Bhanu Choudhrie, founder of Alpha Aviation Group (AAG), stresses the importance of innovation in business in general but more specifically, the aviation industry. Referring to the current COVID-19 pandemic, Choudhrie says, “At a time of crisis, it is very important to take calculated risks. There are opportunities, create them. Take what steps you need to take.” Responsible risk-taking is also the key to AAG’s success during this period.
Training for Budget Airlines
Choudhrie founded AAG in 2006 to train pilots for budget airlines, which often struggle with this issue. While major carriers typically have their own well-established training programs, benefitting from economies of scale, many smaller regional carriers do not have these programs at all. AAG specifically designs its programs to be comprehensive yet still cost-effective, making it an ideal training solution for smaller airlines. This business model has succeeded largely because the aviation industry often overlooks this market segment.
Choudhrie has extensive experience of the budget airline industry even before COVID-19 and has remained critical of governments willing to support large carriers while allowing the smaller ones to go out of business. He states, “It cannot be the largest get saved and the smallest are left to die. That is not the right approach. I think, if there is a program, the program should be extended to everybody.”
Reduced Flight Hours
Serving budget airlines required AAG to find a way to provide complete training for its cadets while reducing their flight hours, which is one of the most expensive parts of pilot training. The way to achieve this goal without compromising safety was to increase the use of simulators. AAG currently has a total of 11 simulators in the Philippines and United Arab Emirates (UAE) among other countries. Its most recent acquisition as of July 2020 is an Airbus A320 2.0 simulator at the training center in the Philippines.
The increased use of simulators allowed AAG to reduce the flight time of its cadets from the 230 hours of a traditional training program to 70 hours. This change greatly reduced both the cost and time needed for training. A traditional program requires at least five years to train a cadet who knows nothing about planes into a fully licensed commercial pilot, while AAG’s program is able to do so within two years. AAG cadets still complete all the steps required for complete training but do it in less time due to the reduced flight time and restructured coursework.
Technologically Advanced Airplanes
The traditional five-year program for training commercial pilots hasn’t changed much since the post-WWII era. Such a program generally involves pilots starting with small planes before moving up to cargo planes and eventually flying passenger planes. This approach was effective at the time, but it fails to expose pilots to the latest technology until very late in their training.
A simulator-heavy program is particularly beneficial for cadets who will be flying modern planes because they immediately begin gaining experience with current avionics. They will have already spent many hours in a simulator with exactly the same equipment they’ll use on their first commercial flight.
Regulatory Compliance During COVID-19
AAG has continued to innovate its programs in response to COVID-19, especially with respect to remote learning solutions. These changes require AAG to work closely with government regulators to ensure these solutions comply with legal requirements. Choudhrie notes that remote training in aviation is only a short-term response to the current pandemic and doesn’t yet represent a permanent shift in the aviation industry. He says, “I think regulators will see the merit of it and allow training providers like ourselves to continue this long term, which would greatly benefit the industry.”
The aviation industry is often slow to adapt to change, but COVID-19 could accelerate innovation on training. AAG will undoubtedly remain at the forefront of this trend as it occurs.
Bhanu Choudhrie makes it clear that collaboration with budget airlines is an essential part of AAG’s success. Training pilots for these airlines requires an effective partnership with them, which AAG will continue to develop and maintain. Choudhrie believes the collaboration between governments and airlines need to increase, especially during the current pandemic. He adds that these organizations have often worked towards opposite goals in the past.
Choudhrie has provided clear suggestions for how governments and the aviation industry should handle the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with respect to pilot training. AAG’s latest programs also demonstrate how they can continue to create new solutions after the current health crises passes. However, Choudhrie also cautions that aviation should never rush innovation at the expense of safety.