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RURAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT REFERENCES COMMITTEE
18/03/2011
Pilot training, airline safety and the Transport Safety Investigation Amendment (Incident Reports) Bill 2010

CHAIR —Thank you, Mr Phillips. For the record, could you tell us the capacity in which you appear today?

Mr Phillips —I am appearing primarily as a private citizen, although the submission I put in was in my previous role as head of aviation at the University of South Australia.

CHAIR —Would you like to make any amendments or additions to your submission?

Mr Phillips —No.

CHAIR —If you would like to make an opening statement we will then go to questions.

Mr Phillips —I think it is probably best for me to give a quick pencil sketch of my background and my interest. Most recently I was head of aviation at the University of South Australia. Prior to that I was with the regulator for a number of years and was primarily involved with writing the drafting instructions for part 141 on flight training operators and part 61 on flight crew licensing, and with fatigue risk management and multi-crew pilot licensing.

I am ex Air Force. I have spent the last 20 years being involved in pilot training right across the board, but primarily while working for international flying colleges like the one that was operating in that capacity at Tamworth and the one that currently operates in that capacity at Parafield. More recently, before the global financial crisis put a stop to any concern regarding pilot numbers, I was the convenor and chair of the Future Pilot Task Force that basically looked at how we could improve the throughput in training in Australia to meet our own needs and those of the local region.

My key interests from all of that are pilot training and, in university terms, lifelong learning for pilots. Encapsulated within that is the paramount factor of an interest in all aspects of aviation safety.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for that. In terms of modern pilot training, using the analogy of primary school, where kids tend to rely more on the computer or a calculator to do sums—add up, multiply et cetera—do you think that modern flying is diminishing the importance of eye, mind, body coordination et cetera, in sensing things rather than relying on the technology of the aircraft to do it for you, and does that mean there are circumstances, when you have catastrophic failure of the technology, where you are less able to fly the plane, as it were?

Mr Phillips —There are really two factors to that. One is the hand-eye coordination, the manipulation of the controls. By and large, pilot training today, even within something like the multi-crew pilot licence, or the MPL, still has a fairly strong focus on hand-eye coordination. Having recently stopped being the CEO, effectively, of a flying training organisation, although we had aircraft with autopilots, the students were not allowed to use the autopilot until they had reached a reasonably advanced part of their training. Even then, it is limited to particular aspects of their training.

Looking at the headspace issue, there is a diminution of the capacity of modern student pilots to be able to do a lot of the things that people in my era could do—quick mental calculations and gross error checks: is what you are getting off your whiz wheel correct or have you misplaced the decimal point? Nowadays there is a greater reliance on pressing the buttons on the flight management computer. The saving grace is, I guess, there are still a number of flying schools both in Australia and internationally that retain a focus on those mental skills, but students are students. They are not a lot different to primary students in many respects; they will always look for the easy option, and the easy option is to press the button, hit enter and take whatever comes out of it. That is a concern. One of my interests is seeing a wide-ranging inquiry into how we are doing training and trying to modernise our training but, in doing that, not losing some of the inherent skills that we need.

CHAIR —Do you think it necessarily follows that, if you are a pilot and you fit the compliance requirements, you are flying safely? We have received evidence to the contrary.

Mr Phillips —I am not surprised. If you did nothing other than what is required by the regulation, the civil aviation orders and related matters, you are a pilot. Would I let my wife and kids go flying with you? Probably not, because there is more to it. You need to have a reasonable depth of understanding. The reality is that, if you do nothing other than follow the basic theory requirements, for example, that CASA lays down—and they are quite reasonable—they do not go far enough. The basic training requirements are good, but there are other things that you can do. There is no requirement in getting a commercial licence that you need to actually do spin training. You do not have to be spin-competent, but you should, in reality at least, have an understanding of how to recover from the spin and have done it. If you do nothing other than follow the regs, you have a level of competency but it is not necessarily the level of competency that we are really looking for.

