Derek Bower visited the Patria Pilot Training facility in Finland, equipped with Diamond and Tecnam aircraft
PATRIA FLIGHT TRAINING
When the Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä officially opened the company’s new purposedesigned and built training complex on October 6, 2017, Patria Pilot Training achieved the accolade of becoming the premier civilian pilot training centre in Finland.
Today, with its modern fleet of three Diamond DA42s, four DA40s, nine Tecnam P2002JFs and three simulators, it can claim to be the best equipped in Finland, if not the whole of northern Europe.
With a well-established military aviation history, Patria recognised early in the 21st century that Finland’s rapidly expanding airline industry would bring with it a huge demand for commercial pilots. It also recognised the limited commercial pilot training system in Finland at the time would be unable to service this need. Subsequently, the company saw a business opportunity in the civilian pilot training market. To gain an inroad to this market and seize the opportunity, in 2002 it bought a small privately owned Finnish flight school with the aim of establishing its own civilian commercial pilot training school and registered its trading name as Patria Pilot Training.
Once legally registered to Finnish Joint Aviation Authority regulations, Patria began to build on the previous school’s core foundation of pilot training with an ambition to expand its commercial pilot training output. The school initially operated out of Helsinki-Malmi Airport. However, in March 2014, its owners made the decision in principle to close the airfield for commercial use and develop much of the land for residential use, prompting the school to search for new premises.
As the school’s General Manager Ville Kettula told AIR International: “With this enforced move, Patria took the opportunity to revisit its business model and expand into the international commercial pilot training market. Issues it considered during an extensive study were potential customer airlines, possible numbers of students, numbers and types of aircraft.
“Ongoing at the same time as its strategy study, it was looking for possible sites for an alternative operating airfield. To meet this requirement, four potential areas were studied. These were Pori, situated in the west of Finland, Turku [southwest], Kouvola [northeast] and Tampere, which was geographically the most central of the possibilities.”
Eventually, after considering such factors as suitable training airspace near the airfield, the airfield facilities, the site’s potential for expansion and, just as important, domestic arrangements for staff and students, such as housing and rail and road transportation, Tampere–Pirkkala Airfield, 100 miles (160km) northwest of Helsinki, was chosen.
It became known that Tredu, a Finnish government-funded vocational collage specialising in aircraft maintenance training, was also looking for new premises. This led to the drafting of a mutual arrangement, which eventually saw both sides decide on a shared new-build facility at Tampere-Pirkkala Airfield.
During the search to find a new base, Patria and Tredu started to plan and design the new building complex that centred on Patria occupying 40% of the available space and Tredu the remainder. The result was a 10,000m2 (107,639ft2) building erected on land cleared in the wooded area north of the 8,800ft (2,700m) runway. The construction work commenced in March 2016, which also saw an extensive new 5,000m2 (53,819ft2) aircraft parking apron laid with its own dedicated taxiway direct to the airfield’s northern runway. All construction works were completed on time, and the school moved in during May 2017.
Fundamental to the business model conceived by Patria was a desire to update its existing fleet of aircraft and enable the company to provide training in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) in a single engine aircraft. This transition began in 2010 when three Cirrus SR22 G3s were purchased to replace the previous Piper Arrows. This investment was aimed at easing the transition of students from visual flight rules flying to IMC.
“Upgrading our trainer fleet was critical to ensuring the students could fly in poor weather.” Ville Kettula, Patria Flight Training
In 2011, there was a further aircraft fleet update. An extensive evaluation period saw five contenders tested to replace Patria’s basic trainer fleet of seven Swiss-made AS202 Bravos. Eventually, it was decided to purchase nine factory-new Tecnam P2002JFs. Deliveries of these commenced in June 2011.
Operating in Finland during the country’s long winter months often brings its own challenges to students. Kettula commented: “Having to operate in challenging weather conditions such as snow and ice can be a disadvantage, but equally it can be a good thing, as without doubt it ensures students learn to be very conscious of how quickly flying conditions can degrade in rapidly changing meteorological conditions such as those experienced in Finland’s winter months.”
The challenges of winter conditions and their potential to halt flying have detrimental effects on the overall time taken to complete the student training syllabus. To help overcome these problems, a decision was made to purchase aircraft capable of operating in known icing conditions and more suitable to winter conditions. This requirement provided the opportunity to replace the school’s three Piper Senecas used for multiengine crew training.
Kettula explained: “Upgrading our multiengine trainer leet was critical to ensuring the students could ly in poor weather, particularly lying into known icing conditions. The Diamond DA42 was chosen as the most capable and fuel eicient of its type and suited our existing leet.”
Due to its anti-icing capabilities, the DA42 was able to ly when the Pipers would have been grounded by poor weather. This had the added bonus of reducing the overall course length. The school’s leet now comprises three DA42s; one is a company-owned DA42VI purchased outright in September 2017, and the other two are dry-leased DA42NGs. Due to its capabilities and demand within the courses, an extra DA42NG is to be leased and this was expected to arrive at Pirkkala in September 2018.
Initial student training at the school began with students undertaking a self-funded Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence integrated course designed around students graduating and then independently developing their careers wherever they wished.
