As aviators operating high performance turbine aircraft, we are accustomed to mandatory and elective training. From our first experience of pursuing the private pilot license, we learn that the FAA has rules and regulations pilots must comply with. For the recreational, single-engine piston operator, the minimum training is a flight review every 24 months, while professional pilots could find formal training must be completed as often as every six months. As we gain experience and acquire additional ratings and licenses to operate turbine aircraft, we find ourselves evaluating the best way to operate at the highest level of competency. When this occurs, we also realize that the FAA’s rules for us to remain current and proficient is now combined with what our insurance underwriter and policy requires – most of the time, it requires training above and beyond the FAA mandates.
The aviation insurance marketplace has changed dramatically in the last 15 years. After 9-11, insurance rates spiked, policy terms and conditions tightened, and many of my colleagues, and myself, were furloughed as corporate flight departments closed. Fast forward 15 years and times have changed once again. Aircraft insurance rates are at historic lows, ancillary coverages are becoming increasingly more inclusive at each renewal, and jobs are plentiful. We are also seeing many more turbine aircraft, such as King Airs, becoming part of the owner-operator segment of general aviation. Whether you fly your King Air yourself or you hire a pilot to do so, King Airs are highly capable aircraft and are designed to be very versatile. Pilots operating the King Air should make sure they are as capable and versatile as the aircraft and conduct themselves as professional pilots.
We have more choices than ever before when it comes to training. To get the most out of your “risk placement program” (aka insurance policy), you and your flight department, if you have one, must be positively portrayed with a well communicated training plan to your broker and underwriter. There has been much debate in some flight departments on the best way to train – in the aircraft or simulator. Personally, as a professional King Air pilot, I experienced both. In the last 24 months, I have attended two separate training programs in full-motion based simulators from well-known and respected training venues. Most recently, I attended CAE, formerly known as SimuFlite, which is where I routinely trained starting with my King Air 200 initial over 15 years ago. Additionally, I’ve trained in the actual aircraft for the King Air B100. There is great argument that supplemental training should be part of any professional pilot training curriculum too. We should not discount the importance that supplemental training provides the pilot in “rounding out” his or her airman skills and aeronautical decision making. However, I will be focusing on the benefits of full-motion, simulator-based training as the foundation of the training regimen and why insurance companies place value on this method.
As training relates to aviation insurance, underwriters are particularly interested in full-motion, simulator-based training programs for the make and model of aircraft being insured. As I stated earlier, the industry has changed significantly over the last 15 years. If you want the best (top-rated carriers with the most liberal claims adjusters) insurance companies to insure you with the broadest coverages at the highest limits, your policy will require you to have a full-motion, simulator-based training program in place. Even if the pilot warranty in your policy states, “Anybody approved by the chief pilot or his/her designee,” the insurance company still expects acceptable training is taking place. If you desire low limits of liability with very basic and limiting ancillary coverages, depending on the pilots’ qualifications, you can probably get approval for in-aircraft training.
As a former professional pilot turned aviation insurance expert, I had the privilege to fly for a corporate flight department until they dissolved the company assets, starting with the company aircraft. I then flew for two different charter companies. The corporate flight department had us train at CAE and one of the charter companies had us train at FlightSafety International (FSI). The other charter company had us train in the aircraft. I can attest that the corporate flight department and charter company that trained in the simulator had lower insurance rates from one of the best insurance companies. Additionally, the charter company with the simulator training was able to secure $100,000,000 of liability coverage and the corporate flight department maintained $300,000,000. The charter company that performed in-aircraft training was only able to secure $10,000,000 of liability coverage. In addition to not being able to get higher liability limits, their policy did not contain the broad ancillary coverages.
Why do insurance companies prefer full-motion, simulator-based training over in-aircraft training? There are a couple of reasons; statistics show that aircraft accidents typically happen during the takeoff, departure, approach to landing, and landing and/or go-around phase of flight. What do these all have in common? They are typically below 3,000 feet AGL and combine with a busy workload for the pilot. The margin for error is limiting. When you want to push and enhance your skills to see what you are capable of, the insurance company doesn’t want this exposure to happen in the aircraft on their nickel. Additionally, they feel you can do more, and learn more, in the full motion simulator environment. When I completed in-aircraft training, we did not take the aircraft to the extreme limits that we could safely do in a full-motion simulator.
Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, created “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” He hypothesized that in order to effectively learn, humans have five needs, the second most important is safety. A person needs to feel safe from danger to effectively learn. When you are barreling down a 4,000-foot runway at gross weight, with low ceilings and visibility in a mountainous area and the left engine quits, doesn’t auto feather and you are at 95 knots with the nose wheel just off the ground … would you feel safer in a full-motion simulator or in the actual airplane?
Earlier this year, I decided to go to CAE for a King Air 200 upgrade recurrent course. The experience rekindled some great memories and revealed that my skills were a little rusty. CAE’s professional program helped me blow the cobwebs out, re-strengthen my skills and give me the confidence that a professional pilot requires to do the job well when “Murphy’s Law” rears its ugly head.
The five-day course started on a Monday morning in a well-appointed classroom of their massive complex with a great view of DFW. I glanced around the room to see eight other pilots in my class from various companies. My instructor, Steven Kopankis, has an extensive background in professional aviation, but I knew immediately I wouldn’t be learning just from Steven, but the entire class and their experiences would be a plethora of information. Throughout the week, this belief came to fruition as we all shared operating procedures and “things” each student had seen in the King Air 200 throughout our respective careers. This environment was very helpful to the learning process, and Steven was very knowledgeable and genuinely cares that his students are learning.
After spending a full day in the classroom on Monday, Tuesday yielded another wealth of information and systems review. Although class ran until 6:00 p.m., no one minded because of the great interaction amongst the students with the class syllabus and objectives. It was time well spent. In addition to spending time in the simulator, CAE has a CPT (cockpit procedures training) room. This was an extremely beneficial venue to visit and go through the motions of exercising your memory items. The redundancy reinforced the muscle memory that is required to respond correctly, and effectively, in the simulator during emergencies.
CAE’s full motion King Air 200 simulator is unbelievably realistic; these are multi-million dollar machines on massive hydraulic actuators. The moment you cross the catwalk and enter the simulator, you feel like you’ve stepped into the real thing. As I sat down in the left seat, I immediately felt like I was sitting in the cockpit again. Once I got through my expanded checklist and the aircraft (simulator) was started, I conducted the run-up, got my departure and taxi clearance, and was ready to have some fun and learn (remember Maslow’s theory? I felt safe.). In addition to being a safe learning environment, the simulator has some other benefits. One, it doesn’t burn any Jet A, so you’re saving about 800 lbs/hour! Secondly, you can do what the instructor refers to as “batting practice.” Remember earlier, I gave the scenario of a departure that went awry at 95 knots? You can practice this same scenario multiple times in a fraction of the time required to do it in the actual aircraft. Once you takeoff, go through the process of flying the aircraft and running your checklist, they can freeze the simulator and reposition you back at the beginning of the runway for you to do it again. Also, for debriefing purposes only, they can track you on the airport diagram/departure plate. This allows you to see how well you tracked the centerline and course profile along with other parameters such as airspeed, vertical speed and altitude creating a very objective experience.
Full motion simulators simply allow you to practice scenarios and emergencies you can’t safely perform in the actual aircraft. The engineering behind these state-of-the-art machines also creates the environment of “the real thing,” along with the pressures and control inputs required to manipulate the controls. I still vividly remember my initial course 15 years ago. With only 450 hours total time, I went through the initial class at CAE. Once I returned from training, our chief pilot put me in the right seat of the aircraft and assigned another pilot to the left seat. We went out and performed three takeoff and landings – me being the sole manipulator of the controls. The aircraft flew just like the simulator, only the airplane was easier to land. I left CAE with the confidence to fly the aircraft in the deepest of emergencies while in the most inclement weather conditions. The airshow industry offers great advice to the performers, the gist of it is, never try a new maneuver for the first time during an airshow. This same advice applies to us as King Air pilots, let’s not try the most complex of emergencies in the worst of IMC conditions without rehearsing first in the simulator.
The FAA believes in full-motion based simulators, that’s why you can get an ATP license and type ratings in them. Insurance companies believe in them too; many times, pilots can get out of the simulator and jump right into the cockpit and have insurance approval with no IOE requirements unless imposed by the FAA. So, as far as the best insurance carriers are concerned, if you do the best training, they’ll give you the “Cadillac” plan for the Chevy Cruze price! In the words of CAE, “Elevate Your Training.” Your insurance carrier will reward you and you will be at the top of your game.