The Airbus A320 descends smoothly towards Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle airport, where the runway lights sparkle in the distance. Suddenly small dots appear and disappear on the side. Shock, audible alarm: migratory birds hit the left engine, which is on fire.
The two pilots immediately worked together to identify the incident, before carrying out a series of precise actions: stopping the engine, triggering the fire extinguishers, correcting the trajectory. The aircraft is already only a few hundred meters above sea level.
“Mayday, Mayday!”: in a calm voice, the pilot announces to the control tower that his aircraft is in distress. Operating on a single reactor, the single-aisle aircraft lands, three minutes after the start of the sequence, its 200 occupants safe and sound.
“Okay, guys, now do you think there’s smoke in the cockpit?” asks Federico Ercules, an instructor pilot who hasn’t missed a beat of his colleagues’ reactions.
It was he who, from his seat behind the cockpit, started this eventful sequence.
Because we are neither on a plane, nor even in France, but 1,000 km away, in the heart of an anonymous building near Milan-Malpensa airport (Italy) where EasyJet has installed with its partner CAE the one of its two crew training centers, the other being at Gatwick near London.
Seven flight simulators replicate the cockpit of the A320, the successful Airbus model of which the British company operates more than 330 examples.
Switches, buttons, lights, levers, screens: all the equipment functions like that of a real device.
“We forget that we are in a simulator, they are so realistic,” Kate West, another pilot and instructor, told AFP.
The virtual reality images projected in front of the windshields further reinforce the illusion, as do the movements: the simulator, the size of a small truck, is mounted on actuators which reproduce phases of ascent or descent, turns and turbulence.
20 hours a day
So many options available to Mr. Ercules on his touch screen. In addition to the hundreds of failures likely to affect the aircraft’s systems, it can confront pilots with terrible weather, a medical emergency or even a fire in the toilet.
With a headset on his head, he alternately assumes the roles of air traffic controller or cabin manager.
Each situation must respond to a series of corrective actions, and it is on their ability to implement them that the pilots – students in training or experienced professionals – are evaluated. EasyJet plans to train and recruit 1,000 new pilots by 2027.
After the incident, “we do a debriefing, if it did not go well, we start the maneuver again until the two students demonstrate that they have the competence”, explains Mr. Ercules.
But it’s not just about creating reflexes, confides the instructor: “more and more, we try to replace what pilots have to memorize with processes and priorities” in decision-making. The plane helps them do this, via its centralized electronic self-diagnostic system.
In accordance with European regulations which require airline pilots to undergo skills assessments every six months for a total of four days per year, some 2,000 easyJet pilots pass through the Malpensa center each year, an area of 5,200 m2 inaugurated in 2019.
During the winter, when travel demand is lower in Europe, the simulators operate 20 hours a day. Each session lasts four hours, reproducing an entire flight for two pilots, but spiced up with multiple adventures. “We give them problems to solve,” summarizes Mr. Ercules.
“We can’t train for everything that might happen in the cockpit, but we can improve the skills of the crew,” adds Ms. West, for whom “a good pilot is someone who knows how to solve problems , demonstrates leadership, knows how to communicate, knows the environment in which he operates”, and is able to react to “unforeseen scenarios”.
24/09/2023 17:28:44 – Lonate Pozzolo (Italy) (AFP) – © 2023 AFP
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