The Advantages of Scenario-Based Training

by Jennifer Payne

Over the years aviation training has undergone massive change and growth. Advancements in aircraft, new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety standards and procedures and the increased number of aircraft in the air are a few of the many reasons for implementing changes. As aviation training began to adapt to the changes in aviation, more expectations have been placed on pilots. Where it once took a few takeoffs and landings to get a pilot certificate, pilots are now required to have quite a lot of experience and knowledge as well as undergo extensive testing just to get to the next point. The way instruction is provided is important because not everyone learns the same way. Human factor studies are always trying to find a better approach to teaching.

Takeoffs, landings and emergency procedures are just a few of the important routines a pilot must master when learning to fly an aircraft. Basic maneuvers are also taught for the purpose of understanding how an aircraft responds during different stages of flight. Slow flight, steep turns, and stalls are just a few maneuvers that are taught during flight training. The point behind learning these types of maneuvers is to train the pilot to handle the aircraft appropriately in the different configurations. Stalls show how their aircraft responds prior to and during an actual stall. Slow flight teaches the pilot how to maneuver their aircraft at the point just prior to stalling. The maneuvers are taught at a sufficiently high altitude so pilots can practice the procedures and checklists where it’s safe. Later, if something were to happen on short final, 500 feet above the ground during landing, they will be less likely to panic because they know how to handle the situation, and recover safely. Each maneuver gives new insight to the pilot about their aircraft while teaching them to fly at the best of their abilities.

All stages of flight training are instrumental to the success of pilots, from learning to fly as a student pilot, through getting your commercial license. As with anything, the FAA is always trying to improve safety and training success within all areas of the aviation industry.  Although the maneuver-based method of training has been successful throughout the years, it doesn’t always help for real-life scenarios. The purpose in training is to try and teach all aspects of aviation as best as possible, with the time given to each student.  According to the FAA, scenario-based training (SBT) uses a highly structured script of real world experiences to meet flight-training objectives in an operational environment. Basic maneuver training is the foundation of learning, but utilizing SBT allows pilots to have an ever-changing environment, making them think about things that could possibly happen during their flight, keep them on their toes and allow for learning in situations they may never have thought about before.

The goal of SBT is not to put a pilot in danger, but place them in situations where they have to make choices based on safety and judgment. SBT also helps pilots correlate all of the basic maneuvers they have learned. Cross-country flying is a requirement throughout a pilot’s training process. Choosing an actual location that they may fly with friends and family down the road is an excellent way to incorporate SBT. Weather, runway distances, weight and balance, obstacles and go/no-go decisions are all situations they will have to face. This allows them to be in a real world experience while in the safety of training. Different things may come up such as runway closures, unforecasted weather, mechanical issues and so on, and they will have to create contingency plans and adjust for whatever comes their way, all while in the safety of a training environment.

SBT doesn’t just have to apply to cross country flights. It can be implemented in everyday, local practice areas or even pattern practice work. It all starts with preflight. During flight preparation, the instructor will discuss what will be done and what is expected. During this process, questions can be asked about what is needed during the flight, what hazards could be encountered, what can go wrong. This allows the training pilot to think about many situations that could transpire. It also allows them to come up with some contingency plans if an emergency occurs. When in the practice area, spontaneous engine-out training helps the student pilot to have to think quickly, find a landing spot, utilize checklists and still continue to fly the aircraft in a controlled manner. Not knowing when the “engine-out” is occurring allows them to always be ready even if they weren’t “ready”.  Pattern work is a great place for SBT, go-arounds, wind changes causing runway changes, other aircraft, all keep the pilot constantly looking, talking, and flying without getting too comfortable. It’s a great place because the workload is higher, being lower to the ground and more going on due to multiple phases of flight occurring more rapidly.

Incorporating SBT into flight training teaches pilots to think about what could occur during a flight. Complacency is dangerous in the cockpit. It is important that pilots remember that no matter how smooth their flight may be, something could always change, and it only takes one error to lead to a deadly chain of events.  SBT involves situational awareness, single pilot resource management (SRM) or crew resource management (CRM) as well as proper aeronautical decision making (ADM). If each of these actions is applied to each flight, the pilot will always be in control of their aircraft and ready for the next step. It’s impossible to think that every flight will be perfect but it is not impossible for the outcome to be safe in the end.

Jennifer Payne is a technical article writer with experience in flight instruction. She has a bachelor’s degree from Spartan College of Aeronautics and a Master of Science degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.