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Etihad's deck is full of aces

Posted 16 May 2019 · Add Comment

With a global pilot shortage looming, Etihad is seizing the opportunity to help train the next generation of flightdeck crew.

On the sidelines of last November’s Bahrain International Air Show, a senior Boeing executive opined that if anyone wanted to make money out of aviation today, the best way to do it was to open a training school for pilots.
With the world’s airliner fleet predicted to double over the next two decades and a steady stream of retirements from among the current workforce, Boeing reckons that 790,000 new pilots will be needed between now and 2037.
Even after subtracting business aviation and helicopter pilots from that figure, that adds up to a lot of training.
With that in mind, the newly revamped Etihad Aviation Training (EAT) organisation could bring in a useful additional stream of revenue for the group in coming years.
Early in 2018, Etihad Airways Group brought together Etihad Flying College, and its maintenance training activities, rebranding them as EAT. The former college catered for both pilots and cabin crew. Ground-based training activities take place at Etihad’s home base in Abu Dhabi itself, while the flying training is carried out in the less congested skies around Al Ain, some 140km away.
At Al Ain, EAT maintains a fleet of 10 Cessna 172s, six twin-engine Diamond Aircraft DA42s, four Embraer Phenom 100 light business jets and two Extra 300 aerobatic aircraft for teaching the increasingly important skill of upset recovery.
Etihad Airways currently takes up around 50% of the utilisation of EAT’s training centre in Abu Dhabi. Etihad has around 2,500 pilots, who each go through the centre for conversion or refresher training twice a year. That number is now stable, after the rapid expansion of a few years ago: in 2015, for example, a record-breaking 741 new pilots joined the company and there are no fewer than 147 nationalities represented on Etihad’s flightdecks.
EAT emerged when Etihad bought the fixed-wing component of the Horizon flying training school in Al Ain from the latter’s owner, state investment body, Mubadala, in 2014 and started to offer multi-crew pilot licence (MPL) training as well as airline transport pilot licence (ATPL) courses.
It took on 350 ab initio students – predominantly Emiratis – for Etihad and around 200 of them are now flying with the airline, with the remainder still going through their training course.
However, training pilots for Etihad is only half the story, said James Collishaw, EAT’s head of business development. From January 2018, EAT was re-launched as a commercially focused operation, offering training to other carriers.
Training pilots from third-party airlines “was the whole concept behind EAT” and partly designed to ease the cost of its operation. Pilots from other airlines pay their own way.
“Our number one target will be to go out to other airlines and sell those 50% of places, but we also have quite a high customer base of individuals; any pilot can approach us for training.”
However, EAT mounts strict checks on individuals wishing to join its courses; it has not been unknown for some pilots to exaggerate their existing qualifications. “We check the validity of their licences,” said Collishaw. “It’s an industry-wide problem that we’re well aware of. We obviously make sure we do our homework.”
But other airlines, rather than individuals, remain the main target for EAT’s sales teams. In December, for example, Gulf Air struck a deal to have some of its pilots train on the Abu Dhabi establishment’s simulators. This was one of the first results to flow from a co-operation memorandum of understanding (MoU) struck by the two carriers during the November 2018 Bahrain International Air Show.
Bahrain-based Gulf Air pilots who will operate on the airline’s incoming fleet of Boeing 787-9s will travel to Abu Dhabi to undertake training on the type. Under the agreement, Gulf Air will dry-lease simulators from EAT, with instruction being undertaken by Gulf Air personnel.
“This is the start of on-going projects with Etihad Airways and Etihad Aviation Training,” Gulf Air’s COO, Captain Suhail Abdulhameed Ismaeel, explained.
EAT operates 11 full-flight simulators for the Airbus A320, A330, A340 and A380, as well as Boeing 777 and 787 types. The two Boeing 787 simulators will be joined by a third early in 2019. Each simulator is backed up by a flight-training device.
Collishaw said that EAT had “done particularly well in the Middle East” in winning training business from airlines. “There’s not many we don’t have and we’re tendering for another couple of low-cost carriers. Europe is a big target for us now, as we’re a fully certified approved training organisation.” EAT is the first UAE training establishment to be certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
Despite EAT’s early successes: “If there’s one thing we underestimated, it’s how long it takes to get contracts over the line. It’s not an easy process. The worst one has been eight months.” However, the organisation was “moving ahead into a very strong 2019” and was in a stronger position than “the rather slower start that, with a little more experience, we might have anticipated”, he said.
At the start of 2019, a scheme was launched where the 8,500 pilots registered with the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority with initial, overseas, licences could renew their validity at EAT. “It’s in every pilot’s interests to keep their home licence, in case something happens and they have to go home,” said Collishaw.
EAT does not only provide training for flightdeck personnel; cabin crew also form part of the annual throughput.
They go through the full gamut of training, including planned and unplanned emergencies, depressurisation and one of the biggest risks on board an aircraft, fire.
To train them to deal with the latter contingency, the training centre has a section of fuselage with installed gas-fired burners that can simulate fires in a variety of locations, including overhead bins, the galley ovens and toilets.
The burners can also fill the fuselage mock-up with smoke in a matter of seconds, which all cabin crew (and pilots) then have to walk through while wearing smoke hoods.
Cabin crew also have to practice emergency evacuations, in which they have first to block the doorways with their bodies, to prevent a stampede of panicking passengers as soon as the exits are opened. They also need to practice voice projection and assertive attitudes, to keep control of a situation that could very easily descend into pandemonium.
One major problem with which cabin crew have had to contend in recent years is the increasing tendency for passengers to try to take carry-on luggage with them during evacuations. There have been several incidents where, incredibly, passengers have been seen strolling away from burning aircraft, wheeling their carry-on bags.
There are three main problems with this: the extra seconds it takes to haul baggage out from overhead lockers or underneath seats; the resulting increased congestion in the aisles and the risk that baggage will rip the escape slides. “If I have to take a bag off someone, I will,” said EAT marketing officer Laura Davies, an experienced cabin crew member herself.
There is also an indoor swimming pool, in which cabin crew and pilots can practice using liferafts, in the event of an airliner having to make a forced landing on water.
As Etihad Aviation Group CEO, Tony Douglas, said of EAT last year: “The growth of the business will mirror the expansion of the global training market.”
With providers already struggling to keep up with demand, EAT seems set to bring in a useful contribution to Etihad Airways Group’s bottom line for the foreseeable future.
 

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