Ask the Captain: Rigorous training to change planes
Q: What is the process for a command pilot to transition from one plane model to another? Say, from a Boeing narrow body to a Boeing wide body or a Boeing narrow body to an Airbus narrow body?
A: I did one of the transitions you ask about. I was a Boeing 737 captain and transitioned to being an Airbus 320 captain. There were two weeks of ground school with training in an advanced training device (a simulator that does not move) to learn the systems and performance of the new jet. Then there are comprehensive exams before going to the simulator. This is followed by 10 days of simulator training during which you fly the simulator in many different conditions, including many emergency and abnormal conditions. The next to last simulator flight is a check-ride, when an FAA-approved examiner evaluates your competency.
The last simulator flight is a more normal flight with issues that arise, causing decisions to be made such as a diversion to an alternate airport. This is known as Line Oriented Flight Training (LOFT).
Once ground school and the simulator are behind you, you are scheduled to join an instructor on a normally scheduled flight. You fly with an instructor for several trips until he or she is very comfortable that you are ready to fly a normal flight (25 to 100 hours is normal).
The process takes a minimum of six weeks and is very intense. I enjoyed the high-quality training but was glad to finish.
Q: Is there a difference in the feel of the aircraft (flight controls, handling, etc.) when you switch to a different aircraft model in the same line, for example a Boeing 737?
— Werner, Va.
A: There can be some differences in feel between the models of airplanes. As an example, the roll control on the earlier B737s (100 and 200s) was lighter than on later models (300s and later). Also, the 737 grew and became a heaver airplane over time; this changes the feel to some degree, particularly in turbulence.
Q: When airlines around the world buy from major manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus, do they agree to give their pilots ongoing training?
— Patrick Lennon, Piedmont, S.C.
A: Manufacturers include training for the initial cadre of pilots. After the initial cadre, airlines either train their pilots at their own training facilities or at an outside professional training facility.