Part I: Competency Based Training is a great thing (but only if done right)

Competencies: All of them

I am not a trainer!

I decided that might be a good point to highlight right at the start. This post is entirely written from the prospective of a non-trainer pilot and is really intended as an insight based on what I’ve experienced during my career.

But I would also love to help connect operators with organisations who can support the setup of Competency and Evidence based training. So if you are a someone who really does a) know about those or b) need those then get in touch.

Intro to the Competencies

Right, a quick intro. Competency Based Training is a little bit ‘last year’s news – the new paradigm is Evidence Based Training, but even EBT incorporates the competencies and as a pilot I have found the focus on them in training really beneficial.

So, a quick introduction to what the competencies are (in case you don’t know):

  • Flight Path Management – Manual
  • Flight Path Management – Automation
  • Knowledge
  • Application of Procedures
  • Workload Management
  • Communication
  • Leadership and Teamwork
  • Problem Solving and Decision Making
  • Situational Awareness

The first four are ‘tech’ competencies and the other five are ‘non-tech’.

A quick introduction to how these are actually used in aviation:

This might actually be a little less ‘quick’.

Back in Ye Olden Days of pilot training, crew used to be put through a bunch of bad things likely to happen to you. The idea was you practiced them so that when they did happen you would know what to do. So assessments pretty much graded on you how well you handled those, specific events.

Incidents and accidents analyses show that abnormal situations rarely present themselves in a standardized or predictable sequence – someone clever at Airbus.

At some point though, someone clever realised that (particularly with the growing complexity of aircraft and operations) the things that actually happen during flights are rarely straightforward “Oops, the engine failed at exactly V1” type events. They tend to be complicated, complex, with multiple potential outcomes depending on many factors (including, importantly, the human sort) which means they can rarely be predicted and entirely planned for.

Which means if all you train pilots for are specific events, then they will likely only be able to deal with those specific events (or at least only deal with those events really well).

Fast forward to Competency Based Training and in a nutshell, we have been given a set of competencies which form a sort of ‘tool box’ for us. They help increase our robustness and our resilience (to those black swan things) and enable us to (hopefully) deal with anything, anytime, even when we haven’t been given a specific set of ‘how to’ guidelines to do so.

How do you actually ‘do’ a competency?

Just knowing the list does not necessarily mean you are going to be ‘doing them well’. For example, having a situation that requires leadership and teamwork and knowing there is a leadership and teamwork competency doesn’t really give much clue as to what that might involve.

Should you yell orders at everyone? What should a ‘good leader’ actually do? Is it ok to shut a team member in the cargo hold if they keep talking back at you?

ICAO also created a load of ‘Observable Behaviours’ as a sort of guide for how you might action your competencies. These are fairly broad and general, but show sort of how the competencies might be done.

For example Communication. We all know how to talk, but that isn’t really ‘doing the communication competency’ because we might need to ensure the person we are talking to is ready and able to take the information in. How we convey our message, whether we ask questions (and whether they are relevant and effective) are important as well.

If you’ve done any CRM and Human Factors courses then you’ve probably come across biases. We can’t really stop these (they call them unconscious for a reason), but good old good communication can help avoid or catch them – asking open ended questions, listening to input from the team, sharing our mental model – all of this is achieved via communication.

So, understanding the competencies is more than just knowing what the 9 are, and it is more than knowing what the Observable Behaviours are – it is about understanding how to actually do stuff and understanding how the way you do said stuff can have a positive or negative impact.

What does a CBT assessment look like?

It can take many a form, but in the sim it often looks like a LOFT type exercise when something will happen and the crew have to deal with it. To be a beneficial ‘learning event’ it should put various ‘pressures’ on the crew requiring them to manage workload, communication, maintain good SA, understand their automation, utilise procedures… sound familiar? Hopefully it does.

But the competencies are not a tick box of things to demonstrate. Crew shouldn’t be getting a tick for Communication because ‘they talked’, and another tick beside Flight Path Management – Automation because they ‘used the autopilot’. Instead, the examiner or trainer should be evaluating how they used the competencies overall – both effectively and less so – and this means evaluating the ‘dynamic progression’ of the entire event and considering how the competencies moved it up and down along a spectrum of optimal, safe, less safe etc.

