What you need to know about the new requirements to obtain a full Airline Transport Pilot Licence in Australia.
For many years, to obtain an ATPL it was sufficient to complete all seven exams and meet the minimum aeronautical experience requirements; 1500h total, 100h night, 75h instrument, etc. (CASR 61.705)
In 2014, CASA introduced the additional requirements to complete an approved course of multi-crew cooperation training as well as to pass an ATPL Flight Test.
The ATPL flight test assesses the applicant’s competencies as pilot in command of a multi-crew operation. It is conducted as an IFR operation in a multi-engine turbine powered aeroplane (normally a simulator) operated with a co-pilot.
This has led to frustration and confusion by aspiring airline pilots. In the months leading up to the regulatory changes, CASA said that in essence this would change nothing, as instead of individuals forking out thousands, airlines would have to organise ATPL flight tests as part of their training programmes. However frustrated pilots soon found themselves looking at job postings that they could have previously qualified for but now called for a full ATPL as one of the minimum requirements.
To help gain an appreciation of the ATPL flight test for this article I have spoken with two Flight Examiners.
The ATPL flight test should be viewed as something like the “grand final” of flight tests – as it is, indeed, likely the last time that a pilot will be assessed (in Australia) for a pilot licence. It is often perceived as an intense Instrument / Type Rating proficiency check, with many candidates being worried about their personal ability to hand fly an azimuth approach procedure with an engine failed using raw data… However, this is not the correct perspective! If a candidate finds themselves in that situation, it is likely that there is a larger problem in play that suggests they are not yet ready for this qualification!
Strategically speaking, the ATPL test is an assessment of management and good decision making, considerate of risk, in a dynamic environment using a range of resources – a competent support pilot (ie First Officer) is just one of these, as is automation.
It seeks to validate the practical application of a spectrum of earlier training and experience – such as the Type Rating on the aircraft being used for the assessment, basic Instrument Rating skills/procedures, Company SOP, MCC training and NTS1 & NTS2 competencies (which refer to human factors competencies as described in the Part 61 Manual of Standards).
The ATPL flight test is usually an assessment undertaken by a pilot who is currently operating in a multi-crew environment, typically at the time of their command upgrade.
Most commonly, the ATPL flight test is an “enabler” for the commencement of command line training and occurs following a series of transition training exercises.
Since the aircraft used for the flight test must be a Type Rated aircraft (multi-engine, turbine powered) and operated to a multi-crew SOP, the assessment is usually exclusively completed in a full-flight simulator (ie B737, A320, DHC-8). However, where the simulator is not accredited for all required sequences, the assessment may be augmented by an in-aircraft component (ie EMB120, Metro). On rare occasions, there is no simulator support for the aircraft being assessed – so the test may be completed entirely in the aircraft (ie Beech 1900 and some corporate jet types).
Personally, I deliver the assessment on a range of aircraft types – and the actual format of the flight test varies depending on whether it is being done in the simulator, aircraft or a mixture of both. The typical template for the ATPL test is as follows:
· Knowledge based assessment – can now cover a massive range of information! Generally, focus on multi-crew concepts, law, aircraft technical matters (systems, etc), IFR aspects, Company SOP and aviation general knowledge (meteorology for the proposed operating area\, for example);
· LOE exercise – this simulates a line flight for the operator, during which one or two events (usually relatively benign) occur that require decisions and crew synergy to resolve. Depending on the decisions made and course of action followed, there is a high degree of “free play” and no set script to bring the flight to a logical conclusion!;
· Manoeuvre based exercises as flying pilot – to focus on some of the “hard skills” – for example, engine failure after take-off, unusual attitude / upset aircraft recovery technique;
· Manoeuvre based exercises as non-flying pilot – to specifically assess the candidate’s ability to operate as a support pilot and manage a flight from the non-flying pilot perspective.
In my experience, the typical candidate is an experienced First Officer within an organisation who is ready for their command – so the pre-assessment training focus is less about the actual manipulation of the aircraft (this is already expected to be at a solid standard) and more about the development of management skills, leadership and dynamic decision making to achieve optimum outcomes considerate of all stakeholders.
Sometimes, I have seen a “self-sponsored” candidate – however this can be a prohibitively expensive process which would look something like the following:
· Aircraft type training – there is no need for an actual Type Rating, however the level of aircraft knowledge required is essentially equivalent to that of a pilot with a Type Rating;
· MCC – this course is a pre-requisite, there are many options for training providers in Australia for this. Many serving pilots will be exempted from this requirement based on current multi-crew experience;
· Pre-test preparation – a self-sponsored candidate will normally be provided with a representative SOP for an imaginary operator and a support pilot (of their choice) and undertake a series of exercises to build / verify the management / non-technical skills required. The extent of this will depend upon the level of previous multi-crew experience and the aptitude of the candidate to assimilate the appropriate crew team concepts and synergies – sometimes an extensive single-pilot background can be a hindrance!
My best advice for a pilot preparing for the ATPL flight test is as follows:
· Be conversant with your aircraft type and proficient with instrument flight skills;
· Be thoroughly familiar with the application of your Company SOP (you are assessed against this);
· Know how to use the resources available (ie support pilot, automation, external agencies, etc) to their maximum advantage;
· Seek advice from other members of the team – I like it when the plan is formulated and the candidate asks the support pilot or cabin crew (when relevant) “what do you think about that?” or “do you have anything else to add / offer?”;
· Never take the aircraft into a situation that the others in the crew cannot support or are reluctant to (ie seek crew “buy-in”);
· Learn to make good decisions, considerate of risk and all stakeholders, and evaluate the progress / outcome of that decision and be prepared to modify the plan based on progressive observations ( it is a dynamic environment).
