Dr Andy Taylor

Competency in Pilot Training: Are We Missing the Point?

Dr Andy Taylor, University Teacher in Air Transport Management, Loughborough University

Dr Andy Taylor commenced pilot training in 1996, but after completing his ATPLs and getting close to the CPL skills test, financial struggles forced him to return to his role as cabin crew in 1997. After five years as cabin crew and five more on the ground at Heathrow Airport, Andy gained a First-Class (Hons) Degree in Aviation Technology with Pilot Studies, as well as his PPL from the University of Leeds. Following a brief foray into retail management, Andy returned to Leeds in 2009 to undertake his PhD, looking at accidents involving General Aviation aircraft in the UK; he completed his Viva in July 2015. During his write-up, Andy secured employment as a Senior Lecturer in Aviation with Bucks New University in 2013, teaching and mentoring future pilots through their Air Transport with Commercial Pilot Training degree. in 2016, Andy moved on to the University of South Wales to manage their new flight training and aviation engineering programmes, but redundancy led him to teach Aviation and Airport Management at the University of Bedfordshire in January 2018.

Recently, Andy’s research interests include fatigue, pilot mental health and pilot training. Andy joined Loughborough University (University of the Year 2019) on 2nd September as a University Teacher in Air Transport Management.

Competency in Pilot Training: Are We Missing the Point?

Supporting findings presented at EATS 2017, indications from new research further suggest that the ATPLs no longer provide pilots with the knowledge they need to maintain safety in modern airline operations. Of 112 commercial pilots questioned in 2017, 89% said they use ATPL theory some of the time, or less, 73% believing only some of the syllabus is relevant today, with 87% admitting they would not pass the exams today.

A combined examination, containing 60 questions from all 14 ATPL subjects, has so far been presented to 90 operational commercial pilots; 25 Captains, 28 SFOs, 37 FOs. Categories of time passed since taking ATPLs ranged from less than six months to 16 or more years.

The overall average score was 53.7%, with FOs attaining 59.1%, Captains and SFOs achieving 49.5% and 49.8% respectively. A group of 29 non-aviation volunteers averaged 26.5%.

Rather than pilot competency, this questions the operational value of today’s ATPLs, implying that up to half of the syllabus is no longer relevant!

Similar concerns are raised regarding practical flight training and it is argued that students flying SEP aircraft for 150 hours to build their experience and proficiency is no longer appropriate, given the nature of the aircraft they will fly once qualified and actually learn little of value beyond their first 50 single engine hours. Additionally, research has shown GA pilots become vulnerable to accident involvement with between 100 and 300 hours’ experience, and are at greater risk than those with just 10 hours.

Thus, a shorter competency-based flight training programme that reduces the ATPL syllabus by a third and requires fewer, but more constructive flight hours, will be presented, focussing on the specific knowledge and skills needed by today’s pilots to retain and improve safety in our industry.