As Delta and American Airlines receive new models of aircraft into their fleets, the two air carriers are using technology-enabled training strategies to prepare their pilots for the transition, Group Editor Marty Kauchak reports.
Delta has an ambitious plan to introduce 88 “new” aircraft – Boeing 717s it purchased from AirTran/ Southwest – into its fleet. The first aircraft from this line is scheduled to enter revenue service this October. An average of three additional B717s will become operational with Delta each month until the 88 aircraft are on board.
Also this year, American Airlines (AA) takes the next step forward in creating its more modern, fuel-efficient fleet. As the airline retires its aging domestic narrow body aircraft (i.e., Boeing 757-200s and MD80s) the company will deploy new A319s, in addition to A321s and Boeing 737-800s. “The delivery of these narrow body aircraft is the latest in a series of investments we are making to renew our fleet. American began taking delivery of the new narrow body aircraft in July 2013 and will continue through 2017,” Matt Miller, an AA spokesperson, told CAT this September. The airline will take delivery of its first A321T this November, with the first flight scheduled for next March.
So while multiple teams at the two airlines and the OEMs are busy finalizing these new fleets’ interiors, in-flight entertainment infrastructure and other materiel needed to provide the customer with a safe and enjoyable trip, there has been a flurry of behind the scenes activity – training and certifying air crews to operate these new aircraft.
Delta’s B717 Training Plan Delta’s 717 Project Pilot, Bob Turner’s far-ranging portfolio provides one insight on the processes needed to place new fleets of aircraft into operation. The Atlanta-based community training subject matter expert said he has responsibility for training the flight crews; preparing publications, flight manuals and the training syllabus; and addressing certification matters. Turner added that during the introduction of the B717 into his airline’s fleet, his training organization prepares about seven aircrews for each of the new domestic, narrow body aircraft.
An important part of the B717 accession training pipeline occurs in two full flight simulators (FFS) at a Boeing facility in Atlanta, with enabling classroom training completed on the near-by Delta campus. While Delta pilots are able to use one of the two FFSs full time, they share the second with AirTran pilots.
Delta also leased a third FFS, a Boeing owned and operated simulator, formerly at the OEM’s Seattle facility. The training device has since been relocated to Boeing’s new training center of excellence in Miami. “This October, we expect to begin using that third device down in Miami,” Turner added.
The Delta pilots who gain DC-9-like ratings on the B717 will join their airline counterparts who fly other DC-9-like aircraft – 17 DC-9-50, 117 MD-88 and 65 MD-90. Rating commonalities aside, Delta made a strategic B717 program decision to separately train this aircraft’s cadre of line crews, line check airmen and simulator instructors.
The initial part of the Delta B717 academic program is a Boeing-provided course to help train and certify those responsible for the training infrastructure. “For our initial cadre of students, the line check airmen and sim instructors, they went through on the manufacturer’s course as we were simultaneously developing a number of different courses,” Turner explained.
Despite this head start, Turner’s training organization was precluded from establishing Delta’s remaining B717 program until the airline’s pilot union ratified the working agreement in 2012 to support the aircraft entering the airline’s fleet.
“So that was a year ago at which point we began to stand up the entire program. Once that pilot working agreement was ratified and the purchase/lease agreement was concluded with Southwest, then we were able to begin in earnest to prepare for this,” Turner recalled.
A partial list of the major tasks being completed by Turner’s team in this compressed timeline include: hiring ground school and other instructors; putting in place the requirements for the training devices; and building the operations manuals and curriculum.
Turner was asked about his lessons learned for establishing a training program to support the entry of a new aircraft into service. The senior training subject matter expert emphasized the up-front attention on having the B717 aircrews and line check crews complete their FFS training to support the introduction of an average of three aircraft per month into service.
Delta also leased one B717 from AirTran/Southwest to gain operational experience for all of Delta’s sim instructors and line check airmen. Turner pointed out, “This allows them to be certified by the FAA as initial cadre instructors on that aircraft. This certainly diminishes the bow wave of having sufficient ‘checkers’ available as the aircraft enters service.”
