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Captain Abdulla M. Al Afeefi (left), Captain A320, Etihad Airways, and Aya Alaudhli, Second Officer B787, Etihad Airways, inside a flight simulator Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Anything can happen - turbulence, thunder, lightning or fire - inside the simulated flight training for pilots of Etihad Airways, the award-wining UAE airline based in Abu Dhabi. And it can happen at any time - pilots won’t know about it until the scenario is upon them, prompting them to work as a team to solve the challenge.

Only three others carriers in the world besides Etihad use this Baseline Evidence Based Training; Etihad is the only airline in the Middle East to deploy this training.

In a rare access to the behind-the-scenes pilot training regime at the Etihad academy, Gulf News spoke to trainers, examiners, instructors and pilots to bring to the light the strict protocols that must be mastered before taking charge of a plane.

Captain Juan Tuccio, Vice President - Corporate Safety, Training and Quality, and Captain Sanjay Sapra, Head of Crew Training for Pilots and Cabin Crew, lead the training team at Etihad.

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Capt Sapra (left) and Capt Tuccio Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Capt Tuccio, who is also a Boeing 787 captain and pilot examiner, said: “All our pilot training programmes are developed in accordance with the most advanced competency-based training and assessment methodology. Our cadet pilots are initially enrolled in the Multi Pilot License (MPL) training programme, while all other Etihad pilots undergo recurrent training in accordance with our Evidence Based Training (EBT) programme.”

He added: “At Etihad, we are proud to be the first airline in the Middle East to be given approval to deliver an advanced pilot programme called Baseline Evidence Based Training. Only three carriers in the world beside Etihad which use this advanced method of training pilots.”

Expect the unexpected

“EBT is a methodology that moves away from traditional ways of teaching, by focussing on exposing pilots to challenging, unexpected, real time situations that require them to work as a team to achieve the safest outcome. Pilots undergoing training are assessed on how they react to unexpected situations, work effectively as a team to resolve the situation and manage outcomes. Pilots are tested on key competencies like decision making skills, team work and more,” Capt Tuccio said.

Tailored training

He added that Etihad has further enhanced its Baseline EBT programme by introducing individualised coaching modules.

“At Etihad we provide each pilot with individualised training modules. So we don’t just utilise a single programme to teach all our pilots, we have dedicated coaching modules to further enhance the quality and effectiveness of our training – just like a personal coach would do. The combination of this advanced training methodology, our pool of instructors and state-of-the-art facilities - all demonstrates our commitment to safety and efficiency.”

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Cadets must pass tests and training for all scenarios Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Inside the simulator

Etihad has invested significantly in simulation training devices to enhance the capabilities of its pilots. The Etihad Aviation Training centre is equipped with simulator training devices for Airbus A320, A350, A380, Boeing 777 and 787.

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A simulator Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Capt Sapra, who is also an A350 captain and senior examiner, said the simulation training experience exposes pilots in different real-time situations to develop and assess their core competencies in full.

Inside the simulation training device, pilot trainees sit beside an instructor to take off and land aboard a simulated flight. Instructors onboard the simulation device throw surprises at the pilots by changing the environment to add turbulence, thunder, lightning or fire. Pilots are expected to take all the necessary protocols to ensure a smooth and safe flight.

Core competencies

Capt Sapra stressed that the training programmes revolve around nine competencies - application of procedures, communication, flight path management automation, flight path management manual, knowledge, leadership and teamwork, problem solving and decision-making, situation awareness and workload management.

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The training mimics emergency protocols Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

He said Etihad’s competency-based training method helps to upskill individual pilots by understanding where they are excelling and where they can improve. Factors like pilots’ hand flying skills, manual flying, the way to use automation, apply procedures, communicate with other crew members and passengers are all taken into consideration. “We have internal data which details this. Instructors assess individual pilots in training programmes and share data on where pilots can improve.”

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Impact of technology

Captain Kian Siew Beh from Malaysia who joined Etihad in 2004, is a Standards Trainer on the Airbus fleet. Capt Beh, who started his career in aviation as a cadet pilot in 1993 with Malaysian Airlines, said in the past the training was done with respect to the technology in place at the time.

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Capt Beh Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

“As you know technology has improved by leaps and bounds and our airplanes are way more sophisticated today. But with the sophistication comes reliability and also complexity. Challenges we face today are very different from those faced before,” he added. “‘Fly safe’ is our main message. Safety and efficiency are two main aspects to consider while flying.”

Pilots pride

Etihad Airways has hired more than 150 pilots this year. With growth plans for 2023, including the return of A380, Etihad will be recruiting heavily for pilots throughout next year.

Capt Abdulla M. Al Afeefi, captain of A320, is an Emirati pilot who has been recently taken into Etihad’s training programme for flight instructors.

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Capt Al Afeefi Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

“UAE is always investing in its individuals and provide them opportunities to excel for the nation. Etihad Airways is doing the same. Etihad has invested significantly in sophisticated technology and training modules to upskill its cabin crew and staff. In return we learn to learn to fly in the safest and most efficient manner. I am very proud to be part of such a great programme,” he said.

Capt Al Afeefi – who previously worked as a flight safety investigator - joined the cadet programme’s first batch in 2007. He was recently invited to Etihad’s Training Academy to join the training instructor team as a flight instructor.

He flew the first international training flight from Al Ain to Doha. He graduated first in his batch and won the best cadet award.

“I love flying. It is my passion. The opportunities available within to enhance pilot skills is incredible.”

The Emirati has piloted Etihad fleets from A320 up to B787. He received his Captain rank in March on the Airbus 320.

Pioneering batch

Another proud Emirati pilot is Aya Alaudhli, Second Officer B787, who joined Etihad in 2014 as a cadet pilot. She undertook a bachelor degree in aviation science, then gained the opportunity to be in the A320 MPL programme.

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Aya Alaudhli has her sight set on flying the Dreamliner Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

“Thanks to our leadership and their belief in Emirati women, I am proud and privileged to be in the first batch of the first and only B787 MPL, that Etihad has successfully pioneered,” she said.

What next for this young Emirati? “I am looking forward to fly the Dreamliner next year.”