CHAIR —I cannot remember that myself—whether it is hard, opposite, power on. I think I would fail that now.

Senator XENOPHON —Mr Phillips, thank you for giving evidence to this inquiry. You are highly regarded by your peers, and I am interested in hearing from you as to a strategic overview of the whole issue of flight training. My first question is: is the current flight training system adequate for the industry—does it produce pilots with the qualifications required to fly as safely as possible?

Mr Phillips —Yes and no. It does if it is run by an organisation that approaches training in a structured fashion and looks at training not for tomorrow but for the future—that looks to future skills. I suppose the easiest way to classify it is: my aim was always to graduate a thinking pilot, not an acting pilot. Within the system today, yes, we do it, but we could do it a lot better and we could do it a lot better with some restructuring of the framework in which training sits.

Senator XENOPHON —What sort of restructuring should we have, and can you comment about some of the concerns that have been expressed to this committee about the pay-for-training schemes? Further to that, one of the training schools, Oxford Aviation Academy, made the point that if someone is not up to scratch or wants to get out there is no pressure on them to pass; the academy will give them their money back. If they do not think the person is up to scratch they will simply give them their money back—there is a money-back guarantee—and that is that. They do not want to have to deal with it. I think that is a fair summary of Oxford’s view. How do you deal with the pay-for-training model and managing the risk inherent in that?

Mr Phillips —That is the loaded dog in the room, isn’t it? The reality is, if someone fronts up with the money, a lot of organisations are going to be very hard-pressed to turn them away. Part of that is just the pressure of the industry and part of it comes back to the framework. Training organisations will not provide, in the main, more than they have to. That is primarily because the average student fronting up is not going to pay for anything that is not required, unless an organisation can show them very, very clearly that by doing a little bit extra—doing more time in a simulator or going out and doing 10 hours of unusual attitude recovery—is going to make them a safer and therefore better pilot and better prospect for a future employer. If that does not happen, the average student is not interested; they do not need to do that to get their licence. They are some of the aspects that impinge on this whole pay-for-training question. Oxford’s approach has always been a little bit different to everybody else’s, and part of that is their selection process.

Senator XENOPHON —Yes, that point was made in evidence. They seem to have a more rigorous selection process.

Mr Phillips —They have a selection process. Most flying training schools, unless they are training airline cadets for a specific airline, have very little in the way of a selection process—again because it costs and because there is no real benefit to the organisation to have one. I know from personal experience that, if you get someone to a point where all the indicators are that, as long as they continue to breathe, they are not going to be able to fly an aeroplane competently, it is easier to have the intestinal fortitude to sit them down and say: ‘Look, sorry; we’re not continuing with you. Thank you very much. Here’s the rest of your money back; go away.’

Senator XENOPHON —Do you have concerns about the aptitude and skills of some of the pilots who have qualified through some of the colleges?

Mr Phillips —I believe that, at the end of the day, no school will graduate someone that they really believe is unsafe. They will graduate people who they are not overly comfortable with. My view is always that you look at the individual. As I said earlier in my piece, my question was always: would I let my wife and kids fly with them? If the answer to that is no, really you should not be graduating them. You can equivocate around that, obviously, but if it is a clear no then you do not do it. But it is very, very hard. If you are looking at small flying-training organisations where their margin is measured in 0.5 or 0.7 per cent or thereabouts, it is very hard to step away from that.

Senator XENOPHON —In terms of practical recommendations that this committee can make to improve pilot training in this country, do you think it would be reasonable for CASA to mandate a selection process, for instance, for flight-training schools, to have some rigour in relation to that, similar to what Oxford and maybe others are doing? Secondly, should there be some type of money back guarantee given which in itself would mean that the training schools would be more careful who they select in the first place?

