Thursday, August 14, 2008


Unprecedented growth in the Indian aviation sector over the past few years has come with a number of opportunities and challenges. One of these challenges pertains to the availability of qualified pilots for commercial aviation. Sensing this opportunity a large number of young students have opted to choose a career in aviation over the past few years. Of these a large number have gone abroad, completed their mandatory training for issue of Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL) on a fast track mode and have eventually found their way into the Indian aviation system. These pilots with about 200 – 250 hours of flying experience on slow moving piston engine aircraft are today occupying the right seat on multi-engine jets that fly at many times the speed of the Cessna class of aircraft, at altitudes that these pilots have never been exposed to. This opportunity, with its own set of challenges, has come about due to the skewed demand and supply equation in the Indian aviation sector. Now that this is a reality in India, it is best to take a reality check of the situation.

We have a situation today wherein a young pilot with relatively, both quantitatively and qualitatively, low flying experience occupying the right seat with a Captain with over 10000 hours of flying experience in the left seat. This is not an uncommon experience in Indian commercial aviation today. The First Officer is legally qualified and endorsed on the type being flown, having gone through the process of various trainings, including simulator training, flying as supernumerary and supervised line flying before being ‘released’ for line flying. Once released, this pilot though fully qualified to occupy the right seat is diffident. He is overwhelmed by the cockpit environment, the speed of the aircraft, the systems on the aircraft, the procedures – both normal and non-normal, the flying skills required to operate multi-engine jets, the automation levels and lastly the application of the knowledge that he has gained during training. Perforce this individual operates from a position of ‘I am not OK, you are OK’. This kind of a situation would continue until he reaches a stage where he has come to terms with all the above issues. This could, I believe, take any thing from 200 – 500 hours of flying experience, depending on the individual. Does this imply that this individual would be of no help in the cockpit in a 2-man crew? Finding an answer to this question is very vital. Most companies have procedures in place to ensure that such a pilot only flies with experienced Captains.

Experienced Captains come with their own set of beliefs and values. Let’s take two extreme scenarios to highlight the problem. One extreme position is a Captain who operates from a position of ‘I am OK, you are not OK’. This Captain has loads of experience and feels that he can do it all by himself. His body language seems to ignore the presence of the young First Officer (F/O), because he believes that the F/O would be no great help and would at best be a burden. His belief is further strengthened when he finds the F/O withdrawn, diffident, quiet, reluctant to speak, unassertive, unsure and clumsy in the cockpit. On the other extreme, we have a Captain who is knowledgeable about the human failings and the error model and also about CRM techniques including interpersonal relationships, communications, decision making and team work. This Captain understands the limitations of this relatively inexperienced F/O and takes appropriate steps to ensure that he utilizes the strengths of this trained and qualified crew member while guarding against, and at the same time nurturing, his weak areas. This is also the desirable case. The actual scenarios would invariably play out somewhere in between these two extremes and would be easier to resolve than the extreme positions. This is the aviation scenario in India today.

No comments: