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Fri, Jan 26, 2007

Alteon Begins First 'Multi-Crew Pilot License' Class, Part One

Cadets From Two Chinese Airlines Train In Australia

By ANN Associate Editor Mark Sletten

Flight training specialist Alteon has begun training its first class of cadets seeking a ticket under a new International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) licensure standard called the Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL). The cadets are slated to fly for two different Chinese airlines and have begun training at Alteon's Brisbane, Australia facility.

This class represents what Alteon calls a "beta" group. Their instructors will closely evaluate both the cadets and the curriculum while working closely with the instructional design experts in fine tuning the program. By the time the next six cadets start training, they, the airline they will eventually fly for and Alteon should all have a very good idea of what to expect from the others.

As ANN reported, ICAO's MPL standard -- just adopted late last year -- reduces the amount of actual flight time a cadet must accumulate before he or she is licensed. Most of the reduction in actual flight time is replaced with simulator training. That's raising eyebrows among some traditionalists (those who've "paid their dues") here in the US who argue actual flight time can't be effectively replaced with simulator training -- at least not in the amount the new rule allows.

Here in the US pilots must accumulate 250 flight hours -- 50 of which may be in an approved flight training device under the supervision of an instructor -- before attaining a commercial license. Of course, we all know it's a rare individual who'll find him or herself in the right seat of a commercial aircraft with only 250 hours. Most will spend many more hours as an instructor teaching the next batch or two of students before they accumulate enough hours to become marketable in the US.

Under the ICAO's new standard, MPL holders will only need 240 hours -- up to 170 of which may be simulator time. The magnitude of the difference between standards seems incomprehensible at first... it becomes even more so when you consider airlines in countries adopting this standard have every intention of placing freshly minted MPL holders directly into the right seat!

In truth, the MPL represents much more than a reduction in required actual flight time. It's a complete paradigm shift in training philosophy, and Alteon thinks it has the right recipe to make it effective and safe.

Alteon says it gains efficiencies in the MPL training program by increasing the relevance of each training lesson, maximizing simulator training and minimizing the amount of negative training -- the learning and unlearning inherent in the traditional training path. Those efficiencies allow cadets to focus on mastering competencies and skills in the shortest possible time without compromising safety. The MPL training program is similar to the training program the military uses for their pilots; it is focused on preparing the pilot for the job.

ANN had the opportunity to speak with Alteon's vice president for first officer programs Marsha Bell about its new MPL training program.

Bell says ICAO developed MPL in response to requests from countries -- primarily in the Asia-Pacific region -- that haven't the aviation training infrastructure to keep up with aviation growth. Some countries (China, India, etc.) have a growing need for pilots that far outstrips their training capability. Add to that new, more stringent rules on foreign student training in the US and abroad -- fallout from the terrorist attacks of 9/11 -- and you can see how a country might quickly find itself with a severe pilot shortage.

Bell stresses MPL training, from the outset, has as its primary goal a safe, competent first officer qualified to fly on a crew-served aircraft. As such, an MPL holder will not be qualified (nor required) to fly an aircraft unsupervised.

Setting aside for a moment the "good or bad" of that goal... if you accept it as the end product of the MPL, the training required to attain it makes much more sense.

Coming Saturday: an in-depth discussion of Alteon's plans for its six MPL cadets in Australia.



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