We had the great opportunity of sitting down with Gary Heron - Chief Synthetic Flight Instructor at FTA to discuss his role and the importance of the MCC (Multi Crew Cooperation) element of commercial pilot training.
Can you tell us more about your role with FTA, Gary?
I’m the Chief Synthetic Flight Instructor - so where the CFI has day to day responsibility for training in the aircraft, I have the same role for simulator training. I’m also the MCC Manager and in charge of this element of the course, which takes place in our CAA approved flight simulators. After many years flying for the airlines, I chose to come back to instructing, as I have always tutored in previous jobs and enjoy passing on my knowledge. I do a bit of everything at FTA, due to my background as a flying and ATPL theory instructor, along with my experience in the airlines.
What did you do before you joined FTA?
I used to fly for BMI, as a first officer with BMI regional (in 2014 bmi regional was named the most punctual scheduled airline in the UK for the ninth consecutive year). I flew the Embraer 135 & 145. I was based at Aberdeen, Heathrow and then Bristol. I was also ‘command authorised’ (assessed as suitable for a move to the Captain’s seat). I flew a mixture of scheduled and chartered flights – often flying Premiership football teams and pop groups around Europe to a mixture of airports and destinations. We also operated the Airbus ‘air bridge’ between their facilities in the UK and Europe; it was very varied flying.
Can you describe the multi-crew (MCC) element of the training course?
It brings together what the students have already learned. By the time they reach the MCC stage of the course, they will have 90% of the knowledge they need, due to their prior training in theory and flying gained at FTA. The MCC course essentially teaches them about the crew team work element and gives them the opportunity to put what they have learned so far in theory, into practise. During the MCC, we introduce the role of ‘pilot flying’ and ‘pilot monitoring’ – two very distinct, yet important roles on the flight deck.
The core of the MCC is CRM (Crew Resource Management). This helps students become familiar with the operation of a more complex aircraft and helps to prepare them for the simulator training they’ll do when they get their first job with an airline.
One of the simulators here is the Citation Business Jet – rather than the DA40s and DA42s Diamond aircraft that students usually learn in. This simulator prepares them for airline simulators and flying a jet engine aeroplane, with the increase in speed and different handling characteristics that entails.
In the MCC element of the course, we cover the following topics:
- System failures
- Emergency procedures
- Crew coordination
- Stall and unusual attitude recoveries
- Missed approach procedures
- Standard instrument departures & arrivals
- Navigational systems
Can you describe the importance of teaching student pilots how to work as a team?
Firstly, the MCC certificate is a requirement for them to get their first type rating on a multi crew aircraft type, as operated by airlines. They have to have done the course in order to progress. The primary reason for this training is to prepare students for the sort of unusual situations that occur and to work them as a team. The vast majority of aviation accidents are down to a lack of crew coordination – both pilots need to be aware of what is happening in the cockpit at all times.
We train students in strategies for dealing with emergency situations. In the cockpit, every intended action is confirmed by both pilots before it is taken – it’s easier to say this than it is to do; it really needs practise. Students need to learn to listen to each other and not just focus on their role as the sole pilot, which is what they have been doing up to this stage in their training. By completing this element of training in the simulator, we help students to learn about potential problems and to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, without putting them in any danger.
We get cadets to think about everything they’re doing - before doing it. It’s the old saying, ‘more haste less speed’. We slow things down and this gets the job done quicker in the long run. I think this was best described by the legendary Apollo 13 Flight Director, Gene Kranz, when he told his controllers ‘Let’s solve the problem but let’s not make it any worse by guessing’ – we teach students to solve problems properly and professionally; every action we take is thought through. It is cause and effect.
Students are used to dealing with situations where they have a specific checklist, during their flight training. We start with four days of ground school, looking at documented accidents and crashes and why they happened, in order to learn from them and preventing ourselves from falling into the same trap. Also, we use this time to refresh their Human Performance studies. We introduce the mnemonic ‘TDODAR’, as a decision making tool, for situations when there is no checklist. The TDODAR process stands for:
T – Timescale (How long do we have?)
D – Diagnose (what is the problem?)
O – Options (hold, divert, immediate landing etc.)
D – Decide (which option?)
A – Act or Assign (carry out selected option and assign tasks to the crew)
R – Review (can involve addition of new information, and/or the ongoing result(s) of the selected option)
Can you tell us how this MCC element of the course will benefit student pilots when they complete their training and start to apply to airlines?
Well firstly, they need it – it’s a licencing requirement! It also helps students to be better prepared for the simulator assessment they’ll have to go through during the airline application procedure. Learning to fly on the FTA simulators helps them to handle a jet aircraft. It doesn’t actually teach them HOW to fly a specific type; it’s not meant to be a type-rating course. It’s to teach them how to work with the jet type aircraft, in coordination with another pilot. Crew resource management – the official title – teaches cadets how to be a CREW, not just a pilot acting in isolation; airliners always have to be operated by two pilots and many cabin crew, who are a vital resource in themselves when things are not going to plan. Add to that Air Traffic Control, dispatchers, ground engineers and everyone else who helps get a commercial flight away on time (and I know a thing or two about that!), it’s vital to learn how to coordinate all those assets.