Why have we done this report

Significant debate has occurred within the aviation industry regarding the issues of pilot training and experience, particularly with regard to the introduction of new pilot training programs that are focused on training cadet pilots. The main concern being presented by some sectors of the industry that are not in favour of these concepts is that these low-hour co-pilots are not as competent as their high-hour peers.

The ATSB gathered data from three airlines to explore the issue of pilot performance as a function of both flight hour experience, and entry pathway. Entry pathway analysis compared cadet pilots (who generally had not accumulated prior flight hours or experience) to those pilots who entered an airline after accumulating flight hours in other areas of the aviation industry.

Data were collected on a number of metrics from simulator check flights, which covered non-normal operations, and line checks, which covered normal day-to-day flight operations.

What the ATSB found

The overall performance of cadets and low-hour pilots matched that of their direct entry and high-hour peers. All pilots were marked as proficient at the completion of the check flights, with the only differences between the groups being a function of how many exceeded the required standard.

The differences between the low and high-hour pilots in ‘meeting’ and ‘exceeding’ the standard across all metrics were variable within airlines and inconsistent across all three airlines. This suggests that the differences between the groups were not of a systemic nature that would highlight an area of concern for industry. While the metric normal landing showed a difference across two of the three airlines, none of the other required regulatory manoeuvres or technical metrics were significantly different in more than one airline. For non-technical metrics, both leadership and situation awareness were significantly different in all three airlines. Although this is understandable given the low experience of cadet and low-hour pilots, focused exposure to those metrics during initial airline training may reduce this difference as was seen in the data for cadets collected at the 5-year mark in one airline.

Safety message

The evidence in this report indicates that the cadet pathway for low-hour pilots is a valid option for airlines. There was no evidence to indicate that cadets or low-hour pilots within the airlines studied were any less competent or proficient than their direct entry and high-hour peers.

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