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Pilot training, airline safety and the Transport Safety Investigation Amendment (Incident Reports) Bill 2010

CHAIR —I welcome representatives from the University of New South Wales Department of Aviation. The University of New South Wales Department of Aviation has lodged submission No. 3 with the committee. Would you like to make any amendments or additions to that submission?

Prof. Middleton —No. We are happy to talk to the substance of that as you see fit.

CHAIR —Before I go to your opening statement, I must put on the record that I offended someone out there in the wider community this morning by saying that Mr Joyce came from a long line of Irish bomb makers and he thought I had offended every Irishman in Australia. I come from a long line of Irish bomb makers and so does the secretary, so for any offence I have incurred on the Irish community I apologise. How is that?

Prof. Middleton —We have very thick skins here.

Brian Horton —I have Irish ancestors. They do not take offence, I can assure you.

CHAIR —Thank you. Would you like to make an opening statement?

Prof. Middleton —Yes, thank you. The University of New South Wales School of Aviation is what we might call the only full service school of aviation in the country. We sit in the Group of Eight research intensive universities, and we have staff for research. We have our own flying school and our own aircraft. We lease premises from Bankstown Airports Limited and employ our own instructors. We have undergraduate degrees in management, flying and postgraduate coursework degrees. In that sense we are a full school offering all functions.

Our submission is based on the fact that right from the beginning we intended to produce aviation graduates of the highest quality, both from an academic background and from comprehensive quality flight training. We believe that is the only way to go. Our submission is based upon the fact that we believe the training is at present not only fragmented but patchy in quality, and that a national approach needs to be taken to the quality of flight training.

CHAIR —Thank you. Can you take us through what happens to me when I turn up there bushy tailed and bright eyed with an aspiration to be a pilot? What is the process?

Brian Horton —In our school or just in general?

CHAIR —In your school. What do you need for a HECS or TER?

Brian Horton —It is about 80 for our course. It is a three-year program. Students come in and they do a first year of all academics at the university. As soon as they finish their exams at the end of first year in November they come out to Bankstown and we start doing some theory for a couple of weeks. until the Christmas break They are back on the first Monday of January, and they go right through the whole of second year doing a commercial licence, instrument rating and all the supporting theory for that at Bankstown.

CHAIR —By the end of the second year they have their commercial licence if they have not dropped out of the system? What is the dropout rate like?

Brian Horton —It is 15 to 20 per cent overall.

CHAIR —Are some of those because of a lack of resources? It is a HECS set-up?

Brian Horton —Generally it is because of a lack of aptitude. They have a good academic standing to get into the course and they are bright enough to pass the exams, but often they do not have the motor skills to be able to do it or they are a bit immature sometimes.

CHAIR —It is 98 point whatever to become a doctor, but they can be absolutely unsuited to being a doctor. Is it that sort of thing?

Brian Horton —Yes, it is the same sort of thing.

CHAIR —Some guys would get 80 and would make excellent doctors.

Brian Horton —Some people would get 70 and make excellent pilots.

CHAIR —At the end of the second year how many hours would they have?

Brian Horton —Roughly 200.

CHAIR —Did you say it is a three-year course?

Brian Horton —It is a three-year course.

CHAIR —What happens in the third year?

Brian Horton —In the third year they go back to Kensington and do a normal academic first semester and then in the second semester they come back to Bankstown where we do air transport pilot licence theory, which takes about 11 weeks. They then do an elective. The elective can be either a direct research assignment, which is the cheapest option, or an instructor rating, but we select the ones that we offer that to. Most of them end up doing a multicrew course, which we do in a synthetic trainer.

CHAIR —Having passed the graduation ceremony, what happens to the bulk of your people?

Brian Horton —Professor Middleton will be able to back this up with better statistics than me, but most of them get into the industry in first year and within about three to four years the uptake is pretty high for them getting into airlines. Generally they would either get a job instructing on the east coast or those that want to go west—Kununurra, Broome—or Cairns and all those sorts of places, get some experience doing the traditional sort of pilot thing.

Senator O’BRIEN —What is the cost of running one of these courses and how does the fee structure and HECS work for students? Can you give us some background on that?

Prof. Middleton —Yes. For CPL and up-to-command multi-instrument rating the cost structure is a little over $100,000. The instructor ratings and other ratings are on top of that, taking it possibly to $114,000. To date, we have simply charged students, if you like, with an extra practicum on top of their HECS. Their HECS covers the academic component, but this extra $100,000 or so covers their flight training component as a very expensive practicum. We have not resorted to the use of the FEE-HELP, which is only available through the graduate certificate system, because we felt that was a process which takes money out of the DEEWR portfolio and uses it for flight training. We feel as though it is not a particularly cost-effective way to do it because of the way that you have to build a graduate diploma into a degree. To do that properly you would arguably need to have a longer overall program—a graduate diploma and degree—in order to do a thorough job.

