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Keeping Your Handling and Non-Tech Skills Alive

When you are actively training or flying you should be confident in your competency: staying current and connected ‘just happens’.

But for those pilots who have recently graduated, been furloughed or made redundant and don’t have access to an ATO or airline training department; or the budget to get on a sim, how do you stay confident, competent and connected; and give yourself ‘the edge’ when recruitment recommences?

As a non-pilot, I can’t take credit for what follows. At Resilient Pilot we have a wealth of experience among our team of 60 volunteer pilot mentors and specialist coaches, so I asked some of them for their thoughts in yesterday's #WednesdayWebinar. Here is what they had to say -

Resilient Pilot Mentor, Matt B – Airbus Training Captain and Head of Standards:

“We all know that you use it or lose it, and although flying in some respects is like riding a bike, the rust definitely settles in.

First and foremost, money is not what’s required...

No out of work pilot should need to pay for online recurrent training programmes. This is not to be confused with the sim, which clearly needs some outlay. Most pilots will have all the tools they need at their disposal, particularly those who are furloughed. And the tools are quite simply the aircraft operating manuals – FCOM & company OMs – and their grey matter. Anything beyond this is a bonus, which I’ll discuss shortly.

The present situation needs pilots to stay in touch with their aircraft type. The FCOMs and OMs are a bit like the bible – you do not read them from front to back, rather you take a section that is of interest, and read it. Like a gym training programme, a little bit of structure goes a long way.

Here’s a suggested training programme:

  • Identify your weaknesses, technical and non-technical

  • Draw up a list based on these perceived weaknesses. The non-technical points should not delve too deeply into areas that cannot be worked on alone, rather thought given to a particular course of action. The danger here is poor ideas are developed without feedback (see non-technical development below).

  • Develop scenarios to “armchair” fly. These should allow the pilot to develop the way to approach a task

These scenarios do not need to be failures/non-normal events only. They should include normal scenarios e.g – How would I fly an RNAV approach to RW22 at Nice? What equipment do I need? What are the threats?

For failure scenarios e.g. an engine failure climbing through 5200ft, envisage the actual actions –

  • AVIATE: What will I physically do?

  • NAVIGATE: This includes lateral and vertical navigation – level off or am I below MSA still?

  • COMMUNICATE: When and to whom?

Then there are the technical aspects of the failure, which can now include a review of the systems. In this instance perhaps a review of auto relight parameters. What are the limitations and recommendations for in-flight restarts?

Non- Technical Development

For non-technical development I would suggest use of the competencies and apply them in the same way as scenarios as described above. They can be introduced mentally e.g. how would I brief the cabin crew? What would I say to the pax? These can be discussed in more detail at the next sim, or with a Resilient Pilot mentor/coach.

The main idea here is to develop a thought process which is often overlooked:

  • It may sound obvious, but review flight profiles. On departure: How to fly a NADP 1/2 procedure. For arrival: How to fly an ILS / RNAV / NPA / circling / visual approach. What are the differences on 1 / 2 engines?

  • Procedures – SOP is par for the course, but there are a lot of other things to review which can be tied into scenarios. For example OM-A, regulatory and company fuel requirements, diversion strategies – when, how. The list is endless.

  • Try not to get too side-tracked from the original plan. It's all too easy to detour off and find yourself reviewing a whole host of systems and forget the one you set out to review! Discovery is a great thing – if you find yourself distracted, make a note of it for review at another time.

If you have access to training material from your airline or operator, then ask for any power points etc that you can use for review and study. For the more innovative among you, try building cardboard bombers, get cockpit posters etc to help with reviewing procedures. Whatever works.

All importantly: communicate with others with any questions or queries.”

Resilient Pilot Mentor and core team member, Rebecca: A380 Senior First Officer

“Covid has put pilots in an unprecedented position. In the past, airlines have always asked for currency and recency, but staying recent is not something many pilots can achieve right now. What you can do is keep current - but while keeping the ‘tick’ in your licence up to date is just a matter of a sim check, for many pilots the concern is not the licence or rating, but the currency of their skills.

So, what can you do about this?

Remember the recommendation to think through manoeuvres by ‘armchair’ flying? Well, you are not going to be able to keep your basic handling skills totally up to scratch by holding a rolling pin in one hand and a can of baked beans in the other and pretending they are your airplane controls. But, what you can do is accept that these skills are going to be rusty, and focus on all those soft or ‘non-technical’ skills that back up and support the hard skills in the sim.

Your soft skills are the ones like decision making & problem solving, situational awareness, workload management.

Sitting down and thinking through what these mean and when you have used them in the past, and identifying your strengths and weaknesses: where do you feel comfortable and where do you feel less comfortable - can be really helpful. If you can remain confident with these skills, then when you do jump back into a sim you can focus on the handling and it will likely all come back much more easily.

How can you do this?

Well, think through scenarios. Ask yourself those ‘What Ifs?’

Better still, sit down with colleagues or a Resilient Pilot mentor (either side of a zoom screen) and talk through these ‘What Ifs?’

  • What would you do if you have to divert?

  • What are the tasks, what are the procedures, what are the threats?

  • What would you do if you have an engine failure at V1?

Talking through the actions, the workload, the threats, the considerations is effectively refreshing yourself in your competencies - it is thinking about situational awareness, it is discussing how to manage your workload, and it is reminding you of all those ‘soft’ skills you also use in flight.

There is also a huge wealth of information online:

Reading through the resources out there, getting to grips with the competencies, observable behaviours, and going through scenarios CRM-style; evaluating and reviewing them, is one of the best ways to start to understand how these fit together.

