After an 18-year career in the Royal Air Force, where a qualified flying instructor role gave a first taste in writing syllabi, Graham Cownie was disappointed by the standard of civilian courses – so decided to find a better way.
Tell us about your aviation career to date
I gained my private pilot licence in 1974, at the tender age of 17½. I then joined the Royal Air Force in 1979. After training, I flew the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom operationally at RAF Leuchars, intercepting Russians!
In 1987 I became a qualified flying instructor teaching on, and then commanding, a number of basic flying training squadrons. I was also on the three-man team that brought the RAF’s Shorts Tucano into service. It was my first taste of developing syllabi and courseware and I enjoyed it immensely. So much so that I ‘freelanced’, writing training manuals for export versions of the BAE Systems Hawk trainer.
On leaving in 1997, I obtained my air transport pilot licence (ATPL) and took on various consultancy roles, shortly thereafter forming my first company to develop digital training systems for ATPL theory students.
Why did you decide to set up the Padpilot business?
I established Padpilot in 2009 because I was frustrated by the ATPL theory content being provided by all the major players at the time. To me it seemed to be out of date and unimaginative. I thought we could do better with our own team of experts.
I wanted to produce a new type of training that promotes deep understanding and takes candidates well beyond a European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) exam pass into preparation for type rating. I also wanted to move the emphasis from mere ‘training’ to ‘education’.
“We are constrained by out of date and highly prescriptive EASA learning objectives”
What are the major challenges for the training industry today?
There are too many accidents occurring through lack of elementary understanding that ought to have been drilled into the pilots from day one. Many ATPL candidates don’t see the relevance and importance of theoretical knowledge.
This is partly our industry’s fault through not refreshing its material enough, or not explaining its relevance. But it’s also because we are constrained by out-ofdate and highly prescriptive EASA learning objectives, and a rigid, inappropriate ATPL exam structure. How can we enthuse a student about North Atlantic organised tracks before he or she has ventured beyond the circuit?
Tell us about your typical day
Nowadays I fly a desk, but at least it’s a desk with a Boeing 737 fixed-base trainer on it. A typical day begins the evening before, when I browse through all our books to see what we need to do better. For most of the day we concentrate on adding more visual explanations, because pilots think in pictures. I also spend a lot of time keeping up to date with changes in airline operations and technology.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I enjoy the raw creativity of what we do. We all believe we are making a big difference in the industry.
What are the least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I’m hugely frustrated by the slow pace of change and the way we are, at times, compelled to use the wrong teaching methods and to teach the wrong things by an out-of date examination system.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’ve started developing a new and radically-different learning platform, which exploits touch screen devices to their full effect. If it works, we’ll open source it and then who knows what’ll come next?
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