I’m an Army National Guard pilot and my unit recently went through an “ARMS” inspection. It occurs about every three years and is a detailed inspection of everything an aviation unit does, which includes checkrides for the unit pilots. During this most recent inspection I made some mental observations about training that I’d like to share.
First off, there is no cramming for checkrides. If you go 363 days without cracking open a book then two days of cramming will not help you come checkride time. Knowledge and flight skills are perishable items. Many EMS companies offer one-hour “training” flights every quarter. These flights are almost always without an IP onboard and sometimes without even another rated pilot. So during these so-called “training” flights the pilot does not go out and perform single-engine ops, inadvertent IMC recoveries, or any other emergency procedure.
Even if the pilot is an IP, it isn’t the same when you are giving emergencies to yourself. Many bosses view training flights as a waste of time and money. I would argue that “training” flights are a waste if everyone is just turning Jet A into noise. Ensure that training flights are effective by having an IP onboard, stressing the importance of training, and ensuring debriefs occur with follow-up assignments to strengthen pilot skills and associated knowledge base. Some companies allot zero training time throughout the year and it can be hard to stay sharp on the skills we are supposed to be proficient at on a daily basis. As a professional pilot we have to practice the things we can during the year, study hard, chair fly emergency procedures, and then hope for the best come checkride time.
Secondly, training has to be realistic and effective. I know of a couple of programs that send their pilots to FlightSafety International every year for one day. The odd part is that they train in a different model of helicopter than the one they actually fly back at their base. If the cockpit, limitations and checklist are different, then what is the point of that training other than to confuse the pilot? I suspect it helps the vendor’s marketing or insurance rates because they can say “all our pilots attend simulator training.”
Speaking of effective training, initial and recurrent academic training via web-based programs are completely replacing classroom training with a real instructor. I can’t believe the FAA allows it. When I flew Part 135 the leading Internet training provider had the following phrase on their home page: “Designed to save you money.” That’s great, my company saved some money but the training never taught me anything.
It is human nature to not pay attention when completing these Internet-based lessons. I used to watch various reality TV shows while completing my annual recurrent training via the web. I would look at the computer every 30 seconds and click to the next screen when the big arrow turned blue. I recognize web-based training is here to stay, but it has to change. There has to be an assessment of a person’s knowledge prior to beginning the training.
All the Internet-based training is a one-size-fits-all philosophy and that isn’t necessarily effective. Additionally, there has to be additional time allotted with a check airman to ensure all academic areas have been learned. The 10 days of training at headquarters is gone forever but I would argue that being in a classroom with your fellow pilots and an experienced company instructor is invaluable. With Internet-based training there is no swapping of war stories or sharing of questions that makes everyone else go “I didn’t even think of that.” This is especially true in the commercial helicopter world where almost all operations are flown single pilot.
Finally, everyone can’t pass their checkride and that’s OK. The problem I see in the civilian helicopter world is that virtually no one fails a training event. With a FAA examiner or an Army IP there is a possibility of failure. Simulator companies avoid failing future customers. Most Part 135 check airmen won’t fail a pilot if it is going to mess with the flight schedule. In most Part 135 operations it always messes with the flight schedule. The two checkrides I learned the most from are the two checkrides I failed. All instructors, including myself, need to keep that fact in mind the next time we evaluate another pilot. We aren’t doing anyone any favors by not holding pilots to the standard.