You would think with 2,500 hours of experience in the Airbus A320, I might get a break from the FAA on required training. No such luck. When I returned to San Francisco, I started the identical course as my classmates who had no A320 time. On one hand, I was fortunate that this was a refresher course. On the other, it got a little boring in the beginning. It would be like someone getting into your car and explaining how everything operates. If you’ve been driving it for years, chances are good you already know how to operate the gas pedal, steering wheel, and radio buttons. I tried to take a positive approach and help mentor my classmates on some of the more confusing material.
The two weeks were split into two distinct training modules: computer based, systems ground school and aircraft procedures training. One in the morning, one in the afternoon. Here’s a look at both…
Systems Ground School
Ground school for aircraft systems has technologically evolved throughout my career. When I first started at a commuter airline, a human instructor stood in front of the group and taught the aircraft systems. After two weeks, a test was administered. Those who didn’t pass were fired. Two guys were invited to leave and go home without further discussion. Ouch.
When I arrived at United, a human instructor taught the 727 systems. At the end of that course, a test was issued and anyone who failed received more training. Same teaching method… but, more compassion. 🙂
The A320 school a year later was my first introduction to computer based ground school. However, United wasn’t completely ready to hand the education off to a cpu and monitor. In the morning, we had an assigned time to watch three to four hours of training. After lunch, a human instructor would re-teach material we should have learned from the computer.
When I returned from my first furlough, United had graduated to the “we don’t have to pay an instructor anymore” all-computer based ground school.
So, it came as no surprise that Virgin America uses an all-computer based ground school for learning the systems of the A320. The training modules are incredibly detailed, but, can be completed at the student’s individual pace.
You’re probably wondering what material is contained in an aircraft systems ground school? Well, to sum it up in one word: everything. Here’s an overview of the course:
- Overview / Pre-Flight Procedures
- Air Conditioning System
- Communications System
- Electrical System
- Fuel System
- Flight Control System
- Power Plant and APU (Engines)
- Auto Flight System
- Ice and Rain Protection
- Oxygen System
- Waste Water / Toilet System
- Navigation System
- Landing Gear Mechanism
- Pneumatic System
- Fire Protection
Each training module consists of color slides, animations, videos, text, and narration. If you’re curious, here’s a system that might even interest a passenger. Take a look at the photo… It is a screen shot from the module explaining the potable water, waste water, and toilet system on the A320. The text from the narration is located below the picture. Once you’ve got the toilet system mastered, there’s only a couple of hundred more things to learn about the airplane. Good luck!
There was a short quiz at the end of every module. (nobody failed… but, it seems like a compassionate company!) In total, I spent about fifteen hours in front of my laptop completing the course.
Training time in airplanes and full-motion flight simulators is very expensive. So, companies rightfully do not want to spend money teaching basic procedures in an airplane or simulator. An aircraft mock-up is the best place to learn.
The aircraft mock-up is a computer with a bunch of monitors arranged in a similar configuration as the cockpit. Each monitor is a “touch screen” and displays a panel that looks just like the one in the airplane. Instead of actually moving anything, the student simply touches the switch, button, dial or lever. The computer will fly a flight just like the airplane. Malfunctions can be programmed and practiced just as they occur in the real jet. However, it does not move or have any visual displays. It is a fantastic environment to learn the most basic procedures when first learning to operate the jet.
The most basic elements to learn are procedure flows, check-list use, and verbal call-outs.
- Procedure flows: At particularly busy times of the flight, numerous switches and buttons need to be positioned correctly. For these times, a choreographed “flow” is published by the training department. The flow makes it easy for the pilot to remember everything and keeps procedures standard across the company.
- Check-list use: Once both pilots complete their flow, a check-list is used to verify everything is positioned properly. The proper “response” to each check-list item must be memorized so the list moves along efficiently.
- Verbal call-outs: There are several phases of flight that require a distinct verbal call-out. For example, when the aircraft starts to climb, the non-flying pilot states “positive rate.” The flying pilot responds “gear up.” There are dozens of these little calls for various phases of flight that need to be communicated verbatim to company policy. There really isn’t much wiggle-room for slang when it comes to the call-outs. Everyone needs to be on the same page.
In total, we completed nine, four hour sessions in the procedures trainer. When we left San Francisco, we all had a comfortable grasp on this foundational training.
After a few days off with the family, it was time to head down to Miami for the FAA oral examination, full motion simulator training, and the course completion check-ride. Things were about to get a lot more busy.