Senator O’BRIEN —So, for that second year component the students are up for about $100,000? Is that correct?

Brian Horton —It is about $90,000 for that component, and another payment in third year to cover their elective.

Senator O’BRIEN —Is there a loan system or do people come in with financial backing to do it from somewhere else? We need an answer on the Hansard rather than a nod of the head.

Prof. Middleton —Yes. They have to bring in their own money. There is no other way of doing that. We are looking at the graduate diploma methodology using FEE-HELP. We think that idealistically it is not the correct way to go, but we may move that way in the future.

Senator O’BRIEN —Do you have any connections or associations with any particular aviation businesses in terms of working/experience/training?

Brian Horton —We have a mentoring program with APA. They are Qantas pilots, but it is facilitated through APA. Third-year students all have a practising Qantas pilot as a mentor and they assist them through that year. They have a pretty active network of ex-students who will assist them to get jobs when they are finished. We are also looking at trying to establish links with airlines in the future to get a career path for our graduates.

Senator O’BRIEN —What is your course capacity? Is it fully subscribed each year?

Brian Horton —About 50 would be the maximum that we would want to take at this point.

Senator O’BRIEN —Do you get 50?

Brian Horton —No, we get about 30 at the moment. There has been a bit of a drop-out. Thirty was our capacity up until last year. We have just bought some additional aeroplanes. We have increased the size of the building and invested in a new simulator, so we are gearing up to be able to take 50 students.

CHAIR —Are you in a position to double that and contract the output to an airline?

Prof. Middleton —There is an issue with a university contracting to an airline. It needs to be done in a very careful way because, if we contract to an airline, the implication is that the airline can come down and make the decisions about who passes and who does not pass. The universities are expected to be independently assessing and setting our own standards. We have chosen not to go down the path of trying to contract airlines on a commercial basis. What we are aiming to do is not to produce a lot of pilots but to produce a smaller number of very good quality pilots.

Senator O’BRIEN —Does your system allow for recognition of prior learning?

Brian Horton —Yes.

Senator O’BRIEN —So someone could come in having done some training somewhere else and have that recognised?

Brian Horton —Yes.

Prof. Middleton —Not entirely. If someone says, ‘I’ve got a commercial pilot licence and an instrument rating and I want to come in and get accreditation from the university for that’, we would say, ‘Our program is an integrated program. We use glass cockpit aeroplanes and have standards higher than you might get at a fly-by-night flying school down the road. If you want to do a degree, perhaps you could do a management degree. As we see it, it is not for us to simply rubber stamp any flying school that walks in through the door and says, ‘We’ve got a flying program.’

Brian Horton —When students come in with prior experience they will go through the whole of the training process. However, if somebody would normally get to a private pilot licence level in 70 hours, somebody who comes in with prior experience may get there in 20. We go through the steps and confirm that everything has been covered. In that they get some credit for it, because they can use the experience.

Senator O’BRIEN —So it is competency based?

Brian Horton —Yes, entirely.

CHAIR —I can understand that. When I went to Joey’s they did not know it but I had done Latin and French in fifth and sixth class at Bowral. So for the first two terms when I went to Joey’s and did Latin and French they thought I was a genius.

Senator XENOPHON —Thank you for your submission. I would like to focus on a couple of issues. I think Senator O’Brien has covered a number of issues of concern. You are probably familiar with the ATSB event report involving the Jetstar flight on 21 July 2007?

Brian Horton —I have read about it.

Senator XENOPHON —One of the recommendations was the proposed CASA, the Civil Aviation Safety, regulation part 142, ‘... training and checking operators was intended to formalise responsibilities of third-party training organisations.’ That has not come into force yet, has it?

Brian Horton —Not that I am aware of.

Senator XENOPHON —That is my understanding. The report publication date was 24 February 2010. Does there seem to be something inordinate about that? Is there an issue there, for instance, with that proposed part 142 of the regulations not coming into force yet?

Brian Horton —I can make a general statement about that. CASA has had difficulty getting the legal drafting done to get the new legislation into place. For the past 10 years at least it has been said that the new regulations would be put into force in about two years. The reason that has always been given is that there is a hold-up with getting the legal draftsman to draw up the legislation.

Senator XENOPHON —It should not be that long.

Brian Horton —I agree. All I am saying is what I have been told as part of industry. However, I understand they were given extra resources last year and a lot of the proposed legislation is going to be put into effect this year. That is part 141 and 142.

Senator XENOPHON —It has been a long time. Would you welcome that in terms of formalising those arrangements? That would define the responsibilities of the training provider and the relationship with the AIC holder.

