The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

On The Radar

It's Never Too Early To Start Planning To Train eVTOL Aircraft Pilots

According to a report by management consulting group McKinsey, by 2028 as many as 28,000 pilots could be needed to fly new aircraft types to be deployed in the advanced air mobility (AAM) sector. So where on earth will all these pilots come from, at a time when the mainstream air transport industry faces a flight crew shortage, and who is to train them?

Enter CAE, which has been training fixed-wing and helicopter pilots for airlines, the military, and business aircraft operations for decades. Earlier this month, the company published a thoughtful white paper called Pilot Training for Advanced Air Mobility, and on July 8 it signed a cooperation agreement with eVTOL aircraft developer and prospective operators Volocopter to train pilots for its planned commercial services. It already has a partnership agreement with another eVTOL aircraft developer called Jaunt Air Mobility.

From the perspective of Christopher Courtney, CAE’s director of advanced air mobility, Volocopter hasn’t started work on its training plans a day too soon. On July 7, he told journalists in a briefing organized by the Vertical Flight Society that it typically takes manufacturers of existing “conventional” aircraft 36 months or more to develop a training program ahead of service entry.

“There are more complications with these new aircraft so they [eVTOL aircraft developers and operators] can’t think of this [training requirement] at the last minute,” he commented. “They need to be on it two or three years out. Investors won’t be happy with last-minute delays, and you don’t want training objectives being the reason you don’t hit your financial objectives.”

CAE is the first of the major training providers to confirm its commitment to the AAM sector. The Canada-based group already provides training for around 170 types of aircraft and has more than 300 simulators operating in more than 60 locations around the world. To date, it has trained in excess of 135,000 pilots.

According to Courtney, the initial cadre of eVTOL pilots are likely to be commercial pilots with backgrounds flying both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. CAE estimates that typical eVTOL flights in the early phase of AAM will last between five and 30 minutes and that pilots will need to handle between two and four critical phases of flight every hour, compared with the same number each day in current commercial operations.

This point underlines its argument that eVTOL pilots will need carefully prepared training, despite widespread claims that flying the new aircraft will be more straightforward in the long run. CAE also points to the need to operate in congested airspace and deal with limited battery life as other challenges for which eVTOL pilots will need to be prepared.

Pointing to the gap created by as-yet-undefined training requirements from aviation safety regulators, Tim Schoenauer, CAE’s director of global training solutions, said that competency-based training is the best approach for the AAM pioneers. The company is preparing an assessment process to consider pilot competencies (as defined by the desired outcomes from training), rather than traditional prescriptive models.

While acknowledging the industry’s pursuit of so-called simplified vehicle operations that should reduce the pilot workload, and the potentially required experience levels, for eVTOL aircraft, Schoenauer said that this technology will take more time to mature and gain acceptance. So, for now, CAE is focusing on its work with industry standardization groups to help regulators confirm training requirements.

CAE is assuming that when AAM operations commence, these will likely be limited to daytime visual flight rule (VFR) conditions in the first instance. Courtney estimated that around three pilots will be needed to support each eVTOL aircraft at the anticipated usage rates. “To start, we have to plan for Part 135 operators requiring a certain threshold of operational experience,” he commented. “Over time there may be a world where we can lower some of those target hour thresholds.”

CAE is planning to extend the scope for using new technologies like mixed and virtual reality to develop simulators and courseware for eVTOL pilots. It will also tap new approaches to the task such as data analytics and adaptive learning.

The Pilot Training for Advanced Air Mobility report provides a useful overview of CAE’s perspective on this new sector’s training needs and how they might best be addressed. This helpful guide for aircraft manufacturers and operators addresses factors such as the “train as you operate” approach and the connection between training preparations and achieving type certification for new aircraft.