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Improving Flight Instruction (in New Zealand)

The New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission  is looking into flight training in New Zealand as a result of a dramatic rise in incidents and accidents in that sector over the past decade.

Having started instructing myself just 4 years ago, and having experience at 4 different schools, I have a fairly fresh perspective on it. Some experiences were good, some not so good. I have not personally seen an accident occur, though I have seen the aftermath of a few. I have experienced a number of minor incidents, mainly ‘near misses’ but a few other minor things as well.Queuing for take-off

The following is based on my knowledge and experience here in New Zealand, but is probably relevant to many other places in the world, as well. This is just my perspective, though, and others may differ. Feel free to comment and discuss this.

The minimum requirements to be a ‘C-Category’ instructor is 200hrs flight experience, and 25hrs dual instructing experience. That’s not very much. A basic commercial pilot’s lisence requires 150 – 200hrs. A pilots still has a LOT to learn at that level of experience. That’s not to say that a new C-Cat isn’t capable of effectively teaching at that level; the basic lessons at least will have been well learned and will probably be well taught. I remember my early days of instructing, teaching lessons like medium turns; I was so current and had hammered lessons like it so hard in my instructor training that I could demonstrate them with almost zero divergence from the perfect turn. But the first lesson I was given to teach wasn’t a basic, early lesson. It was compass turns.

In instructor training, we had focused primarily on the basic lessons. The thinking being that at the school I trained at, new instructors were given the early, easy lessons to teach, and would gradually be advanced into the more advanced ones, with plenty of preparation possible ahead of time. Unfortunately, there were no instructing jobs available where I trained, and where I did get my first job, there was no such system.

I had been shown a compass turns briefing once, and might even have been demonstrated it (briefly) in flight. But I had never taught it. I honestly don’t recall how those early ‘advanced’ lessons went. I do remember that I didn’t really feel like I was teaching them effectively until almost a year later, when after trial, error, and practice I found an effective method.

C-Cat instructors with less than 6 months and 100hrs of instructing are supposed to be ‘directly supervised’ by a Category A or B instructor. This did not occur in my case, except where instructing was discussed with my colleagues at the school (there was a ‘B-Cat’ present at times). Had more guidance and mentoring been available, perhaps I might have developed my effectiveness much sooner with the more advanced training.

I have already discussed some aspects of what I think needs to change and improve in a previous post. But there are other changes that need to be made, as well.

ExperienceBent and broken 152

Increasing the minimum experience required to be an instructor will have multiple benefits:

1) There will be far fewer instructors who are just there to build hours, without any particular motivation or passion for their role. A gain in quality.

2) By the time pilots have the experience to become an instructor, there will be other opportunities that may appeal (and pay) more to many. If the pilot does choose to become an instructor, they will bring with them more experience, including operational experience of various kinds.

3) As a result of #2, there will no longer be an excess of low-time instructors willing to work for less than poverty wages. Increased demand, lower supply; terms and conditions for those who choose to instruct should improve dramatically, as should the quality of the instructors themselves.

4) Being a ‘career instructor’ becomes a viable possibility in this country. There are some today, but they are few, and are usually more than just instructors (otherwise it would likely not be financially viable to remain so).

Airspace

Mid-air collisions mostly occur in uncontrolled airspace, and that has certainly been the case in recent training accidents. Following the collision of two PA-28s in the Manawatu training area (the uncontrolled airspace between Palmerston North and Paraparaumu) the busiest part was designated a Common Frequency Zone, to ensure all aircraft operating there were on the same frequency, and could make position reports to each other. Other busy training areas have CFZs, but there is still busy airspace where there is no CFZ.

That’s not to say that CFZs are the solution to everything. Far from it, but they are better than nothing. Other problems occur when separate locations use the same radio frequency (uncontrolled aerodromes on 119.1 all over NZ for instance), often resulting in much of the radio traffic being irrelevant, or even causing interference with calls that are relevant.

Procedures

1) Radio usage.

Radio calls, when made properly, are invaluable in helping pilots in the area form a mental picture of where other aircraft are, and what they are doing. Unfortunately in some aircraft, the radio calls overwhelm what is being said on the intercom (equipment bad by design or old and degraded, I don’t know), and the radio will be turned down or off to enable instruction to take place. This obviously removes an important tool in the situational awareness toolbox, and substantially increases the chance of two aircraft trying to operate in the exact same location.

2) Visual scan.

VFR flight training is all about ‘see and be seen’, yet visual scanning techniques are not taught in many schools. Simple ‘look out before you turn’ is apparently deemed enough. Interestingly, one of the busiest areas for training in New Zealand that I have flown in has had no mid-air collisions in recent times (as far as I am aware). At least one of the schools in the area puts a lot of emphasis on visual scanning techniques; it seems to work. The same area has had many reported near-misses (including a few myself), but perhaps this is a result of the amount of traffic, and the fact that the other aircraft are actually seen!

3) Control Zone procedures.Alpha near Raglan

Some control zones arrival and departure procedures place both inbound and outbound traffic in close proximity. Their separation inside the control zone may be reasonably well defined, but often the ideal position to enter or exit the zone puts opposite direction traffic in potential conflict just outside the control zone (NZHN for instance). To make things worse, in busy periods there may be aircraft holding just outside the zone waiting their turn. Procedures could be modified to lessen the risk outside the zone, as well as inside.

There is a lot more that could be said and discussed on this subject; perhaps I’ll write more another day. For now, please feel free to comment and discuss, and consider making a submission to the TAIC on the subject if you are a Kiwi pilot with experience to share.

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