Held in Bangkok, Thailand, the 2013 Asia Pacific Airline Training Symposium (APATS) explored aviation flight training and simulation from the Asia Pacific region. Chris Long reports.

The recent boost to aircraft orders at the 15th Aviation Expo China 2013 in Beijing showed that, if any proof were needed, the continuing growth in civil aviation in Asia shows no signs of slowing. APATS 2013 reflected that same trend in that it, too, has continued to grow at an impressive rate. For the first time in the series of APATS events, just over 400 attendees were present, and the number of airlines attending increased to 36. Regulators from seven countries attended, and the number of exhibitors also increased to 48. This very healthy growth in numbers was supported yet again by a particularly strong team of expert speakers, with over 60% being based in the region.

The conference welcomed Mr. Voradej Hanprasert, Director General of the Department of Civil Aviation, Thailand, as the keynote speaker, and he encouraged the adoption of tools and methods appropriate for aviation training in the 21st century, and also emphasised the necessity to attract and retain new entrants into the industry. Bob Bellitto of Boeing used the recently-released Boeing 2013 Pilot and Technician Outlook to scale the size of the training task challenges in the region.

The topics in the conference focussed on some of the international initiatives now driving change, together with human factors, selection and training patterns for ab initio pilots, as well as views on the theory and implementation of Evidence Based Training (EBT). An illustration of this was the shaping of the training for the introduction of the Thai Airways A380 - where there was considerable emphasis on training how to cope with any incident like that of QF32, which drew on skills beyond “simple” aircraft operation. The final segment examined the technology available and how to best integrate training in this technology into current training. It can happen that new technology is adopted into existing fleets without sufficient dedicated training in its use, and the full functionality and advantages are not always understood and used to best advantage by crews.

Building on last year's successful initiative to use basic IT to facilitate questions from the delegates, this year saw a slight change of format to enhance that interaction. Each of the subjects was introduced through specialists delivering expert presentations, and then, on the second day, discussion panels made up of those same experts were able to respond to questions which had been sent in by the delegates via email, text or tweets - either during the initial presentations or, more frequently, during the live Question and Answer sessions. The Moderators were able to pick out the most significant queries, and it was interesting to note that frequently several separate questions actually addressed the same issues. Clearly some of the concerns were shared by a good proportion of the delegates.

Given that now an absolute tsunami of data is being captured right across commercial aircraft operation, there was great stress made on the importance of proper scientific analysis by experts of such data. In some case it is apparent that uninformed judgements can be made on the raw data alone, and with that comes the risk of inappropriate changes to training programmes. What properly handled data can reveal, however, can sometimes be surprising, and lead to significant re-focus on training tasks.

To illustrate that point, for instance, there has been general recognition that go-arounds have frequently been poorly flown, most particularly when initiated anywhere other than a missed approach point. Through careful analysis, Lufthansa looked at data from both real operations and simulator training, and as a result were able to make significant changes of emphasis on training for competency in missed approaches. Similarly, other data on unstable approaches revealed a common reluctance to execute a missed approach - suggesting that some airline standard operating procedures may need greater clarity and revision.

The lively debates which took place between the delegates after each session and into the networking reception and coffee/lunch breaks were a clear indicator of the value of sharing peer knowledge and experience - a major benefit of these conferences. A nice illustration of where such meetings can lead was shown by Pan Am, who announced during APATS 2013 that Assumption University (AU) and Pan Am International Flight Academy (Pan Am) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to develop a flight simulator training centre at Assumption's Suvarnabhumi Campus. The initial discussions for this were started at an earlier APATS event, and have now led to this encouraging development. The buzz of conversation in the Exhibition Hall suggested many more similar initiatives may well have seen the first light of day here in Bangkok.

Once again, APATS has spurred interest from an increasingly wide range of countries, airlines, organisations and suppliers. With the optimistic future still being forecast in Asia, the role of APATS in presenting best practice and stimulating the debate on issues right at the heart of airline pilot training has firmly established it as the primary training event of its kind in the region.