Pilots have to jump into that multi million dollar simulator box once every 6 months, either for training or more importantly renew their flying license.
So what’s involved in a typical simulator license renewal, Line Proficiency Check (LPC) as we call it?
The annual LPC check requires a number of items to be completed in order for the TRE (Type Rating Examiner) to sign your license and allow you to be current and qualified for another one year. The procedures and skills tested are a regulatory requirement by the license issuing national body, e.g FAA, CAA, etc. This check is compulsory if you are to have a valid license flying during the line. The LPC is broken into these parts: the manoeuvres, the low visibility procedures and the Precision Based Navigation (PBN), e.g RNAV.
The Manoeuvres part includes demonstrating you can handle and fly the aircraft safely on one engine only. You will have an engine failure during takeoff after V1 (safety decision speed) which means you have to fly and handle the problem in the air as it is no longer safe to stop the aircraft on the runway. This is known as the EFATO (Engine Failure After Takeoff). The procedure means securing the engine and completing all necessary checks in the air prior to returning or diverting for a safe landing. After this, you have to demonstrate two separate approaches on one engine; a precision 3D approach like an ILS and a non-precision one e.g VOR. In one of the approaches the instructor will ensure the landing cannot continue and a go-around has to be flown on one engine. The tricky part with both takeoff and a go-around is that the pilot needs to ensure to apply the correct rudder input in order to compensate for the yaw moment since only one engine is running. He/She also needs to ensure to pitch at the correct value as the nominal two engine pitch attitude would be too high and the aircraft speed would bleed off very quickly. The workload is very high in this initial part of flying the aircraft but once safely climbing away, the pilot can correctly trim the rudder setting and engage any available autopilot to reduce this workload. Thereafter it becomes a managing of the failure task.
The low visibility check means doing a couple of auto land approaches, including a go-around and a rejected takeoff with degraded visibility. Although the autopilot flies the aircraft, this exercise comes with its own challenges regarding failure management handling. Some failures means the auto land approach cannot be continued based on weather conditions and therefore you have to manage this degraded situation by cancelling the approach and replanning. You have to also look at equipment available on the ground for such approaches and the aircraft capability in regards to all the above. The most critical stage in an auto land is of course when you're flying close to the ground on approach and this is why below a certain alert height, e.g. 100/200 Feet, certain failures would mean an immediate go-around as the aircraft may not be able to safely maintain the correct attitude and lateral/vertical profile to complete a safe landing. Modern aircraft can complete a full automatic landing including directional control on the runway centre line with zero visibility (provided the airport runway is also configured with this level of ILS approach). Having said this, there is still a requirement to have a certain minimum available visibility on the ground because the pilot should be able to manually maintain the runway centre line axis in case of failures or slip and taxi the aircraft to a reasonable level after vacating the runway!
The PBN (Precision Based Navigation) part of the exercise is related to checking pilots understand the various requirements in aircraft systems and navaids/GPS requirements for certain procedural arrivals and departures at airports. The training and exercise looks into how we fly such procedures, what equipment the aircraft needs to have operative in order to fly them and what we do in case of failures that downgrade the navigation accuracy. Contingency procedures allow us to have a Plan 'B' or 'C' in case things go wrong as we descent closer to the ground and start to go below safety altitudes. This will involve either flying another type of procedure, requesting vectors from ATC radar control or cancelling the approach and flying above the minimum safe altitude to find a solution which may well be a diversion if no other option is available.
The LPC/OPC training and checking is done annually for pilots and plays a major key role in ensuring pilots are current and confident in handling the aircraft in the above situations. It will also add certain abnormal failures and conditions during the check to allow to practise and demonstrate their skills. These conditions may include, Windshears, TCAS traffic avoidance, system faults, GPWS terrain avoidance, etc. All this combined pilot training and checking plays a key role in maintaining a safe operation and allows pilots to stay current and confident in their jobs.
Hope this article gave you some insight into what our annual simulator check rides are all about. Thanks for reading, fly safe and be well always.
Captain Faraz at FlightCopilot.