Russia to halve training time for airline pilots

The Russian aviation authorities are considering halving the training time for the country’s airline pilots in a bid to head off a looming shortage of aircrew in civil aviation, Izvestia newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Russia’s Transport Ministry thinks the current course structure, which is a leftover from the Soviet era, is too academically based and too long. The ministry wants to introduce a western-style Multicrew Pilot’s License (MPL) course, in line with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) guidelines, Izvestia says, quoting ministry sources.

The new style course would take just 18 months to complete, and would qualify a pilot for flight on a particular type of aircraft. The first such course will begin in September of this year, Transport Minister Igor Levitin said.

The Transport Ministry is taking a cautious approach to introducing the new system and is currently only training students who have already completed no less than two years of education in technical institutes already.

A final decision will be made on the new training system after the results of training of the first batch of pilots under the MPL are revealed.

The debate in Russia over whether civil pilots need a formal higher education goes back at least 50 years. In the 1970s, pilots studied in training schools for two years. Currently, they study for three years in training colleges and also undertake a five-year flight training course at one of two flight training centers in St. Petersburg or Ulyanovsk. The three-year college element is academic and includes such topics as mathematics, social-economic studies and basic science.

Specialist topics are only studied in the second course, and flight training only in the third. Only after that do graduates get a diploma with a certificate granting them civil pilot status allowing them to be a line pilot on a civil airline, following type-qualification for the aircraft on which they will fly.

Sergei Krasnov, rector of the Ulyanovsk Flight Training School is against the decision to scrap the existing system, but says the school is already cutting down the time it takes to train pilots to four years.

Aeroflot General Director Vitaly Savelyev has previously criticized the existing system for producing pilots with an insufficient knowledge of English (the international language of aviation) and insufficient flying experience. He says such trainees often need another 18 months training.

Russian airlines need at least 800 new pilots, he said earlier this year, adding that by 2015 they will need at least 1,000. He thinks students should study just two years, then gain a private pilot’s license in light aircraft, and then fly 1,500 hours in the next two or three years, after which a pilot would be qualified to fly a Boeing or Airbus.

The new system will require changes in legislation, the Education Ministry says. Rosaviatsia, the Russian aviation oversight body, is developing its own proposals for changes to pilot training, but have not revealed what they could entail, Izvestia says.

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