Monday, July 22, 2013

July 22nd, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

News this week is filtering out about some of the ‘practices’ in regards to flight crew checks in certain parts of the world. Much of this has come out from the Asiana crash, and although it may or may not be directly associated with the sad incidents of the San Francisco accident, the comments have raised a number of healthy discussions – not only in aviation circles.

A flight training instructor has released comments, which appear to have some sour grapes amongst them, but let us look at some of the observations critically. It is stated by this anonymous, airline experienced, instructor that:-

‘I lost track of the number of highly qualified instructors I worked with who were fired because they tried to enforce “normal” standards of performance. By normal standards, I would include being able to master basic tasks like successfully shoot a visual approach with 10 kt crosswind and good weather. I am not kidding when I tell you that requiring them to shoot a visual approach struck fear in their hearts... I usually busted about 3-5 crews a year and the resistance against me built. I finally failed an extremely incompetent crew and it turned out he was a high-ranking captain who was the Chief Line Check pilot on the fleet I was teaching on. I found out on my next monthly trip home that they were not going to renew my Visa. The crew I failed was given another check and continued a fly while talking about how unfair I was.’

He goes on…

The people in that country are very very bright, and smart, so I was puzzled by their inability to fly an airplane well. They would show up on Day 1 of training (an hour before the scheduled briefing time, in a 3-piece suit, and shined shoes) with the entire contents of the Flight regulations and Flight Manual totally memorized. But, putting that information to actual use was many times impossible… I never did figure it out completely, but I think I did uncover a few clues. Here is my best guess. First off, their educational system emphasizes ROTE memorization from the first day of school as little kids. As you know, that is the lowest form of learning and they act like robots. They are also taught to NEVER challenge authority and in spite of the flight training heavily emphasizing Crew Resource Managment, it still exists either on the surface or very subtly. You just can’t change 3000 years of culture.’

Roughly translated, this person challenged the standards and methods of the pilots in the country he was working in, and lost his job for it. He watched crews he had failed be passed by others simply because of ‘who they were’ and although the people were pleasant, and apparently bright and smart, their ability to think was taken away by the educational system of rote learning and their creativity stifled by culture. The author feels that the culture of the people and the inherent teaching systems from childhood has a massive negative effect on safety.

Such outcomes are not unique to the Asian countries, and I do feel that many of his comments are too broad, and that there are many excellent pilots in such environments. I have trained people from all over the world, and I can relate to the comments about the ‘cultural learning style’. I once taught a very pleasant Korean gentleman to fly, it was a challenge. We had to change his way of thinking. He needed everything broken down into sub-sections and to learn to chant them.

For the landing phase he really struggled. We have the approach, which leads into the round out, the flare and then the touchdown. He could do each part perfectly, but he struggled to join the parts together. Landing a plane is like poetry – you may know how to write a sentence, you may know how to rhyme a word, but putting it together with ease on the fly, and in ever changing conditions is not for everybody! Finally he managed it, and flew very well indeed. Other instructors shook their head when flying with him, asking ‘HOW can he be so bright, able to do each part, yet fail to join them together smoothly?’ It took a long time, but it happened. Kudos to him!

The past two weeks we have been interviewing young people for AvTech apprenticeships. It reminded me constantly of the learning and cultural challenges noted by Captain Anonymous above.

Bright, apparently well qualified, young ladies, full of life and ambition, having completed school, yet unable to apply (or even remember) what they had learned. The inherent ‘chew and pour’ mentality spewing out in random ramblings in their exam papers.

‘What is your favourite subject?’ would trigger a response of ‘Math’, so I would pull their math paper, and then close my eyes in disbelief. Yes, they could carry out simple repetitive number tasks, but they could not APPLY them to the real world. The school system is failing our young people by seeking to train the youth to pass an exam, ignoring the need to understand the learning, and be able to apply it to the REAL world.

During all of this I came across a school exercise book, you know the one with formulae and the like on the back cover. My eye scanned it for less than three seconds. It was full of errors. The SCHOOL exercise book had PRINTED on its back cover that ‘a leap year has 360days’, it also stated that ‘180 degrees is equal to 1 radian’. Then I saw about 8 other mistakes, from factual to simple spelling mistakes. My voice rose, my insults to those who actually printed such material, and the schools who actually used it, grew. For the record, there are 366 days in a leap year and there are Pi(π) radians in 180 degrees. (Radians are a better, and often more accurate, way of working with angular measure, in mathematical terms, than degrees). These young people are sitting for years in front of PRINTED materials that are blatantly WRONG and being told to MEMORISE materials without ANY apparent understanding.

To cap off my amazing disbeliefs, I found it impossible to believe that the vast majority of the candidates wrote that there are 100 (one hundred) metres in a kilometre. So, I asked several teachers, and they mainly told me the same thing. It appears that somewhere there must be a mistake in what is being taught to some of the teachers themselves, and it is being passed on as a ‘fact’. The simple, direct statement of ‘there are 100 (one hundred) metres in a kilometre’ has been said to me now so many times that I want to have a TV emergency announcement made to state the FACT that there are 1000 (one thousand) metres in a kilometre. We need to really look at HOW, WHAT and WHY we are teaching to our young people – or we are heading towards accidents from bad education and a culture of rote learning that will take people’s lives. Frankly, it scares me for the future and we all need to act now.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail )

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