MMF: The Future Of Airlines?

All Nippon Airways (ANA) will pilot Mixed Fleet Flying (MFF) between their Airbus320 and Airbus380, as approved by Japan’s Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) last week. The airline will be the pioneer to operate between one of the smallest and the largest commercial Airbus aircraft in the world. Airbus states that MFF is unique to Airbus aircraft, and their plan to introduce MFF in commercial operations can date back to the initial development of the A320. Let us take a closer look into MFF and how it will impact the industry.

Introduced by Airbus, MFF was first based the Airbus’s design principle to introduce flight operation commonality in the design of the Airbus A320. Four years since the launch of the A320, the Airbus A340 made its debut and inherited the fly-by-wire and the EFIS (Electronic Flight Instrument System) features. Since then, the aforementioned systems became the backbone of the pilot-aircraft interface for all subsequent aircraft designed by Airbus, including the new A350XWB and Airbus A380. Prior to the definition introduced by Airbus, MFF was referred to as, “flight operational commonality”, and it has been seen between some aircraft families like the Boeing 737.

Why the MFF?

The press release of ANA and Airbus suggests some of the benefits of MFF: increased flexibility of scheduling of flight crew and improved cost-efficiency, presumably from the increased revenue hours, hence improved productivity of flight crew. There are, however, more reasons to develop MFF into commercial operations.

For pilots

Prior to MFF, in order to be qualified to fly a “type” of aircraft, the pilot must complete a Type Rating course on that specific aircraft type. Take the A320 family as an example, pilots who are type rated on the A320 can operate the whole series (318, 319, 320, and 321), due to all the A320 family aircrafts sharing a Same Type Rating (SFR). In order for pilots to fly an aircraft that shares operational commonality with a different Type Rating from the previous aircraft, they will need to go through a shortened Type Rating course, called Cross Crew Qualification (CCQ). Another extension of aircraft commonality is the transition from A330 to A350. Due to the system similarity between the two aircraft, a pilot certified on the A330 can simply go through 4 days of computer-based training and 4 sessions in a non-moving flight simulator, before getting certified to fly on the A350. This is called Common Type Rating (CTR). These certifications with operational commonality will significantly reduce training time and costs for both pilots and airlines.  To ensure pilot proficiency, pilots are required to have done takeoffs and landings, as well as proficiency checks within a set period of time. These recency requirements can be achieved across aircraft types with STR or CTR, to reduce scheduling difficulties and reduce manpower for simulator checks. Operational commonality further extends its benefits to pilots who are progressing to a larger aircraft type, or changing employer as it will reduce significantly the time and cost to get online.

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Pilots jumping from the Airbus 320 to 330 requires only a 6 days training ©airbus.com
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Modern Airbus Cockpits are designed with commonality features ©airbus.com

For Airlines

As mentioned above, the shortened training time and cost were deemed significant, with airlines currently taking advantage of the commonality feature. Gulf Air, whom has been implementing MFF and CCQ for a couple of years, suggests the programs,

…turned out to be effective and successful. We took full advantage of the strong functional commonality established by Operational Differences Requirement table and operational evaluation board reports.

The commonality in aircraft systems has also been reported to reduce maintenance costs and training for ground staff.

So far we have covered the benefits of flight operation commonality and more specifically MFF. With more airlines implementing MFF into their crew composition, we will also need to weigh in some of the difficulties experienced by operators. In the next article, we will discuss more on latent problems that may arise in crew operating MFF. For more analysis from our writers: Click Here

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Leo Cheung
Leo Cheung
Aviation Reporter - Born and raised in Hong Kong, Leo has decided to pursue a career in aviation under the influence of the old Kai Tak Airport back in the days. With a degree in aviation, he has joint Travel Radar as an aviation reporter to diversify his views and apply professional knowledge to anyone who is interested in commercial aviation. He regularly contributes articles with 'inside the cockpit' knowledge.

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