Brian Horton —Yes. Any clarity in responsibility is welcome.

Senator XENOPHON —I want to touch on a couple of other issues. Poaching of pilots from small carriers going to mainline carriers, for instance, is a real issue. I was quite taken by the evidence from the CEO of Brindabella that he spent $20,000 getting the accreditation for one of his pilots and within six weeks he was off to one of the mainline carriers—which works out to $3,500 per week. Do you have any suggestions? It does not have to be too prescriptive. How do you deal with that issue? In one or two countries they have a transfer fee, as Senator Heffernan would put it. How do you fix that problem without having unintended consequences?

Brian Horton —That is a huge problem that has always been there in the industry, particularly in an industry where the cost of training is so high. We are losing instructors and so on, which causes exactly the same problem.

Senator XENOPHON —So you cop it as well?

Brian Horton —Yes. I do not have a magic bullet for that problem. There may be ways of bonding people or getting a payment if they leave within a certain time. Those things have been tried.

Senator XENOPHON —Do you want to think about it and maybe provide something further on notice in terms of options, whether it is bonding, more cooperation between the mainline carriers and the smaller carriers, and also schools such as yours where you also suffer the consequence of this?

Brian Horton —Yes. My experience has always been that cooperation is always there when times are good, but when they need pilots or anything quickly then those sorts of things go out the window.

Senator XENOPHON —Maybe there could be something formalised or structured. I wonder whether it would help if there were some rules of engagement. On the issue of giving immunity to pilots regarding reporting, which is one of the terms of reference for this inquiry, do you have a view as to the best way to achieve that, the best way to entrench or give legislative protection to pilots in terms of the just culture approach?

Prof. Middleton —It almost has to be anonymous. One of the problems is that the events, as they are, as they happen in aviation are often so publicly known that someone making an anonymous submission still becomes highly identifiable by the nature of the event they are talking about.

Senator XENOPHON —So, it is pretty obvious that you were either on the plane at the time or you were in the cockpit?

Prof. Middleton —Yes, and you had to be cockpit crew, because no-one else would know what had happened.

Senator XENOPHON —There is a 50 per cent chance of guessing who it is or even more?

Prof. Middleton —Yes. That is part of the problem even if it is anonymous. The issue we have seen amongst our students, even at a very low level, is that as soon as there is any concept that there will be a penalty if you speak up on a safety matter, everyone just clams up. We continually have to tell our young students, ‘Honesty and speaking up about safety matters is important. If you’ve got any issues, raise them, raise them, and raise them, because we want to solve them now. Don’t bury things and hide mistakes in the hope that no-one is going to be copped for it, because in the end it’s a very bad way which leads to unsafe practices.’ There is a culture in there which has to be honest. That same culture has to be a culture where organisations do not penalise simply because people are reporting safety matters.

Senator XENOPHON —There is a specific amendment that I would put up on this. If you think it is unworkable, rubbish or could be improved I would welcome your feedback, because I do not think it was referred to specifically in your submission.

Prof. Middleton —No, it was not.

Senator XENOPHON —Would you have any comment about the whole concept of legislative immunity?

Prof. Middleton —We would be happy to comment.

Senator XENOPHON —I would value that, because I think it is a question of having something that is workable and effective in the context of that. Virgin could not tell us what they thought of it, because they were not authorised to.

Also, on the whole issue of the way pilots are training, we had some evidence that some of the pilots that are trained in simulators, in terms of training for the right-hand seat, whilst they are endorsed for that particular aircraft, particularly the Airbus A320, they have not flown the A320s but have been endorsed through the simulator. Do you think it is desirable, if you are a trainer, to have actually flown that aircraft as well as simply being endorsed in it?

Brian Horton —I think there are two levels of simulator training. There is one level where pilots come in and they are trained on operation of systems and some of that is done in a simulator, either fixed based or moving, but the objective of it is to teach the pilot to operate the various systems of the machine. That is the case at Qantas. Those instructors may not have experience on the type, and some of them are engineers by trade. Therefore, they are expert in the operation of the systems, but not necessarily flying. The second part of the training is in the full flight simulator with simulator instructors, and my understanding is that those people are all either very experienced pilots who have done an endorsement in the simulator—ex-airline pilots with 20,000 hours—although they may not have flown that type in operations.

Senator XENOPHON —Are you talking about the trainers?

Brian Horton —Yes, I am talking about the trainers, the simulator instructors who would be doing it. In my opinion, I do not think the fact that they have not flown that particular type of aeroplane on operations really matters. They are still very experienced pilots. The fact that they are using a different tool to do the job is slightly different, but I do not think it matters too much.

