PETALING JAYA: With “open skies” a possibility again as Covid-19 vaccines make their appearance, aviation regulators over the world are busy ensuring that pilots, who have been kept out of their cockpits, remain sharp and on top of things.
Malaysia is no exception.
“The technical knowledge of our pilots is very high, ” said Capt Chester Voo (pic), chief executive officer of the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM), the regulator of aviation safety in the country.
He said CAAM had been very much communicative throughout last year, such as by sending out many directives to remind airlines on where they could do better to ensure the welfare of their crew, as well as on fighting Covid-19, among others.
“We want airlines to focus on the mental health of pilots and to ensure their personnel are engaged, ” said Capt Voo.
“We called for an enhanced briefing for pilots, with pilots and their colleagues reminding each other of how they will react if faced with a certain situation. These discussions are more knowledge-based than anything, ” said Capt Voo as he underlined that the human factor was the all-important element when it came to safe and sustainable aviation.
In fact, as the world grapples with the pandemic, the most important “department” (whether actual or de facto) in airlines anywhere in the world now is the “human factors department”, especially so in airlines that value safety above all.
While the public can easily understand the role of flight simulators in training pilots, probing questions from fellow pilots are among the things that help keep pilots sharp too. “Let’s equate it to driving a car. You start the engine and drive away. But how about we stop to think of what you will do if a bus just appears in your path?
“Talk about hypothetical situations as much as possible as to what is your plan. This will lead to heightened awareness, and help maintain their sharpness, ” said Capt Voo, adding that the other method was through revision of theoretical knowledge.
Earlier this month, the International Air Transport Association said its latest poll revealed a “growing confidence in a return to air travel, frustration with current travel restrictions, and acceptance of a travel app to manage health credentials for travel”.
Cockpit crew representatives themselves are also cautioning that the mass resumption of flight operations requires careful consideration, especially on the different training levels for returning pilots.
According to the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations, there will be a range of situations that needs to be accounted for, especially for pilots subjected to a prolonged absence from operations.
“Pilots might have remained qualified but operating under regulatory exemptions, while others will have fallen short of the requirement for recent flight experience – including the need to perform at least three take-offs, approaches and landings in the last 90 days – or lost qualification altogether.
“Minimum training required to requalify a pilot to the regulatory standard may not be sufficient following either a break in operational status or loss of qualification.
“Operators must be prepared to provide training above the minimum required by the regulatory authority, ” said the federation on its website, adding that experienced pilots would not necessarily need the same level of “restorative training” as a relatively new crew member.
The good news is that even as many flights were grounded last year on account of Covid-19, the Malaysian aviation sector actually became safer, even if marginally so.
According to CAAM, there were 40 cases of aviation incidences or lapses reported last year, following 192,066 flights (or 0.020%) under its jurisdiction.
Malaysia, which is a member state of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, is required to report any incident related to civil aviation, under what is known as the Mandatory Occurrence (incident) Reporting (MOR) to facilitate the collection of information on actual or potential safety deficiencies or shortfalls so that action can be taken to make things better or safer.
In 2019, Malaysia filed 96 cases of MOR involving 453,438 flights, or 0.021% of the total.
“In terms of percentage, our skies were actually marginally safer last year, compared to the preceding year, ” said Capt Voo.
If not for last November’s helicopter crash (contributing to one MOR) involving a helicopter, the rate of high-risk incidence for last year will be even lower (at 0.018%).
Incidents or lapses that must be reported include runway excursions (aircraft veering off or overrunning the runway surface), runway incursion (any occurrence involving the incorrect or unauthorised presence of an aircraft, vehicle or person on the protected area of a surface designated for landing and taking off), abnormal runway contact, loss of control (inflight), and Controlled Flight into Terrain (when an airworthy aircraft under the full control of the pilot is accidentally flown into water or an obstacle).
Capt Voo said Malaysian airlines did very well when measured by global standards.
For example, MAS received a four-star rating from Skytrax and a seven-star Covid-19 compliance rating from AirlineRatings.com, a website that serves as a “one-stop” safety and product rating review website touted as the only airline rating that includes safety, product and Covid-19 safety ratings.
“AirAsia was awarded seven stars for Covid-19 health ratings following the implementation of numerous industry innovations over recent times to make flying more hygienic than ever before.
“On its part, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd has consistently demonstrated its commitment to safety and health standards across its network of airports in Malaysia, and has been recognised by the Malaysian Society for Occupational Safety and Health Standards in its latest awards programme (in November 2020), ” said Capt Voo.