The innovative essence of the airline industry continues to spur technological change in all areas, from introducing new propulsion methods for the coming years – hydrogen, electricity, sustainable aviation fuels – to how pilots, crews, and more related employees train for their positions. Today, all the technological might is being used to boost racing, improve pilots’ skills, and improve safety inside the cockpit.
Beyond the degree of technology that can be achieved with a simulator, a key aspect is what it is used for and how it is used. In this regard, the latest major innovation is Evidence-Based Training (EBT), a methodology that has been around for no more than five years since its introduction. EBT is the answer to the fact that traditional training and evaluation models, in which all pilots invest several hours a year to enter simulators to practice what to do in incidents such as engine failure, for example, are becoming a thing of the past, primarily because they do not meet the needs of today’s aviation, which is much more complex than that of a few decades ago.
“What EBT aims to do is to generate a new framework in which flight crew simulator train. In this case, recurrent training is adapted to new technologies such as those used by fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft and to the ever-changing environment of 21st-century aviation,” said Ignacio Gallego, the first EBT manager to be approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
“A new way of approaching our training as airline pilots were necessary since traditional training no longer made up for all the changes brought about by the new 21st century, which is quite complex in the interrelation of new software and an airspace in which there are more and more of us, airspace is shrinking, and we must take everyone into account,” Gallego stressed.
What are the nine competencies the EBT methodology focuses on? Infographic by Mikel A. Alcázar and Oriana Torcat.
Transcript: «Maybe we can talk about the last 50 years. The regulation was elaborated a long time ago for piston engine airplanes in which engine failures were the biggest concern. Those engines had the bad habit of failing particularly during takeoffs and go-arounds, so it made sense that a pilot had to be continually demonstrating that he was capable of dealing with those failures, but that no longer happens today. Today’s fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft practically handle those problems for you on their own. The threats today are completely different. So, basically the objective was to being able to bring to our simulators what’s really going on in our cockpits, and that’s where the word evidence (in EBT) comes from.»
“What EBT does is to introduce new learning techniques that benefit pilots and airlines alike, as it creates a much more appropriate environment for improving skills and thus prepares pilots to intervene when necessary in unexpected situations,” said Giorgio La Pira, instructor and examiner. There are many examples of so-called black swan events for which no specific manual exists. These events range from US Airways Flight 1549 (in which Captain «Chesley» Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles went down in the Hudson River) to Qantas Flight 32, the most serious incident ever encountered by an Airbus A380.
Together, the EBT and the simulators create a synergy that enables customized training and allows airlines to optimize their resources. Thanks to the collection of thousands of data and detailed management, airlines can more easily identify opportunities for each crew and pilot, enabling them to correct deficiencies and improve their strengths with a level of detail that has never been seen before.
However, the airline industry and regulators still need to further develop evidence-based training from a regulatory standpoint. EBT is still in its infancy, and like so many innovations in aviation, the pace is accelerated. So experts are confident that the work of organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and EASA, among others, will allow EBT to become mandatory.
“The idea seems excellent to us, but I see a very big standardization problem. Either we establish a set of rules of the game, in which we logically allow room for variations (in the interpretation of EBT) from operator to operator but maintain 90% standardization, or in the next decade, it will be very difficult to control the multiple variants of evidence-based training,” pointed Gallego, one of the pioneers in the field, who has supported and advised the EASA Rulemaking Task, the team dedicated to the development of regulations and checklists.
The EBT proposes a change in basic assumptions to transform how pilots use simulators. However, these professionals are not the only users of this type of technology. Apart from pilots and air traffic controllers, other groups (such as cabin crew or aircraft maintenance technicians) have simulators that enable them to strengthen their skills and thus improve the service they provide.