Senator XENOPHON —We heard from the Australian Federation of Air Pilots and they gave us an excerpt from one of their pilots who said that the ‘lack of an airline’s own instructional force involving the type rating training produces a significant measurable lack of depth in instructional staff’. This particular pilot, who is not identified, says, ‘Today’s sim. instructors have never taught the vast majority of potential non-normal sequences.’ He went on to say, ‘Intellectually they know what to do, but in practical terms they will not have seen it happen or watched the pilots dealing with them’ and ‘type training is a hothouse of learning in a concentrated environment where the potential to learn as an instructor is tremendous’ and ‘this loss of environment for the airline instructors has a significant safety impact’. You do not necessarily share that opinion?

Brian Horton —I do not necessarily share it, but it is a long time since I was involved in that type of training so I am not in a position to comment.

Senator XENOPHON —If you could comment in the next week or so, by the 11th, about what you thought of that particular legislative amendment regarding immunity that would be very useful and I would be grateful.

CHAIR —This is subjective, of course. How would you compare the product that you turn out, as a rounded young pilot, as opposed to a cadetship in an airline?

Brian Horton —I do not think there is much difference. We have set up our training system to be very much like the Qantas cadet training. I have been involved in that in the past, so I have some experience. They do a commercial licence with an instrument rating. They do ATPL theory and most of them do a multicrew course, which is exactly what the Qantas cadets do. A lot can be done in training to better prepare people to go straight into airlines with low levels of experience. At the moment our training system produces people to fly light aeroplanes in a single pilot operation. That is what it is geared to do, and the legislation forces us to do that.

CHAIR —So, you do not do twin training?

Brian Horton —Yes, we do twin engine training, but it is a light aeroplane rather than a transport category aeroplane.

CHAIR —I keep reminding myself of poor old Don. At Rex Airlines they finish up in a twin and then, of course, jump into the right-hand seat.

Brian Horton —Our training is almost identical to what they do at Wagga with their cadets. They end up in a twin-engine aeroplane to get their instrument rating, but they are still trained as a single pilot in a light aeroplane. You can compare that to the other end of the training spectrum and what Boeing did as an experiment recently with a multicrew licence, where the cadets were trained to fly a particular transport category aeroplane in a particular airline, and the whole of the training was geared towards that. I think there is a middle ground.

CHAIR —So they are not qualified to fly the Cessna 150—which I have to say is pretty hard to crash—but qualified to fly a Boeing whatever. Do you think that if you let kids get on a Honda 650 and not spend a bit of time on a Peewee 80 that there are risks?

Brian Horton —No. The MPL is in its infancy and really we need to see what happens in the next four or five years for those pilots that have gone through. I think there are better ways of doing it. I think there are ways that you can achieve what we currently do in giving people command time and giving them self-reliance, but still prepare them for an airline career.

CHAIR —We do not want to learn from hard experience in any of this. The pilots who get those specific licences do not fly light aircraft, do they?

Brian Horton —No.

CHAIR —Are there not some basic instincts that you get out of flying a light aircraft that are valuable for you later? I should not put all of these things on the record, I suppose, but I can remember one day dive-bombing some girls playing on a tennis court. I put it into a power dive—young pilot—and I did not realise quite how long it took to pull out of it once you pull the stick back. She stuck for a good while. They all thought it was clever flying, but it was not, it was stupid. Those sorts of experiences, not necessarily take them, or even flying around the TWG aerial and whatever—

Senator XENOPHON —That explains a lot.

CHAIR —Yes, that explains a lot. Even just taxiing out and not knocking the wing off on the end of the hanger or something. I find it hard to come to terms with this. They just get straight out of the simulator.

Brian Horton —They do 100 hours of flying in light aeroplanes. I think they have the equivalent of a private licence. I do not know the answer. It is early days yet.

CHAIR —I hope we do not go to that system.

Brian Horton —People who are commanding big ships do not necessarily start in tinnies. They get trained on the sort of equipment that they are sailing and operating and I do not think the aeroplanes need to be much different.

Prof. Middleton —With the big aeroplanes, the way Airbus and so on are designing them, they constrain pilots into flying narrower and narrower envelopes. For example, in a small aeroplane you might approach an airport and do what is called a circling approach to land on another runway. Airlines do not do that. They do a straight-in approach to the 10-mile ILS and if they have a change of runway, they go around, disappear off, come back in and fly the ILS on the new runway. They are restricting more and more and they are building more and more capability into the software for the aeroplane to do the flying rather than the pilot. This has a real potential of limiting a pilot’s ability to be able to really fly the aeroplane when it counts.

CHAIR —If you have had 1,000 hours of the plane looking after itself and then one day something does go wrong, you have got to know when to take over.

Prof. Middleton —As to the Qantas 32 crew over Singapore that did such a good job, it is very debatable whether an inexperienced crew could have done that.

CHAIR —It is not debatable. Thank you very much.

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