Malaysian pilots are out of practice; vital to boost their confidence to fly before travel resumes


Pilots and cabin crew have undergone training to ensure readiness for post-pandemic flying. — Photos: SAMUEL ONG/The Star

Boosting confidence among pilots to take to the skies again is vital for the resumption of travel in a post-pandemic world.

The Covid-19 outbreak, which grounded planes worldwide for the most part of last year, has rendered many pilots out of practice. And going back to the cockpit and manoeuvring a plane, just isn’t as simple as riding a bicycle.

Aviation experts agree that when pilots don’t fly for several months, their skills and proficiency deteriorate.

The other side of the coin, however, reveals a much more complex issue – waning morale among crew members and lack of confidence to perform their duties effectively.

Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB) chief pilot training and flight operations training officer Captain Andrew Poh said the aforementioned is a pressing issue for the industry.

“Confidence (to fly) is an issue that currently affects aviation globally. It’s a concern that has been highlighted and discussed among various aviation organisations, ” he said during a special media briefing recently.

Addressing this issue of confidence is something airlines will need to highlight in the training for pilots and other cabin crew during this downtime.

Poh, who’s been managing the national carrier’s pilot qualifications during the pandemic, said rebuilding confidence is staked upon refreshing technical flying skills.

“We ensure that we have continuous engagement with crew members as a whole. And we make sure that we reinforce routine procedures by addressing recency through simulator training.

“All these things add together to improve the confidence of the crew members to carry out their duties, ” he explained.

Staying in recency

Aviation is one of the most regulated industries with high safety standards. Under strict regulations, pilots are required to maintain their recency.

Recency limits are divided into the duties a pilot performs over a certain period of time. This regulation is defined by the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM).

Poh explained that a pilot shall not operate an aircraft carrying passengers unless they have carried out at least three take-offs, approaches and landings in the past 90 days. This is commonly known as the “three in 30” requirement.

“With significant reduction in commercial flights, the most economical way of getting a pilot back in recency is doing it in a flight simulator, ” he said.

Crew members are required to have up to 23 qualifications as part of licensing requirements. These requirements were set by CAAM, especially in maintaining their licence validity.

Training syllabus for pilots were also revised to address current condition in a pandemic situation.

“While flying during a pandemic, we noticed that a lot of flights were lightweight. A lightweight aircraft comes with a different set of challenges. For example, if the aircraft is light, the manoeuvre would be different, ” Poh explained.

On its part, Malaysia Airlines, through the MAB Academy, has accelerated digital adoption by developing online training module covering both regulatory and non-regulatory trainings.

MAB head of training Captain Rohaizan Mohd Rashid said the airline is looking at developing virtual reality training for pilots and cabin crew.

“With suitable equipments including 3D goggles, they could imagine themselves in an aircraft, switching on buttons that interactively react to what they press, ” he said.

  Rohaizan said the airline is developing virtual reality training for pilots and cabin crew.Rohaizan said the airline is developing virtual reality training for pilots and cabin crew.

This new training programme, however, is still in progress and pending approval from CAAM.

With the Covid-19 vaccination rollout in the country, Rohaizan added that crew members are fully prepared and ready to handle the transportation of vaccines.

Better well-being

Commercial passenger airline operations were greatly affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Air travel demand has significantly decreased since March last year due to travel restrictions.

The situation has affected aviation mental health, said the European Pilot Peer Support Initiative (EPPSI) and their founding organisations.

“Airlines, aviation organisations and their employees were not prepared for a pandemic, like Covid-19, ” said EPPSI in a joint statement.

The Covid-19 crisis exposes all flight crew, their relatives and passengers, to particularly high psychological stressors.

“These stressors can lead to psychological strains such as anxiety or existential fears, which in turn might negatively affect crew’s ability to safely exercise the privileges of their license, ” EPPSI added.

Poh concurred, adding that rebuilding mental resiliency is important during this downtime.

“The cabin crew members are all human as well, right? In various ways, all of us have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, whether it be through our family or working life.

“We are trying to address the psychological part of the crew members by engaging with external experts in various fields, ” Poh explained.

He added that crew members would be able to talk about their challenges confidentially with these external mental health experts.

“It’s important to address mental health. We’re trying to ensure that the crew member has the mental resilience to carry out their duties, ” he concluded.

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