Alternative Training Qualification Programme (ATQP) – what’s in it for my Operation?

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What is ATQP?

ATQP (Alternative Training Qualification Programme) is a different way for airlines to conduct the recurrent training and testing of its pilots. There is still a requirement for companies to revalidate licence proficiency, but ATQP allows these checks to follow a format which is much less rigid than the traditional “box-ticking” methodology of assessment. The operator can now create tailored training sessions and conduct an assessment of competency using more realistic scenarios with the emphasis very much on training. Focusing on specific needs of fleets and groups of pilots, this targeted training can enhance performance while reducing costs.

ATQP allows operators to have different training programs for different fleets and differing operational needs. Some airlines will operate fleets that only fly long-haul routes connecting major cities so will only operate in and out of sophisticated airports in the developed world; others will fly high frequency short-haul flights to minor or marginal airfields with challenging air traffic environments or significant environmental (weather) and terrain considerations. Clearly the one-size-fits-all approach taken by the traditional training and testing regime is not always the most appropriate.

The intention of the scheme is always to improve standards, knowledge and proficiency in the disciplines where they are shown to be needed. ATQP allows the airline to manage training time more effectively by conducting a task analysis of their own particular operation using evidence-based data. ATQP allows an operator to respond more quickly to new equipment, new technology or a differing route structure.

Some mandatory tests are still required, but under ATQP additional training time is made available by performing the statutory tests, such as engine failure during take-off, only once a year instead of every six months. Furthermore the frequency of the operators “line-check” and safety equipment procedures training is extended to every 2 years instead of being an annual requirement. These extensions of currency are a real incentive to adopt ATQP as the savings made by reducing unproductive classroom time and the premium paid to employ checking pilots is at least halved!

Who’s doing it?

In the UK the ATQP scheme is administered and approved by the Civil Aviation Authority and it has already been adopted by British Airways, EasyJet, FlyBe, Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomsonfly and Virgin Atlantic. Other national aviation authorities offer similar schemes; in Europe Swiss International Air Lines, Air France, Flybe Finland and SAS Group have adopted ATQP.

What are the benefits of ATQP over traditional training programmes?
There are many aspects to ATQP that are beneficial to the airline and these include safety, finance and manning requirements together with numerous intangible reasons that when understood and budgeted make the decision to invest in an ATQP a “no-brainer”.

Firstly there is the safety case. A catch phrase frequently quoted in aviation, and often attributed to Easyjet’s Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, is “If you think safety is expensive try having an accident!” This statement is so incredibly obvious and true that airline boards and senior managers are obliged to seriously consider any process that might contribute to a safer operation. Airlines can take years to build a good safety culture within and as long to gain a reputation for high safety standards with the public, but this status can be wrecked overnight. For many small or medium airlines the accidental loss of a hull or of any life or of injury could commercially destroy the business. It has happened countless times! At the best the insurance companies will be slashing discounts almost as quickly as passengers find alternative ways to travel! Companies therefore must realise that they would benefit from more investment in safety and training rather than cost cutting. Effective management of safety risks is the ultimate money saver!

Principally under ATQP an airline’s training processes become much more melded to the company’s flight safety management system (SMS). There is obviously a requirement for the two departments to share data and knowledge and this fact demonstrates one area where an investment in electronic data collection, mining and analysis tools are a necessity. ATQP not only allows the training department to use the task analysis to be pro-active in designing training packages that manage risk (i.e. equip crews to cope with difficult procedures or hazardous scenarios), but also allows the department to be more flexible and react rapidly with appropriate training in response to unforeseen safety issues discovered by flight data monitoring analysis and/or reported through the company’s existing SMS. This is of course how it should be in any airline regardless of whether ATQP or traditional training methods exist. What is different with ATQP is that the very nature of the programme unties the hands of the very people who know the operation and the accompanying risks best so that they come up with the solution. Regulators can never hope to have access to the amount of data available to the airline or nor should they be expected to be able to micro manage solutions to every risk that materialises.