And beyond gaining operational experience for those two groups, Delta is also using the leased aircraft to gain flight hours for the line crews up to, but short of, them receiving their operational experience sign off. “Our objective is to have sufficient crews completely ‘checked out’ if you will, with exception of the final sign off by a line check airman before we place that first aircraft in service,” Turner added.
Asked why Delta accession aircrews are not provided final sign offs in the leased B717, Turner responded that process will occur in Delta’s own aircraft that will be in that airline’s configuration.
Aerosim supports Delta’s evolving B717 training curriculum with the delivery of two enhanced, virtual procedures trainers and the eQual Distributed Learning (DL)-based program, which also serves the rest of the Delta fleet.
Erik A. Tobler, Aerosim’s product marketing manager, noted that his company’s capacity as a technologies company and training provider allows it to deliver numerous custom and “off-the-shelf” solutions that cater to the broad range of needs of airlines requiring training for a whole new aircraft, like in the case of Delta, or to provide DL courseware and simulation to training departments of existing fleets.
Tobler also pointed out that his company has worked alongside Delta Air Lines (and for a time Northwest Airlines before the air carriers’ 2008 merger) for over five years in a fully dedicated project to deliver the necessary customized training tools for all of their fleets (for both initial and recurrent pilot training). Tobler added, “The overall project has satisfied requirements to make systems knowledge and procedure training more efficient by shifting training effectiveness earlier in the continuum. In other words, promoting mastery of these mentioned subjects well before transition into the motion simulator. The solution is unique in that it is tailored to the specification of the airline, to the aircraft configuration, and that from start-to-finish commonality exists among courseware and simulation.”
American Prepares for the A319 Back at AA, Captain Mark Maestas, the airline’s Airbus Fleet Captain, noted his responsibilities to introduce the A319 into his company’s fleet included, in part, to review the manufacturer’s flight manuals and customizing them for his pilots. “That took about 14 months of working closely with our check airmen, Airbus and the FAA to ensure compliance in all areas. We have similar procedures throughout our fleet to minimize change when pilots move from one type of plane to another,” he recalled.
Maestas also emphasized the collaborative effort in the training process, noting his colleague and friend Captain John Lohmar, American’s Airbus Fleet Training Manager, developed an extensive program to train its pilots, with the manuals as reference. “American’s training blueprint outlines everything from starting the airplane to landing it and knowing in detail the function of every button and screen in the cockpit. The FAA must then approve the plan,” Maestas added.
In total, AA’s pilots have nearly five weeks of training, and the training team qualifies about 40 pilots (or 20 crews) each month to fly the A319.
The airline’s Advanced Qualification Program for the A320 aircraft calls for DL that requires about 24 hours to complete. Lohmar said that when the airline’s trainees arrive at the Fort Worth, Texas-based Flight Academy, they have completed their systems training for the aircraft. He added, “They then have eight periods in our virtual flight deck (VFD) or virtual procedures trainer (VPT), followed by a systems validation and a procedures validation. Our full flight simulator syllabus then calls for eight training periods followed by a maneuvers validation and a qualification line evaluation.”
The inclusion of the VPT in the aircrew learning continuum is unique for the A319, as training programs for legacy aircraft being replaced by the new Airbus model do not have this device. Lohmar said that since his trainees learn the aircraft systems prior to reporting to the Flight Academy, they start learning procedures from day one. “By the time they reach the simulator, they have a good understanding of normal procedures and have practiced most of the non-normal procedures at least once. This makes the simulator training much more efficient,” he said.
The A319 high fidelity simulator experience is provided by two new Level D CAE FFSs at the Flight Academy. Lohmar added, “Our first 14 check airmen and management pilots trained at the Airbus facility in Miami, but we have been training ‘in house’ since the first of the year.”
Aerosim is also a second major technologies provider for AA’s A319 aircrew training continuum. In one instance, AA contracted with Aerosim to provide its DL product. Aerosim also built the air carrier’s VPT and provides the software for the VFD, Lohmar pointed out, and concluded, “Aerosim’s responsibility is to design the Distance Learning product, VFD and VPT to reflect our aircraft systems, equipment installations and procedures. Aerosim also provides support for all three products and provides occasional upgrades to the software.”