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How pilots use flight simulators to prepare for any and all eventualities

Every day around the world, millions of people step aboard an aircraft without thinking twice about it. They settle into their seats, still focused on the latest Netflix show they’re watching on their phones with little thought to what’s happening around them. Many of them won’t notice the safety demonstration provided by the flight attendants …

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Millions of people board airplanes every day without a second thought all across the world. They take their seats and begin to watch the most recent Netflix series on their phones, paying little attention to what is going on around them.

They will turn up the music a little and lose track of time for the next few hours, perhaps only waking up when they hear the wheels touch down on the runway at their destination.

They are thinking about getting off the plane, potentially the lines at immigration, and whether or not their luggage has arrived at its destination as they stand up from their seats.

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They might acknowledge the flight attendants as they disembark the aircraft, but other than that, they won’t have given their journey to their destination much thought.

They likely were unaware that the metal tube carrying them was atop a substantial amount of aviation gasoline. They accelerated to 180 mph before being lifted six to seven miles into the air and traveling at a speed of 550 mph. The engines were then switched back to idle power as they got closer to the destination, and they glided down to the runway so that the many tons of metal, baggage, and people could be safely reunited with solid ground.

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These kinds of incidents are now regarded as perfectly typical because aviation safety has improved so much. People now enter airplanes as if they were buses. It is assumed that they will be safe for the ensuing several hours, and as members of your crew, we are pleased with that.

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The fact that (most) passengers are able to fly in such a relaxed manner makes your pilots and flight attendants happy, even though a thank-you is always great (but please don’t clap on landing).

But achieving this high level of security was not easy.

Two experts who are in charge of hundreds of lives and millions of dollars’ worth of equipment are sequestered behind a bulletproof door. The last line of defense against mistakes committed higher up the corporate food chain, all the way up to the CEO, they must ensure that everything they do keeps the aircraft safe.

An aviation accident’s timeline resembles the holes in Swiss cheese. Accidents only occur when all the gaps and faults align, never for a single cause. The last bit of that cheese are the pilots.

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As a result, we have to be on our game every time we show up for work. Having “off” days is something we cannot afford. The fact that most flights are uneventful, however, can potentially be detrimental to flight safety. How do we make sure that we are prepared to handle unusual occurrences given how infrequently they occur?

The twice-yearly simulator check is the solution.

As part of this post’s license proficiency test and operator proficiency test

Pilots must keep their licenses up to date in order to lawfully operate an airliner. They must pass both the Operators Proficiency Test (OPC) and the License Proficiency Test (LPC) in order to do this.

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All airline pilots must therefore complete two days of training and testing in a flight simulator every six months to make sure their capabilities for both normal and abnormal operations are up to par.

A LPC

The authority who grants the license specifies what should be in the LPC. Most of the time, they will make sure the pilot has demonstrated their competence to fly the aircraft in both typical and unusual circumstances, including an engine failure or fire, in addition to routine, everyday circumstances.

In the United States, this list includes:

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daily occurrences

how to utilize checklists properly.

starting the engine and loading important computer data before leaving.

arrival and approach.

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abnormal occurrences

refused to take off.

During takeoff, an engine failed.

precise approach with one inoperative engine.

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a roundabout with an inoperative engine.

landing with only one working engine.

non-precise strategy

other unusual occurrences

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A “training” pilot, either a captain or first officer, conducts the test while adhering to the regulations that specify the limitations within which these maneuvers must be flown. The ability to confirm that a pilot has met the necessary standard and to sign their license to indicate this is granted to training pilots who possess the appropriate licensing rating.

This OPC

While complying with regulatory requirements is acceptable, the finest airlines aren’t satisfied when their pilots only fulfill the bare minimal standards. Therefore, in addition to passing the LPC to satisfy the regulator, their pilots also need to pass the OPC to meet the higher criteria of their own airline.

The airline’s training division is responsible for developing the OPC’s content. Airlines can thus include whatever additional training or testing requirements they feel their pilots should complete. For instance, the LPC enables pilots to inject additional engine power if necessary during an engine failure following takeoff (rarely do we take off at full power). However, some airlines insist that the pilots cannot add more power in order to pass the OPC, which makes the maneuver more challenging.

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How it proceeds

In the past, the LPC/OPC was just a set of exercises to show the pilot’s proficiency in a task. The pilots would start at the end of the runway and then take off one at a time to display each skill.

The aircraft would be moved to the beginning of the runway where they would then perform a rejected takeoff after demonstrating their ability to handle an engine failure during takeoff. Then it would be lifted into the air so they could show how to land without an engine. And that was that.

The issue with this is that, while it shows the pilot’s aptitude for handling an emergency scenario, it isn’t very representative of a real-world flight. Since it’s not normal for your aircraft to suddenly travel across the skies, personnel would eventually feel fatigued and lost.

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Testing vs. training While the LPC/OPC primarily focuses on testing the pilot, training is becoming becoming more and more important. This is advantageous. The entire purpose of the simulator check is to make sure that the pilots are prepared to handle whatever situation arises on that terrible day. Why not put that simulator time to good use by letting the crew practice certain situations to make sure they can handle them?