Flying is incredibly safe, but not without risk. An unfortunate fact is that (more or less) 85% of all aircraft accidents or incidents (rare as they are) which result in loss of life or injury or damage to property are as a result of “human error”. Sadly controlled flight in to terrain (CFIT) or other events where control of the aircraft has been lost accounts for almost all incidents and accidents; with the correct training a pilot is unlikely to ever lose control of an aircraft. With more automation comes a reduction in basic piloting skills and there needs to be greater resources allocated to this type of skills training. ATQP means more resources for real-world training.

Airlines using ATQP can devote time to tackle specific risks associated with their operation. For example an airline that operates turbo-prop aircraft in cold environments needs to have a high level of training and awareness relating to airframe and engine icing and how to avoid or deal with an occurrence. A “threat” of this kind for a jet operator flying in a hot climate is almost none existent; these pilots will be much more concerned with landing and take-off performance!

Aircraft reliability and navigation systems have all developed amazingly over the last few decades, but sadly the frailties and limitations of the human being have evolved somewhat less quickly. Much has been done to address the limitations of the human “machine” and there is no doubt that better training techniques have played an important part. ATQP represents the biggest shift in improving the quality and relevance of flight training in decades.

Then there are commercial benefits. Money is to be saved by less classroom time. Taking a pilot out of the cockpit and sitting him or her in a classroom is an expensive exercise, especially if the airline has to transport the pilot to the ground-school from an outstation or fund a hotel room to accommodate them. Every hour in class is an unproductive hour. With ATQP the frequency of many recurrent training sessions can be reduced. For example Safety Equipment Procedures (SEP) training, which is normally an annual requirement, can be done every two years.

There is also the opportunity under ATQP to make better use of expensive simulator hours. The traditional annual Licence Proficiency Check (LPC) is mostly unchanged under ATQP, but the time usually assigned for the Operators Proficiency Check (OPC) is now used in a way that the airline feels it will deliver the best training value. Almost all OPC time can now be devoted to line-orientated flight training (LOFT), that is to say the ability to practice and learn from “real-world” scenarios. The checking element of the OPC can take the form of a line-oriented evaluation (LOE), or a test of skills related to the operation. There is no requirement to demonstrate skills where a level of competency has been demonstrated previously by the individual or by the airline as a whole.

Apart from training that is deemed necessary to ensure a safe operation the airline will now have the flexibility, time, resources and scope to introduce training which might have a commercial focus. Day-to-day procedures which concern efficiency (time and fuel) and have an impact on the airlines bottom-line may be included more freely. Procedures at airports are constantly reviewed in the name of efficiency and pilots need to be trained to get the most benefit from these new techniques. For example constant descent approach procedures (CDA) and RNAV/GNSS approaches are being introduced and approved at more and more airports for which training needs to be delivered. All of these operational techniques save fuel, which for most airlines is the biggest single expense.

From a commercial point of view people costs are another significant overhead. Under the ATQP system because there is generally less checking then it follows that fewer check pilots are required. By definition check pilots are experienced and senior and thus expensive. It is true that the responsibility for standards and checking carries a salary premium, but more significantly an ATQP operator needs fewer pilots in number to cover the flying task given that fewer sectors will have check Captains sitting on a jump seats. The math is simple; an airline with 500 pilots will only need to conduct 250 line-check rides a year instead of 500. Regardless of all the other safety and commercial benefits the saving in man-power by this one fact alone is the business case for investing in ATQP!

