Multi-crew Pilot License (MPL) – The way forward?

Changes in airline Pilot licence. 

Airlines are looking at all possible ways to cut costs to cope with the increased competition and lower profit margins. In their efforts to cut costs, no sacred cows were spared. One such area was pilot training. In 2006, the controversial Multi-crew Pilot License (MPL) was introduced as an alternative training scheme to the traditional Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL).

Traditional ATPL

Traditionally, pilot trainees start by learning to fly on a simple single engine aircraft. Following that, they will move on to fly more sophisticated multi-engine ones. This initial phase focuses more on the pilots’ individual proficiency. Pilots fly many hours to build up their basic flying skills, as well as hone their decision making and airmanship. After mastering the basics of flying, they then learn how to fly passenger aircraft operated by the airlines. Here, the focus is on teamwork and pilots learn how to work in a multi-crew environment to operate a commercial airliner safely.

MPL

The focus of the MPL is quite different from the ATPL. Of note, the MPL syllabus has a lot less actual flying hours than the ATPL. Instead, more of the training is done in flight simulators. Supporters of the MPL believe that airline pilots do not operate individually. As such, there is no need to place so much emphasis on individual flying skills. Pilots are instead trained to operate in a multi-crew environment right from the start. More focus is put on Crew Resource Management, and less on individual flying skills. Because trainees need less flying hours, this streamlined pilot licence program allows airlines to produce pilots in a shorter time at lower cost. It is therefore a very attractive option for the airlines.

Concerns

When the MPL was first introduced, there were concerns of a drop in the standards of pilots. MPL pilots have fewer flying hours compared to ATPL pilots. Because of that, some aviation experts were worried that MPL pilots may not posses the level of skills required to handle emergency situations. This new programme is just growing out of its infancy stage. I think that until sufficient data is collected and analysed as the program matures, it is still too early to tell if the initial concerns are valid. However, what is certain is that cost pressures are causing more airlines to lean towards the MPL.

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