Understanding the path to an outcome of a particular area of performance, whether positive or negative, rather than just the outcome itself, can raise avenues of reflection to progress – someone clever at Airbus again.

This means you shouldn’t fail a competency because you did one thing wrong, but rather your competency overall should be assessed by looking at why things went less well, and how you then improved the situation.

What it doesn’t look like: Pointing to a poster on a wall listing the competencies and saying “Competencies. Use them.” Remember as well that the intention is not to ‘deal perfectly’ with an event. It is very unlikely this will happen (in fact, hope it’s not because that’s how you learn).

How can you be assessed in this?

A common method is ORCA – observe, record, classify, assign – which is done by asking how many, how often and how effectively competencies (via observable behaviours) were demonstrated. A huge amount of info can be discovered on CBT and instructor standards from ICAO, IATA etc (see references section below).

Training is more than ticking boxes. It is a matter of bringing the pilot and the aircraft work safely and efficiently together – Jean-Michel BIGARRE, Director of Airbus Flight Training

I’m not a trainer or a CBT expert so that was meant to be a brief intro for anyone who hasn’t come across it before. What I think needs mentioning more here is the ‘facilitated debrief’ and how, from my pilot point of view, this might be done.

The facilitated debrief

First up, most pilots are their own worst critic, which means when we get stuff wrong we generally know about it and given half the chance will talk in length about it. But of course we also don’t always know how to fix it, or understand why it happened, and sometimes we don’t realise at all what went wrong.

Which is where the training comes in.

Training is really all about putting us into situations where we can (safely – so in a sim) get stuff wrong and learn better ways to not get it wrong again in reality. Of course, examining is important too because we do need to make sure we are ‘safe enough’ which is why we have to meet a certain standard.

Of course that doesn’t mean there can’t be a whole lot of learning and, in fact, training takeaways from any assessment too.

The best way to do all of this is through facilitated debriefs.

These are helpful for various different reasons. They help an examiner understand what happened for the crew (were they aware of what they did wrong? Do they know how to fix it?) and also helps develop a way for crew to continually learn from any event, anytime (an absolute skill in itself) by helping them understand how to evaluate their own performance.

 Facilitated de-brief” during which the instructor adopts a non-judgmental attitude and raises simple questions as a prelude to an open and unfiltered discussion with the trainee – yep, Airbus again.

There are many ways to do this, but the crux of the concept is that rather than lecturing crew on what they did and didn’t do right, rather get them to dig in and discover for themselves, asking some probing questions to help them get there, and ensuring they focus on those competencies.

Build more understanding

How can operators start to bring this into their training process more?

Well, scroll down to the bottom of the page for the official ‘clever person’ references and resources, or have a think on some of these first which might help:

  • Use CRM days to bring in discussion on competencies:
    • Ask crew to select one and provide an example or definition of what it means to them to help them develop a practical understanding and awareness of them
  • Encourage end of flight debriefs for crew to discuss minor events and self-reflect on their performance (including the good performance)
  • Provide discussion scenarios for crew to work through, highlighting competencies which might be utilised in them (see Scenarios in TCAS)
  • Promote the Competency Based Training ‘ethos’ in pre-sim briefing sessions so both crew and examiners/trainers know what to expect from the session
  • Ensure standardisation of examiners is based on CBTA guidance and that the old ‘pass/fail’ mentality is moved away from
    • Provide access to training for trainers
  • Bring in LOFT exercises to help practice and consolidate competencies during simulator training
    • Move away from only including manoeuvre based training where use of competencies is often restricted to the tech competencies only

Part II

Part II will look in more detail at how to self-evaluate, debrief and facilitate those de-briefs.


Feeling brave then dive into the IATA manual on EBT

Feeling wealthy? Buy the ICAO Doc 9995 EBT manual

Liked the Airbus quotes? Here’s their article on training (actually not as specific to the A350 as it first seems)

Want some guidance on best practices? Read the IFALPA/IATA Guidance and Best Practices for Instructors and Evaluators

Want to hear it from a training provider? Some info from CAE on all of this

Like theoretical things? Try this IATA White Paper on the expansion of CBTA in Aviation.

Prefer presentations? Here’s ICAO’s Presentation on CBTA


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