There are also intangible and human benefits to be had with ATQP. The relationship between the line-pilot and the airline’s training organisation will change forever, for the better and almost overnight. Do not underestimate the payback that this can bring. In the bad old days the six-monthly trip to the simulator was full for dread and jeopardy. No one is tested more frequently than commercial airline pilots and a “bad day” in the simulator could spell the end of a well-paid career! This prospect could cast such a cloud of fear over proceedings (and thereby induce unimaginable stress) that an environment conducive to constructive learning would struggle to exist and of course this is exactly what we NEVER want to see! In the enlightened world of ATQP the ratio of testing versus training is turned on its head! Pilots will soon realise that the system is there to help them and this compares with any notion (even if it was wrong) that the old system was there to trap them. The learning environment is vastly improved; skills, knowledge and proficiency are superior, safety is enhanced – it’s another no-brainer!

How do I implement ATQP?

First and foremost decide if ATQP is right for your airline. If you are a UK operator see CAP 789!

Initially contact your assigned Flight Operations Inspector (FOI). You will need to conduct a task analysis of every aspect of the operation from check-in to check-out. By this you will know where your existing skills are strong and where they might need constant or improved attention. You will also be expected to establish a safety case to provide justification and a rationale for the programme’s structure and content, supported by data gathered from a Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) system. The FOI will provide guidance, but at some point a formal implementation plan will have to be offered.

The FOI may approve significant departures from traditional training requirements and allow you to employ innovative training and qualification concepts, however you will need to demonstrate the resulting aircrew proficiency will meet or exceed the proficiency obtainable through a traditional programme.

The whole ATQP process is likely to take in excess of two years from first application to implementation. This is driven by the required FDM and training records input over a suitable period. Most airlines will have FDM data covering many years, but few operators will have reliable data about training performance. Paper training records are notoriously bad for extracting reliable data and thus as soon as possible it is essential to deploy electronic record keeping that allows this analysis to take place. For as long as the ATQP is in place a system of feedback from the training records system will also be required. Airlines with multiple fleets might decide to introduce the scheme fleet by fleet.

As with all economies of scale it’s true to say that the bigger the airline the greater the potential benefit. ATQP is essentially a process and one which is identical if you have one aircraft or a hundred. If you believe that ATQP will help you to manage safety then you must give it serious consideration.

Case Study – flybe

Flybe, Europe’s largest regional airline, started the process of working towards ATQP in 2009. Steve Deverall, Training Standards Manager, led the project and devised some innovative home grown tools to carry out the training needs analysis required to tailor the airline’s training programme.

ATQP has allowed Flybe to much more closely match their training requirements with the operational needs of the airline. Simulator time is now used to train in those area demanding particular attention. The objective of the ATQP project was to deliver enhanced training to the pilots.

Until recently, Flybe maintained paper training records for 700 pilots and 900 cabin crew geographically dispersed over the UK. This was manually intensive, cumbersome and a potentially error prone process. Confirmation of training and check statuses under a complex regulatory regime was a continuous challenge. It was clear that the adoption of electronic training records was essential to Flybe’s growth plans.

In May 2012, Flybe selected EFOS from Evoke Systems to provide electronic crew training records in a strategic move away from paper based records. The selection and introduction of EFOS has delivered not only an immediate and huge potential cost saving but also a significant improvement in the efficiency of the training process.

Steve Deverall, Training Standards Manager at Flybe comments that, “EFOS has significantly reduced the burden of paper while speeding up and improving our training processes. Also, by blending training feedback, actual experience and regulatory compliance, EFOS has certainly met the needs of our ATQP for flexibility in pilots’ simulator training.

“We were impressed by Evoke’s presentation and their willingness to engage with us as partners to tailor the product for Flybe’s needs. They have an impressive record, successfully addressing challenges similar to those we faced, and were responsive and helpful during the installation process. And we couldn’t have further developed our ATQP without EFOS.”
Martin Smith, Managing Director of Evoke Systems confirms; “EFOS isn’t just a software package. We back it with extensive domain knowledge and experience to become trusted advisers and partners for our customers.”

The installation of EFOS starting in May 2012, has already delivered positive returns. With the need for an efficient and tailorable system to fit the needs of an ATQP, EFOS gives Flybe the ability to better manage and analyse its training, reducing wasted time processing paper and increasing time developing training programmes.