The MPL Advantage
In the decade since it was first launched, the Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL) has courted its fair share of skepticism and criticism. And yet, at a time when the demand for new pilots is more pressing than ever before, the success of the MPL could be integral to the future of the commercial aviation industry.
We have been big advocates of the MPL at Alpha Aviation Academy, and have found it to be a hit with both cadets and airlines alike. Since we started using it as one of our training methods of choice in 2010 we have placed more than 200 pilots with leading low cost carrier Air Arabia.
The main criticism aimed at the MPL since its inception is that it represents a reduction in practical flight time compared to the traditional training methods. There is an argument that MPL cadets do not gain enough practical flying experience and are subsequently lacking in the skill, experience and decision-making that are invaluable when problems arise in the cockpit.
But in reality, the MPL is offering the sort of innovation that the wider industry should be striving to promote. By taking advantage of technological advancements to train fully capable pilots in less time, the MPL offers a path for continued adaptation and optimization of pilot training processes—whilst still ensuring pilots are fully equipped with the specific skills they need.
Simulators and training technology are growing more sophisticated and opening up ever-increasing possibilities. Utilizing this technology to improve the training experience is a necessary step for sustained improvement. Technology is constantly changing the world around us, and is something the industry should embrace, rather than shy away from.
Other arguments against the MPL stem from its shorter length (it can take as little as 128 hours to learn to fly via the MPL route), something which seems to unsettle some aviation professionals, particularly the old guard. Yet safety will always be the highest priority in air travel, and the MPL prioritizes specific safety measures to mitigate the risk of human factor errors in a flight, including threat and error management (TEM) and crew resource management (CRM) at every phase of training.
The reality is that if we are overly cautious in developing new training methods then we risk stunting the opportunity for industry progress.
The increased specialization the MPL allows for has doubtless played a part in its success. As cadets are trained according to the requirements of specific airlines, they are ready to hit the ground running when they graduate. The whole transition from cadet to pilot is more seamless.
Some in the industry have raised doubts over the value of teaching pilots to work in a multi-crew environment, rather than focusing on building their experience from a more singular perspective. This is something of a straw-man. Airlines need first and second officers in the cockpit, and if the MPL is supplying them then it is doing what it is supposed to. The license exists to create capable pilots for commercial airlines, and if it is achieving this, then clearly it is serving its purpose.
That is not to say that the MPL is without fault. It has evolved and improved over the last decade, and as with anything, we must continue to look for ways to keep fine-tuning it so that we give pilots the best possible start to their careers.
Pilot training will be more crucial than ever over the decades to come, with demand for airline pilots on an upward trajectory, and licenses like the MPL could have a central role to play in finding a sustainable long-term answer.
Victor Brandao is the General Manager of Alpha Aviation Academy, one of the leading pilot training providers in the Middle East. He started his aviation career with the Portuguese Air Force at age 17. He has subsequently worked as an Operations Manager, Instructor and Commercial Pilot in Europe and Africa, as well as a Flight Academy Manager over the last ten years.
The views expressed here are the author’s own