a couple of years’ line flying under their belts. You can see why the flight-training industry refers to the process as a ‘pipeline’.
Many existing flight-training organisations are doing well in the current climate, even when there are fluctuations in the airlines’ fortunes.
One prime example is Etihad Aviation Training (EAT), formerly known as Etihad Flight College. Originally set up to deliver pilots for Etihad Airways’ own fleet, the rebranded EAT has widened its intake and is exploiting its location as “the crossroads between Europe and the Indian sub-continent”.
To help build up its appeal, EAT is certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to operate as an approved training organisation (ATO) – the first in the UAE.
Mohammad Al Bulooki, chief operating officer, Etihad Aviation Group, said: “Etihad Aviation Training is an ambitious enterprise pursuing its mandate to provide outstanding training services to a global audience. The growth of the business will mirror the expansion of the global training market and the entire group is excited about the expanding portfolio of programmes and products.”
Etihad Aviation Training’s EASA ATO approval covers Airbus A320, A330 and A340 aircraft, and it wants to extend certification to include the Boeing fleet offering both ATPL and multi-pilot licence (MPL).
The MPL is airline-specific using the airline’s own standard operating procedures (SOPs) and is for ab initio pilot training.
Captain Paolo La Cava, director of EAT, said: “The organisation is always looking for ways to expand its operations and activities, and this new approval is the perfect platform for growth.
“EAT operates two facilities, one adjacent to Abu Dhabi International Airport, and a flight-training operation based in Al Ain. The Al Ain facility is our ab-initio school teaching cadets, while Abu Dhabi is a training academy primarily responsible for delivering advanced flight-training for airlines.
“We are fortunate to have our largest customer right on our doorstep,” continued La Cava. “However, to build our third-party customer portfolio, we have installed a commercial team capable of taking our ATO to the next level. The real challenge lies in the long-term retention of the third-party customers.”
One new customer, though, is close to home. For the first time, EAT is collaborating with a partner in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Sky Prime will dry and wet lease EAT’s FFS at Zayed Campus, Etihad’s training facility in Abu Dhabi. The training will be conducted by both Etihad and Sky Prime instructors.
La Cava said: “EAT is looking forward to welcoming Sky Prime instructors and pilots to conduct Airbus A320, A340 and Boeing 777 and 787 training at Zayed Campus. Last year was a strong year following EAT’s relaunch and we anticipate an even stronger 2019, with Sky Prime as our first Saudi Arabian partner.”
As part of the agreement, crew resource management (CRM) training, a tool for improving air safety and a key element of the ATPL course, will also be conducted by EAT trainers for Sky Prime’s pilots and cabin crew. Sky Prime cabin crew will also receive recurrent training with EAT’s cabin safety trainers.
Captain Mamdooh Mokhtar, Sky Prime Aviation Services CEO, said: “In line with the Saudi 2030 vision, we are delighted Etihad Aviation Training are helping us fulfil our development strategy. To use their best-in-class training facilities and pilots to train our flying crew will enable us to gain the trust of our customers.”
EAT’s facilities are impressive, with no fewer than 11 FFS units, including three Airbus A320 devices, two Airbus A330/A340s, one Airbus A380, two Boeing 777s and three Boeing 787-9s.
The facility is expanding and will soon see the arrival of a brand new Airbus A350 FFS, as well as an Airbus A320 fixed-based device, both of which will be available in Abu Dhabi to third-party customers (who include L3 and Alpha Aviation).
Its fleet of aircraft is just as impressive and includes four Embraer Phenom 100E light jets, 10 Cessna 172SP Skyhawk, six Diamond DA42NG and two Extra 300 aerobatic aircraft for upset recovery training.
Etihad’s UAE rival airline, Emirates, also operates the Embraer Phenom 100 for flight-training at its new Emirates Flight Training Academy (EFTA) at Dubai South.
However, EFTA has upgraded to the very latest 100EV, which is equipped with a new Prodigy Touch flightdeck, based on Garmin’s G3000 avionics, and modified Pratt & Whitney Canada PW617F1-E engines, offering more speed with superior hot-and-high performance.
EFTA’s facilities at Dubai South on a 164,000sqft corner of the aviation city at Al Maktoum International Airport are stunning. EFTA is effectively a private airport with its own air traffic control tower, fire service, hangar and apron for 30 aircraft, plus an 1,800 metre runway capable of handling hundreds of movements daily.
“What makes the academy truly unique is its innovative approach to training,” said Captain Abdulla Al Hammadi, vice-president of EFTA and a former Boeing 777 pilot for Emirates. Al Hammadi also worked on Emirates’ national cadet pilot programme, predecessor to EFTA.
“Cadets start training on the single-engine piston Cirrus SR22 G6 aircraft and then move directly to learning to fly the jet-powered Embraer Phenom 100EV, as against the conventional approach where cadets move from single-engine piston aircraft to twin-engine piston and then to jet aircraft. This eliminates an additional step, as well as allows for more experience on jet aircraft,” said Al Hammadi.
“The Cirrus SR22 G6 is an ideal single-engine piston aircraft choice for ab initio pilot training. The aircraft incorporates a modern composite airframe, two large 12in flight displays, a flight management system with a keypad controller, and an integrated engine indication and crew alerting system.
“Embraer’s Phenom 100 range of aircraft are also an obvious choice for airlines preparing cadets for multi-jet operations. The Phenom 100EV features state-of-the-art avionics and the industry’s first ever touchscreen glass flightdeck designed for light turbine aircraft, providing graphical flight planning training for cadets.