The days of simply having 1500 hours total and 100 hours at night to be ready for the ATPL are gone… and the MCC classroom training of itself is barely the tip of the learning “iceberg”. A pilot contemplating this assessment needs to actively seek mentoring in the multi-crew environment in an operational context. This is best achieved as a natural outcome of experience “on the line” with an operator, but can be done external to that with tailored, specialised training.
Grahame Murray is an ATPL Flight Examiner based in Tamworth, NSW. He talks us through a different perspective of what to expect during the test itself:
The test is not required to be conducted in a simulator, however, the requirements make this the ideal platform. The candidate does not need to hold a type rating unless the test is being conducted in the actual aircraft, however, their systems, automation and handling skills, knowledge and procedures needs to be such that they may as well be.
The primary focus of the test is on management of a number of scenarios encountered and the Human Factors (CRM) procedures used to deal with the issues. The full use of automation is to be encouraged – this is primarily a test of management, not flying ability. Rock solid two crew procedures for who does what, standard calls and checklist (normal/emergency) use is mandatory. A call or response that is not exactly as required is not good enough. If the procedure requires a “1,000 feet to go” call, a “1 to go” is not good enough. The same applies at transition – who says and does what is required to be exactly as scripted and responses to the normal checklist calls is to be exactly as written. “Near enough” is not good enough for this aspect of the test. Checklist use is very important.
Normal Checklist use: The PM calls the item as written and must receive the response from the PF as written. Procedures must be followed for instances such as the interruption to the checklist and what the PF is to do if the incorrect response is received. For pilots new to two crew checklists, it is best to be slow and deliberate. The PF calls and points to the item and the PF looks and responds. Sit on two chairs and run the checklist for an entire flight. Practise, Practise, Practise.
During an emergency/abnormal, who flies is important. In such an event the PF will require upwards of 85% of their mental ability just to physically fly and navigate the aircraft. Remember the test is to determine the candidates management ability so if only 25% is left for this task, the result will be less than optimal. After the memory items are complete, it is preferable for the co-pilot to become the PF if not already. Additionally, in single pilot certified aircraft that are operated two crew for this test, only the left seat pilot is able to reach all the switches and levers in the cockpit.
Emergency Checklist Use: Who calls and who actions the memory items? What happens if the person has their hand on the incorrect fuel cutoff, or any other switch/lever? An example would be the PM calls the memory item and places their hand on the lever/switch and calls the item & response “fuel cutoff OFF” and waits. The PF looks and calls either “confirmed OFF” or “Negative”. When the memory items are complete – take stock. I recommend the following acronym (3 W’s & 2 P’s):
·W – where are we. Where is your point in space reference surrounding airports, nav-aids and waypoints. · W – where are we going. Not the final destination, but where can you park this whilst busy. Enroute may be an option, hold at a waypoint or divert towards somewhere close. · W – Who’s flying. This should be the co-pilot with the auto-pilot engaged. · P – Talk to the passengers and tell them what’s wrong. “Bad news, the engine is shutdown but we’re flying just fine just as the aircraft is designed to” · P – Pan or Mayday call.
This will make sure you get stuff done and stop you arriving at the IAF before you’re prepared. The Emergency/Abnormal checklist reference items are next. The PF needs to also make the PF aware of all the notes and cautions applicable to the emergency/abnormal checklist to be used. The PM normally calls the item and response and then places their hand on the switch/lever – “Left generator OFF”. The PF the looks to check and responds “OFF” or “Negative”. It is important that the PF waits for the PF to look, confirm and respond before moving the switch/lever – this is hard for single pilots to do. Once the Emergency/Abnormal checklist is complete, good CRM procedures are required using whatever acronym works – gather the facts, nominate a solution, gain support, action and continually review. Again, sit on two chairs and run emergency/abnormal checklists moving hands to switch/lever locations on an imaginary panel. Practise, Practise, Practise.
The candidate should be very familiar with all the emergency/abnormal checklist procedures as the most innocuous problems, sometimes cause the biggest problems from a two crew perspective. Think screen failure, inverter fail, low oil pressure or compressor stall. Whatever the problem, stick to the plan. Memory items first (if there are any), 3 W’s & 2 P’s, applicable checklist and CRM. It works for anything from a violent passenger onboard to an uncontained fire.
The test itself is a normal flight with a number of legs made to simulate a line flight. A flight plan, performance calculations, manifests, etc. are all required. The flights will start off normal and then the Examiner will introduce problems that require resolution. They can be as simple as having to return to land to ensure you consider landing weight, a sick passenger enroute requiring a diversion, minor system failure or major problem such as an engine fire. The candidate is assessed on their adherence to SOP and management of the aircraft and situation as presented.
Grahame Murray not only has extensive experience as a Chief Pilot, Check Captain and Flight Examiner but is also a former CASA Flight Operations Inspector. Currently he is CEO and Head of Flying Operations at Valor K’, a company specialising in Fractional Jet Ownership and Aircraft Management.
This article was written by David Roses. This content is not sponsored.