Mr Phillips —Yes, but there is a proviso on that. It is not a bad way to go to push the industry towards selection. Here is a quick anecdote. I lectured for some years at Edith Cowan University, in Perth, and we had a visit from some of the psych lecturers from one of the other campuses, who were absolutely appalled to find that there is no psych testing of pilot trainees unless they go through a selection process. We test everything else—whether their heart, their lungs and all the other bits and pieces work—but we do not test whether their head works properly.

Senator XENOPHON —Did you say no sight testing?

Mr Phillips —No psychological testing.

Senator XENOPHON —Sorry.

Mr Phillips —As to sight testing, you have to be able to see the panel!

CHAIR —You would not have many senators, by the way, if you put us through that!

Mr Phillips —Yes, but we are not relying on you to get us from Perth to Sydney at 30,000 feet.

Senator XENOPHON —And that is a good thing, Mr Phillips.

Mr Phillips —Yes, quite possibly! But I will just follow that bit through. As I say, I believe that the idea of putting a requirement for a selection process in place is good. We would have to look at a two-tier flying-training environment, the lower tier being one that is a lot of the little flying schools and flying clubs around the country who really are only teaching people how to become recreational or private pilots, and they have the occasional person who goes on and gets a commercial licence. That is one group, and they really do not need selection.

Then there is the other group, which is where Oxford and Flight Training Adelaide and many of the other bigger flying schools sit, where people are doing what is loosely referred to now as the approved or integrated CPL. There you are looking at organisations that are training people who are in there to get their commercial licence and get their command instrument rating, and they have their eyes set on the left-hand seat of a big aircraft. In that instance, yes, we should be doing selection training, but you need to put in place the regulatory framework that supports those flying-training organisations. Part of that may well be some form of underwriting, because, if you get the selection wrong, it will be a fairly bold school—an Oxford, for example—that will be able to underwrite it completely on its own.

Senator XENOPHON —I have several more questions to ask you, and I understand that some of my colleagues have questions as well and have limited time. You worked with CASA; is that right?

Mr Phillips —Yes.

Senator XENOPHON —What role did you have with CASA and when?

Mr Phillips —I was there from 2003 till the middle of 2007, and I worked in flight crew licensing standards initially. Under Bruce Byron it changed somewhat, but essentially I was involved in the development of the regulatory parts for flight-training operators, flight crew licensing, fatigue risk management and multicrew pilot licences.

Senator XENOPHON —Is the flying-training industry able to invest in the technologies needed to support training for modern airliners? Should HECS be extended to ATPL training, airline transport pilot licence training, without connection to a university?

Mr Phillips —You are aiming to get me shot! Again, it is one of those yeses and noes.

Senator XENOPHON —Who would shoot you, Mr Phillips?

Mr Phillips —Quite a few of my university colleagues. They will be ex-colleagues, I think, if I answer this the wrong way.

CHAIR —We are talking philosophically here, not physically.

Mr Phillips —Take the first part first. Any flying training organisation that wants to get truly involved in airline pilot training has got to be in a position to invest in the technology, because if you cannot do that you cannot deliver the training. The saving grace there is that today you can buy or lease simulators that are perhaps not at the top end of the market but are very close to it, and they are not going to cost you seven digits. You can buy very reasonable, fully functional flight simulators for $700,000 or $800,000.

On the HECS and FEE-HELP side of it, yes, there should be a broadening of that; it should not be just tied to universities. There are a lot of misconceptions about how universities actually conduct flying training and how they do the academic training for it—having read through some of the submissions that you have received—but, by and large, it does need to be a broader pool, and a number of submissions have made that point. We are one of the few professions where the individual carries the whole can for their training and professional qualifications and then rolls out at the end of it to probably some of the lowest paid positions around the place.

Senator XENOPHON —We still have not seen the training legislation updates that were promised from 1996. Could you give us some background and comment in relation to that, because I understand that a number of reforms were promised back in 1996. Do you have a view on those reforms and why they have not come into place?