As a result, testing and training must coexist in harmony. Pilots must be tested to ensure that they have the necessary skills, but why not take advantage of the chance to train so that they may get better and ultimately meet the necessary standard?

This is especially true for components not covered by the LPC, such as potential occurrences like the landing gear not extending, fuel leakage, and pressurization issues.

Since “events” will occur along the road, simulator sessions are becoming more like realistic scenarios.

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For instance, the crew may be preparing to fly a regular flight to London while it is snowing at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). There may be a mechanical issue, which is permitted by the minimum equipment list, but the aircraft is configured with the fuel they would anticipate for this length of flight (or MEL). In the middle of the Eastern Seaboard winter, everything in this scenario is very conceivable.

Then, not long after takeoff, a difficulty will appear. It can be an engine problem, a fire, or stuck landing gear. The crew must handle any failures that the training pilot programs the simulator to produce as though they were real failures.

They must perform the necessary drills, go through the checklists, evaluate their circumstances, and come up with a safe plan, which, as in real life, may not always involve landing.

Whether they succeed or fail the check will depend on how well they perform during this activity.

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What is the student pilot seeking?

The training pilot’s role includes checking off the LPC’s components, but it also includes a significant amount of evaluating the pilots’ non-technical skills. Only a very small portion of what it takes to be a skilled pilot consists of manual flying abilities. The majority of the other skills concern how pilots behave, communicate, and engage with others.

An aircraft requires a lot of teamwork to fly. At all times, there must be at least two pilots operating the aircraft, and they must get along well with one another, especially when the workload grows under high-stress circumstances. Additionally, they must be able to work well with passengers, air traffic control, flight attendants, and any other parties involved in the operation. The trainer is therefore seeking proof of strong collaboration and communication abilities.

The crew must also show that they are familiar with the policies of the airline. We rarely know the pilot we’ll be flying with until the day of the flight because huge airlines employ thousands of pilots. In order to constantly know what the other pilot would do in every circumstance, there needs to be some form of standardization in the way we fly the aircraft. These are referred to as SOPs, or standard operating procedures.

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SOPs are so specific that they list the precise terms that should be used in various circumstances. Due to the fact that there won’t be any room for ambiguity, the likelihood of errors is decreased.

Additionally, the team must exhibit its situational awareness and problem-solving skills. Operating a plane is similar to playing 3D chess. There are mountains to take into account, passengers to think about, and the airplane is constantly moving. A significant portion of the OPC deals with how we handle this while addressing a technical issue and formulating a strategy to safely land the aircraft again.

The sole additional component in the previous list is workload management. Being able to manage your workload well is a necessary quality for a skilled airline pilot. It involves setting priorities, taking care of the most important details first, and having the flexibility to completely rethink a plan should circumstances abruptly change.

What it’s like

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I actually find the simulator sessions to be extremely enjoyable. Maybe I’m a little strange. I saw it as a test, an opportunity to demonstrate my abilities, and a chance to push myself to discover any shortcomings I might not have known I had.

I’m able to manage my own anxiety and direct it in a way that will help me perform well on the simulator by researching prior and approaching everything as a learning experience.

What occurs if a pilot doesn’t meet the necessary requirements?

The LPC and the OPC, more so than either, are made to challenge pilots and put their skills to the test. They are there after all to make sure that, should those situations arise in a real aircraft, the pilot will be able to handle them and safely land the vehicle. As a result, pilots may fall short of the required threshold.

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Remedial training will be needed if the pilot doesn’t meet the required standard by the end of the session. Each airline will handle these circumstances and the subsequent procedures in a unique way. Competent and well-trained pilots don’t simply forget how to operate an airplane. Stresses from our personal lives can have an impact on our professional lives, and pilots are no exception.

Poor performance is frequently the result of something happening at home. The training team will talk with the individual about all of this and choose a course of action to help them get through the problem. It might be necessary to take some time off work before returning to complete the simulator check once more. However, if the reason for the subpar performance is a lack of professionalism or declining competence, a program will be created to bring the person back up to standards.

Before the pilot can resume regular flying, this can entail more simulator sessions and flights with a training captain. However, a pilot may need to be cancelled if that standard is still unmet.

To sum up

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There is no accident when it comes to airline safety, and a lot of that can be credited to the ongoing training and inspections that pilots receive. Every six months, we practice crucial actions and movements in a flight simulator to ensure that, should a non-normal incident occur in real life, we will be confident in both our ability to handle it and our knowledge of how the scenario should play out.

In the majority of flights, the pilots follow the same procedure as they did the day before and the day before that. However, we can never predict when our “Sully moment” would come in our professional lives. So, if you’re a passenger on that day, know that your pilots won’t be freaking out; instead, they’ll just be doing what they trained in the simulator just a few months earlier.

The Points Guy/Scott Mayerowitz took the featured image.

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