“The aircraft will allow cadets to benefit from airline-grade technology and performance during their training.
“Inside the classrooms, cadets will be trained using the most modern, effective and engaging techniques using the latest technology. The curriculum at the academy is completely paperless and all cadets are issued with tablets, which they use for learning.
“We have partnered with Boeing, who have provided an integrated software system to manage cadet learning and training flight operations. Our curriculum is based on a competency focused approach and will ensure that cadets complete at least 1,100 hours of ground school and 315 hours of flight school, exceeding all regulatory requirements.”
EFTA has also agreed a deal with TRU Simulation, a Textron company, for six flight simulation training devices (FSTDs) with mini-motion systems for the academy – the first of their kind in the aviation industry.
Three of the devices will be configured as Cirrus SR22 G6 FNPT2 and three as Embraer Phenom 100EV FTD Level II/MCC.
What’s interesting about all of these training courses is that they are open to both male and female cadet pilots. Partly this is due to the social and cultural revolution sweeping parts of the Middle East, but it’s also down to that boom in demand for pilots.
The numbers required cannot be achieved by taking the usual middle-class boys from wealthy families who can afford the high cost of training. Fully sponsored courses, paid for by airlines or national governments, are rare but, as Boeing notes in its 2019 Outlook, “Airlines are also recognising the significant cost burden for students, and bond programmes have gained traction as another avenue for interested candidates.”
A bond programme is where the airline covers the cost of the training course, whether it’s ATPL or MPL, and may also pay a living allowance to the cadet pilot. Then, once qualified, the pilot pays it back over a number of years from their salary.
The upside is that a bond programme allows would-be pilots to apply from a wider mix of backgrounds, including women who may never had considered such a career in the past.
Even Saudi Arabia is now encouraging women to become pilots. In June this year, the Saudi aviation authority, GACA, celebrated the first official flight of a Saudi female co-pilot –Yasmin Al Maimani – who flew an ATR 72-600 for Nesma Airlines between King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh and Prince Naif International Airport in Qaseem, and between Hail International Airport and Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Tabuk.
It wasn’t an easy career route for 29-year-old Al Maimani. Though her family supported her ambitions totally and she was able to start training in Jordan, she had to stop after the first stage, the PPL.
“Then I came back to Saudi, I had to stop my training,” she said. “A huge amount of money was going into it. When I was there, my dad used to come and stay and sometimes my mum. I was feeling like a burden to them. It was something like $80,000 to $90,000 going into my training.”
To continue, she took a job, first as a hotel reservation clerk, then working for the flight-training academy. The real break came with a US flying school in Florida, which agreed to train here. She gained a commercial pilot’s licence (CPL) and from there was among a batch of 11 young men and women who were accepted on to Nesma Airline’s four-stage future pilot programme.
The first stage was ground training at Prince Sultan Academy; the second phase was training on a multi-engine aircraft and the third stage was ground training on an ATR 72-600 aircraft at Nesma Aviation Training Centre in Hail. The last and final training stage was on an ATR 72-600 simulator in the cities of Jakarta and Madrid.
Alpha Aviation Academy (AAA), which celebrated its 10th anniversary with a ceremony at its base in Sharjah, UAE in April, says diversity is a key focus. Its 330 graduates from 51 batches to date are from over 67 different countries.
Of that, 20 female cadets are training with Alpha, with a further 28 having previously graduated. One of these is the inspiring Ghada Al-Rousi, now a first officer with Air Arabia and the first Emirati woman to hold an MPL licence.
AAA’s figures show a 14.5% ratio of females, which is far from equal but much better than the current worldwide total of just 3% qualified pilots.
In a move to encourage current professionals to undertake pilot training, AAA has recently extended the upper age limit on cadets training for the MPL licence from 33 to 35. Professionals who have gone on to train at AAA include former doctors and lawyers, a move which may also encourage female applications.
Captain Nadhem AlHamad, general manager at AAA, said: “As the UAE celebrates a ground-breaking year of diversity and tolerance, and with industry demand for pilots growing, we say to the world, irrespective of gender, religion or nationality, anyone is welcome to study at AAA. Whether you are an international university graduate or an Emirati woman with a professional career, our door is open to you.”
Although space is not usually a limiting factor in the Middle East, some states do have limited facilities, so have successfully linked up with training organisations elsewhere.
Bahrain-based Gulf Aviation Academy (GAA) has teamed up with Airways Aviation for fair-weather training at Huesca, Spain, while Greece’s Egnatia Aviation Training Academy is also popular with many Middle East student pilots.
Egnatia has links with several ME airlines, including Qatar Airways, Emirates, Air Arabia, Kuwait Airways, Iraqi Airways and, most recently, Oman Air.
Egnatia Aviation also has an active partnership with Qatar Aeronautical College for the training of Qatar Airways pilots.
Of course, pilot training is not just about new airline pilots. CAE recently acquired Bombardier’s business aircraft training division and is rolling out what it calls a “digital transformation”.
CAE’s Dubai Al Garhoud facility, which offers training across Boeing, Bombardier, Dassault Falcon, Gulfstream and Hawker business aircraft, is one of three centres to receive the company’s electronic training and checking authorisation (eTCA) application to better manage booking requests for training centres dedicated to business aviation.
“We are making the training process much easier, allowing pilots to go back to flying much faster.” said Nick Leontidis, CAE’s group president, civil aviation training solutions.


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