As for the other skills: Well, it might seem dull, but you can read your FCOMs, rebuild some of your knowledge, or your procedures back up, as well. If you live with someone, ask them to sporadically yell “Terrain Ahead!” Or “Loss of Brakes!” at you while you are making your tea in the morning… it might sound ridiculous, but it is good practice!!

And when you do practice, don’t just parrot out the memory items lines word-for-word, but go through the physical actions as well. And don’t just stop when the wind shear or TCAS is complete; but think through how you will ‘build’ the aircraft and the automatics and flight path up again afterwards.

Here are some great ‘food for thought’ articles you might want to read to help get your head back in the game.

You might not be able to put yourself back in a cockpit right now, but you can put your head back in and there is a huge amount of support, resources and opportunity out there to help you do so.”

Resilient Pilot’s Wellbeing and Nutrition Manager, Holly (Also an A380 Senior First Officer) also shared her thoughts on staying current, competent and confident:

Little and often. Don’t allow your knowledge to slip as it’s so hard to get back especially when, like most of us right now, you are either not flying or flying very rarely.

I suggest a small amount of bookwork every week or so, like revising one topic such as Smoke, Fire and Fumes or Engine malfunctions and how to deal with them.

As a pilot mentor, I stay current by going through scenarios and experiences with my mentees. We discuss briefings and specific flying techniques. For those that haven’t flown commercially before, I try and get them to think about commercial practices and in particular the consequences of having passengers and crew to deal with (what needs to be shared and when).

Although currently not flying regularly, I’m lucky to be still employed. So, thanks to my employer, I am able to stay current by regularly going in the simulator. I try and book in at least once a month to practise various flying skills and, to be honest, just remember where switches are! It seems silly but the little things are the first to go, like working out how to recline your seat properly (which took 3 experienced pilots an entire simulator session to work out!).

Competency practice is key and, outside of flying, I try to practice simple techniques such as decision making and team working skills. These can be practised easily and often to maintain and even develop further with time now to read books and articles created to improve the competencies. It’s really helped me to recognise that I have more time now than I’ve ever had before to read and develop my own skillset.

When working full-time I would often comment that I never had time to read a book and now that’s no longer a problem!”

Do I need refresher training before a Revalidation?

We are often asked this question, so I asked our core team mentor Jeremy – Airbus Instructor and Examiner and general font of regulatory knowledge, for his wise counsel to share with you:

“According to Regulation, there is no requirement for any refresher training prior to a Revalidation. However, if you haven’t flown for an extended period of time, then it is advisable to consider whether you need to spend some time refreshing your skills before presenting yourself for test. Consider the following:

  • How experienced are you on the aeroplane and how many LPCs have you completed before?

  • Read the LPC Preparation Guidance Notes (available through Resilient Pilot) and assess how well prepared you are.

  • There is very little spare time within an LPC for repeats and retests, so you risk running out of time if you are not sufficiently prepared.

  • 2 hours of preparation / handling practice in a Fixed Base Simulator is a lot cheaper than a retest or organising more simulator time with an Examiner after an Incomplete Test or Failure.”

How can we help you with LPC preparation at Resilient Pilot?

Anyone funding an LPC will know first hand the great expense this involves, hence the pressure mounts to avoid failure.

In order to ensure you're confident and competent, we have launched our brand new Resilient Pilot 'Skills Refresher Days'. These days provide an opportunity for type-rated pilots to prepare for an upcoming Licence Proficiency Check (LPC) or simply refresh their handling skills. Consisting of a half day technical and half day non-technical refresher, these one-day ‘boot camps’ will be run by experienced Resilient Pilot TRI/TRE/SFI/SFEs and CRMT mentors.

We have upcoming dates on both the A320 and B737 in two UK locations. Visit our dedicated page to learn all the details and book your day here.

But don't forget our existing services...

I was delighted to receive the inputs from our mentors above, yet their support doesn't stop here... Our fantastic team have produced a series of ‘Competency Development Scenarios’ that our mentors are happy to work through 1:1, or in a group. We have also recently launched the following:

The Resilient Pilot Resource Library

A fully interactive resource hub full of useful materials for you to maintain your wellbeing and competencies, boost your confidence, stay connected and navigate your return to the flight deck when the time comes.

The Resilient Pilot Skills Refresher Day and Non-Tech Workshops

As mentioned above our Skills Refresher Days are effectively a ‘boot camp’ comprising sim time and non-technical workshops to refresh those competencies.

Similarly the Non-Tech virtual joint CRM workshops provide an opportunity for pilots and cabin crew to work together to refresh and maintain key CRM skills for effective human performance. The workshops will form part of our 360˚ learning and development programme that encourages our members to take ownership of their personal and professional development while building resilience. The Syllabus will reflect the CRM refresher requirements contained in UK CAA Standards Doc 29 and EASA ORO FC.115

A final observation from Rebecca –

“On a personal note, when I went in for my A330 LPC recently I was terrified – it had been a year since I last flew. But, because we did some study of procedures and talked through those manoeuvres we knew we would get, and especially because we kept our 'soft skills' fresh, it went well. The muscles do remember how to do it, it really is getting the head back into the mindset that I think is important.”

Remember, Confidence x Competence x Connection = Resilience

Stay well. Stay connected. Stay Resilient.

Karen is Resilient Pilot's Co-Founder and CEO. For further information on the resources available to help Pilots and Cabin Crew stay 'Supported, Current and Connect' visit the rest of our website here.

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