“Students learn to be very conscious of how quickly conditions can degrade.” Ville Kettula,Patria Flight Training
Following these beginnings, the first corporate customer was the St Petersburg University of Civil Aviation, which in 2009 contracted Patria to undertake a pilot training programme for its students. Following this, in 2016, the school negotiated its first substantial contract with a major airline when Finnair signed a framed agreement with the school to provide a pilot training course for potential first oicers.
This agreement continues, with a contract signed for each individual course. These contracts are structured through a 256-hour course to train students with absolutely no lying experience whatsoever, through to graduating with a Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (MPL).
When Juho Sinkkonen, Finnair’s Training Manager, was asked why a large established national carrier such as his needed to outsource pilot training to a thirdparty concern, he replied: “As the world recovered from the economic recession of 2008, Finnair entered a period of rapid growth and required a signiicant increase in pilot recruitment from its pre-slump numbers of 60 to 70 new pilots per year.
“This requirement peaked at just over 120 First Oicers per year and our in-house training system could not meet this substantial increase, so we started searching for a suitable external training school to supplement our existing training paths. As a result of this search, and taking into account it is company policy at Finnair that all permanently employed light deck crew members must speak Finnish, Patria Pilot Training was selected as the most suitable.”
Speaking of the graduating students, Sinkkonen also commented: “Having worked closely with the school on how the MPL course was to be based on the European Aviation Safety Agency [EASA] guidelines, we could also work with them on speciic Finnair requirements. As a result of this collaboration we are now inding that students are graduating with all the qualities we require and with this we have been happy so far.”
Following the initial Finnair contract, Nordic Regional Airlines (NORRA) became the second major airline to sign a training contract that now sees the school with 120 students undergoing training. Of these, 70 are from Finnair, 25 from NORRA and 20 from the Finnish Aviation Academy at Pori, and five are students receiving private sponsorship tuition. These numbers see the school running six courses per year with class sizes of around 20 students per class lying seven days per week. Kettula said: “The school has a business plan for further expansion to eventually accommodate 200 students at any one time.”
Expanding on this point, Jyrki Myyrylainen, President, Patria Pilot Training, explained: “Currently, Patria Pilot Training is in negotiations with several international airlines to train a number of their students, which potentially may lead to new contracts being signed in late 2018.”
To maintain the ongoing contracts, there are 20 full-time instructors employed by the school at Pirkkala, with approximately half being ex-military pilots holding a full Instrument Rating Instructor (IRI) certiicate, although within the school some instructors hold more qualiications than others.
Added to the full-time IRIs, there are a further 20 Instructors employed part time by Patria whilst holding part-time positions flying with commercial airlines. This arrangement works well, with all parties amicable to flexible working arrangements, particularly as the airlines are Patria customers.
Kettula explained: “We also have a further 20 freelance qualified instructors we can call on should we require them and, in fact, several of these are exstudents here at the school.”
The overall business model at Patria is to keep all work within the company wherever possible, and this is evident within the aircraft maintenance of the school’s aircraft. To meet required EASA Part 145 requirements and its Continuing Airworthiness Management Organisation maintenance standards, all on-site aircraft maintenance is undertaken by a six-person team led by Continuing Airworthiness Manager Mikko Leskinen. Of these six, two are fully Finnish Aviation Authority-licensed engineers, both having received specialised training by Diamond to undertake the full range of DA40/ DA42 tasks from the basic 100 hours maintenance check, up to a full 2,000- hour structural depth strip-down. Working alongside this team, and supervised by the licensed engineers, are four mechanics trained by and to Finnish Engineering School standards.
Strictly controlled and monitored by EASA, this maintenance regime is central to the school recording its average 51 lying hours for each six-day week, achieving a 96% aircraft availability rate with a 100% safety record.
In addition to its leet of modern training aircraft, the school also has three simulators. Two of these, supplied new by Diamond Aircraft Industries GmbH, are ixed base Flight Navigation and Procedures Trainers for its DA42 aircraft. These are colocated in the school’s building complex and since becoming operational in late summer 2017, are now in use for over five hours per day.
Unlike several other training organisations, Patria inds it both beneicial and costefective to instruct students in the simulators by the light instructors they may actually ly with. This student/instructor policy creates a working bond that, as several instructors commented, helps the students overcome individual diiculties.
Fundamental to the Finnair contract is a requirement for the students to undertake instruction on an Airbus A320 ixed base simulator (FBS). During the build-up of the new complex, the school installed its own FBS, which was previously installed at its Helsinki-Malmi training school, and this is now used extensively by the students.
Although when they begin the 68-hour course students will not have lown an A320, their instructors will have, as within the core of part-time instructors at the school four are qualiied A320 first oicers. Three of these are employed part-time by Finnair when not working at the school.
As instructor Petriina Anttila commented: “I usually work ten days each month for the school, and for the airline as a qualiied first oicer I usually ly two A330 long-haul lights during the same month. This agreement works extremely well for all concerned, as work schedules for both companies are formulated weeks in advance, hence they never clash.”
If the ongoing discussion to sign more customers, as explained by Jyrki Myyrylainen, is achieved, then the school may have to expand both its leet of aircraft and the numbers of its Instructor pilots. Recent advertisements have been released for more lying instructors, and with an option already in place with Diamond Aircraft Industries to take more DA40NGs depending on future training needs, Patria also have this side of the future well planned.