Mr Phillips —I can tell you from personal experience that I had part 141, ‘Flight training operators’, ready to go through the department to the Executive Council in December 2003 and again in February and June 2004. By and large, that process was effectively stopped by the senior management in the regulator at the time. To put it in philosophical terms, I would say they lacked the willingness to commit.

Senator XENOPHON —And you think that was a mistake?

Mr Phillips —Absolutely. The industry put a huge amount of effort—I had been involved with that process as an industry representative prior to going into CASA—into that in the expectation that they were going to get those new regulations that would make significant changes. The flight-training operator regulations, for example, and the flight-crew-licensing regulations regulatory changes will have quite a significant impact on pilot training in the country, and there are a lot of operators out there who are ready. They have put everything in place. They have had it in place now for seven years, ready to go.

Senator XENOPHON —Thank you for that, Mr Phillips.

Senator STERLE —Mr Phillips, I have a couple of questions for you. Are flying-training instructors adequately trained for the instructional task?

Mr Phillips —Yes, but they could be trained a darn sight better.

Senator STERLE —Would you like to tell us a bit more?

Mr Phillips —For example, the regulatory requirement is for 50 hours for a flight instructor rating. You can do 30 of that as mutual, which means you fly with another student instructor and learn his bad habits. A lot of that time would be far better spent with two student instructors sitting in a simulator with an instructor, going through the processes, getting the patter right, getting the teaching techniques right and learning the skills of how to assess what is actually happening in the head of the person sitting next to you as they are screwing up sequence after sequence. Doing that in a live environment is not good learning. It is not a good teaching environment. We have better teaching environments and we need to be able to use those better teaching environments. That is as a starter. The other one is that we do not spend anywhere near enough time on the theory of instruction, the principles and methods of instruction.

Senator STERLE —How much time do we spend on it now?

Mr Phillips —Some places are spending as little as a day.

Senator STERLE —In your learned opinion, how long do you think should be a minimum?

Mr Phillips —It should be measured in weeks or even months. If you go to Central Flying School, at East Sale, for example, the flight instructor course there is nearly six months long. Flying schools in Australia can churn out an instructor in six weeks.

Senator STERLE —It is quite frightening.

Mr Phillips —It is concerning.

Senator STERLE —Yes. Is there a representative body for flying instructors?

Mr Phillips —There is. I think they are called the Australian Association of Flight Instructors. I have never really known them to be overly active.

Senator STERLE —Do you know why? Do you have an opinion on why they have not been overly active?

Mr Phillips —The throughput. A very limited number of instructors stay as instructors for any length of time because it is not really seen as a career option. That was one of the things we were looking at in the Future Pilot Task Force: how to promote flight instruction as a career path in itself. Most people get their commercial licence, they have 250 hours maybe and they go out and do a 50-hour instructor rating. At 300 hours, as incredibly experienced pilots, they are then turned around and let loose on the brand new students. They will do that until they have the 1,500 or 2,000 hours or whatever it happens to be that the regional or lower end carrier is looking for so that they can get into an airline. Most of that is because the pay rates are so abysmal that really, if you want a career, you have to go somewhere else. We need to be able to turn that around and make instruction a career in itself, like teaching or being a university academic is.

Senator STERLE —You just answered the third question I was going to ask you: is the remuneration adequate? You have clearly explained that to me! Okay, Mr Phillips, thank you very much.

Mr Phillips —You are welcome.

Senator XENOPHON —Could you confirm the regulation you referred to. Did you say 141? Could you just be clearer—I could not quite get which regulation you were referring to that could have been proclaimed but was not.

Mr Phillips —That was part 141. The title is ‘Flight training operators’.

Senator XENOPHON —At the moment, what do we have in its place?

Mr Phillips —Everyone works under CAR 5, Civil Aviation Regulation 5, which is over 20 years old, has not really been amended in any significant form during that time frame and is really not adequate for the task now.

Senator XENOPHON —Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. If you have nothing further to add, Mr Phillips, we thank you for your evidence.

Mr Phillips —Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 11.57 am to 12.49 pm