“In Pursuit of Expertise: A paradigm shift in pilot training”

With rapid advances in aircraft technology and increasing operational complexity, training must reflect the most relevant needs of current and future airline pilots.  The current growing pilot shortage gives rise to a need to expedite the development of performance and expertise among new pilots.

In preparing to meet current and future human performance challenges, organisations should adopt a structured, systems-based approach to managing training, including:

  • Understanding and training human performance in the context of the whole operational system and its challenges
  • Developing effective systems to collect and analyse data to inform training
  • Conducting formal, structured analyses of training needs
  • Utilising an integrated system of core competencies and detailed performance indicators to measure performance
  • Making training decisions based on scientific and industry evidence

The EBT concept represents a paradigm shift in pilot training.  It aims to develop the competencies required to operate safely, effectively and efficiently in a commercial air transport environment, whilst addressing the most relevant training needs based on evidence gained through analysis of operational data.  EBT is a learning concept that better prepares pilots for situations faced on line by developing competencies through structured exposure to realistic, challenging scenarios, thus expediting the development of expertise among pilots.

Developing Expertise

While a certain amount of proficiency can be developed through experience and repetition, the learning process is made more effective and efficient with deliberate practice.  Deliberate practice involves focusing on improving specific, identified areas of performance.  The practice involves the help of a coach, and includes opportunities for self-reflection and exploration of alternative approaches.   Scenario-based or problem-based training in a realistic context has been demonstrated to be an effective tool for accelerating the development of expertise.

Within an EBT program, simulator-based training provides exposure to realistic and challenging scenarios, which involve the need to assess or diagnose situations, apply knowledge, and practise dealing with ambiguity.  In doing so, this aims to expedite the process of developing expertise, rather than simply waiting for pilots to gain sufficient exposure to challenging situations on line.  In traditional training and checking programs, where scenarios or events are known in advance, pilots are almost always operating in a rule-based or rote-learned manner, and there is no opportunity to practise diagnosing or analysing problems, or generating suitable solutions.

Training Focused on Competencies

Training should be focused on challenging, unexpected scenarios rather than rote-learned responses.  The focus within the scenarios should be less on tasks and manoeuvres, and more on developing the underlying core competencies that will help pilots to handle any situations they face.

The EBT concept focuses assessment and training on the following core competencies:

  • Application of Procedures
  • Communication
  • Flight Path Management – Automation
  • Flight Path Management – Manual
  • Knowledge
  • Leadership & Teamwork
  • Problem Solving and Decision Making
  • Situation Awareness
  • Workload Management

The competencies represent both technical and non-technical skills, and it is important to note that within this framework each competency is equally important – there is no separation of technical and non-technical skills.

Training Based on Needs

Rather than waiting for experience to develop through the accumulation of flying hours and ‘one-size-fits-all’ training programs, EBT aims to expedite the development of pilot expertise by focusing training on actual training needs, identified at an industry, airline and individual level.

In an EBT simulator program, individual pilots’ training needs are identified through an assessment of competencies during the first simulator session.  Relevant scenarios are selected to form the basis of Scenario-based Training during the second session.  The selected scenarios provide further exposure and training in the specific competencies that were identified as training needs for each pilot.

Training Based on Evidence

In addition to focusing on individual training needs, the EBT program is based on training needs identified at the industry level.  The EBT training topics published by ICAO in 2013, represent industry-level training needs, identified through an extensive data analysis completed by the international EBT working group.  This provided for a detailed insight into the threats, errors and undesired aircraft states encountered in modern airline flight operations as well as their relationship to adverse consequences.

In addition to the identified industry-level training needs, airlines may also have specific training needs related to the nature of their pilot population, or characteristics of the operation.  Evidence from both training and safety data sources can be considered when identifying population-level competencies in need of training, and/or to contextualise training scenarios with relevant operational challenges.  Normal operations monitoring programs such as LOSA can provide substantial detail on the types of threats and errors encountered in normal operations, how they are managed, and it can provide a profile of competency strengths and areas for development across the pilot population.

When analysing data at an airline level, evidence should be examined using large data sets and corroborated across multiple data sources before making decisions about training needs.  When analysing evidence, and prioritising training needs, it is also important to recognise that training is not the solution to all organisational or safety issues, and that system design solutions should be considered where possible, in order to have a more effective and sustainable influence on performance outcomes.

Learning from Positive Performance

Traditionally, many organisations’ safety efforts have focused almost solely on analysing adverse events, or “what goes wrong”.  It is important to understand and learn from adverse events, however, if the sole focus of safety analysis is on what goes wrong, organisations are missing out on valuable learning about how work is really done, and why things go right.

Work is often imagined to be linear, sequential, simple, and performed in accordance with procedures.  However, most safety-critical work is associated with substantial complexity, variability, and ambiguity.  People adapt their performance to manage this variability, to maintain safe, effective operations.   Without understanding how human performance contributes to maintaining safety and operational effectiveness, including in normal operations, it is not possible to know what these variations and adaptations are, and how people are making the system safe and effective.

Normal operations monitoring programs such as LOSA provide a valuable source of data on human performance and the health of operational systems.  LOSA can provide data about how work is really performed, ‘what goes right’, why things work, and how people adapt effectively to variability and complexity.  It may help to understand system resilience.  In addition to studying normal operations, much can be learned from studying incidents or events in which effective crew performance has contributed to successful management of a challenging situation.  However, in many published investigation reports, successful human performance receives very little attention, in favour of a focus on what went wrong.

Over many years, the industry has developed effective approaches to investigating and analysing failure, and many organisations are reasonably good at celebrating and praising success.  To compliment this, we need to become effective at studying success.

A systems-based approach to training, implementing the four principles discussed, may help to address the human performance challenges of the future:

  • learning based on underlying competencies to build resilience;
  • examining the evidence / data to understand training need;
  • focusing training on identified training needs, both individual and population-level; and
  • learning from positive performance.

These principles may help to create a future in which pilots visit the simulator looking forward to learning, rather than fearing failure.  In this future, non-technical skills no longer stand alone from technical skills, and EBT is no longer an alternative training program.  Instead, these principles have simply become a normal part of aviation training.


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