Higher order learning technologies and content, including human factors topics are among the advancements in community maintenance training programs, reports Group Editor Marty Kauchak.

New personnel in community maintenance programs are learning and refreshing their skill sets with cutting edge technology. At the same time, human factors and other course content is keeping accession and refresher training in step with developments on the flight line.

Supply and Demand

Two subject matter experts have different perspectives on the supply and demand for new accessions into the maintenance sector – keeping alive the debate on this topic.

Peter Compitello, a Manager in Delta’s TechOps Training, set aside any notion of impending shortages of maintenance personnel for the civil aviation sector when he spoke with CAT this June. While the Atlanta-based community leader wryly noted he has heard discussions about impending shortages of maintainers since the 1990s, the diminished supply of these professionals has never materialized.

Compitello attributed the adequate supply of maintenance personnel to meet industry demands, in part, to the decreased number of personnel required to maintain new generations of aircraft and the airworthiness of these aircraft. Emphasizing the following insight was his own, he recalled his early days as a line mechanic. Then, 8-11 maintainers were needed to complete layover checks and other maintenance activities on an L-1011 when it arrived at a gate. “With the newer Boeing 777 and other models, it simply doesn’t take as many maintainers to take care of these aircraft. It may take only two or three maintenance personnel to do a layover check on a 777 aircraft when it rolls up to the gate. So you don’t need as many personnel as before,” he pointed out.

Jens Lange, the Head of Project Management – Basic Training at Lufthansa Technical Training, provided a slightly different perspective, observing that his organization sees in different global regions a strong demand and corresponding challenges to train young people to become technicians. One popular, current trend he cited is “Emiratization” – occurring in the Middle East. “Not only are there the required new technicians to be trained, but also the focus to reduce the ‘expats’ in this region is a challenge for the industry,” Lange said.

The community expert also pointed out the demand for accessions into maintenance forces is being driven by the large number of new, additional aircraft that will be delivered to global fleets well into this decade. “And we have to take in mind that it takes a few years for a person before he is able to get his type rating in the EASA world,” he added.

Training Prospective Maintainers

Aspiring Delta Air Lines mechanics first complete a one-week indoctrination class at Delta TechOps Training. The wide range of courses completed in five days at the Atlanta campus includes an overview of computer-based instruction to be completed that week, airline hazardous material handling policies and other “101-level”-like subjects. “When they complete that one week of instruction, the new hires will go to their new station. Each station has its own indoctrination-like training and they are paired with an experienced AMT [aircraft maintenance technician]. The station manager then decides the follow-on aircraft courses for the mechanic, on a Boeing-757 to gain ETOPS [Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards] qualifications on that aircraft, for example” Compitello said.

The airline also encourages its newly hired mechanics to work on the flight line for several months before they return to Delta TechOps Training to complete advanced instruction.

Lange succinctly noted the structure of LTT training is skill, knowledge and competence- oriented to bring aspiring technicians at the end of their instruction into “doing.” He continued, “The principle of our training is the blended learning approach that changes the role of the trainer from a lecturer to a facilitator. He is responsible to lead through various media and to guide the trainees through the overall program.”

Like their counterparts in the military sector, civil aviation maintainers are decreasing the lag time it takes for an emergent, widely-occurring mechanical problem or trend, and new governing regulations to find their way into course content.

Delta’s solution to minimize the time needed to migrate these developments into courses relies on its Delta TechOps Training instructors and managers working closely with airline reliability teams. “If we see an area of concern, there is a concerted effort among training, engineering and others who need to be involved to figure out what the issue is and then go out and tackle that issue,” Compitello remarked. One recent issue successfully addressed through the collaborative efforts of a reliability team was the increased troubleshooting and repair for one aircraft model’s business class, lay-flat seats.

For its part LTT also ensures current content is added to its courses, in particular, to meet and reflect all EASA Part 66 rules in the program. Lange noted that in one instance, all different media, including the organization’s courseware and course notes now include the recent regulation 1149/2011. “To find the correct medium, for the correct outcome, to bring the trainees to skill, knowledge and competence is the real ‘intellectual property’,” he added.

Human Factors

New training technology devices enhance not only technical training but also human factors aspects of training.

William Johnson, Ph.D., the Chief Scientific and Technical Advisor in the Human Factors in Aircraft Maintenance Systems division at the FAA, noted that low cost, yet powerful, simulator technology fosters free play, expands trouble-shooting and decision-making practice, and polishes team and interpersonal communication skills. “These are the kind of skills that usually wait for the trial by error when on the job. Today learners, who are fortunate to have high quality training providers, are likely to be better prepared for immediate readiness as productive and safe employees. New equipment and techniques bring the real world into the training world and that’s good for everyone,” he added.

Aside from these advancements, Johnson candidly discussed the human factors challenges and trends on the community’s horizon. At the top of his list, was maintainability. The Atlanta-based, subject matter expert pointed out that enlightened manufacturers see that there is a definite business advantage if their product is easy to maintain or hardly ever needs maintenance.

“When it does it is critical that written technical procedures are easy to access and to understand. Thus, the quality of technical instructions is an important priority.” For its part, the FAA must strive to ensure that the workforce can add value when reviewing technical publications. “But our inspectors must be much more than proof readers. Inspectors must ensure that the manufacturers have excellent processes to develop, validate, and maintain the technical publications,” Johnson said, and added, “We know that new digital documentation must be much more than old technical manuals transferred to the web. The manufacturers are making positive steps in this area.”

During the 1990s and into the 2000s human factors training was somewhat basic, providing the fundamentals and concepts were often applicable to primary (ab initio) maintenance training. Johnson observed that the industry is many training generations ahead with repeated, recurrent human factors training.

“Human factors training today, is becoming closely integrated with Safety Management and Risk Assessment. Workers must be trained for early detection of human factors hazards that provide necessary predictive data, to see the events before they happen,” he added. For its part the FAA is focusing on voluntary reporting programs and Line Operations Safety Assessment that relies on formal peer-to-peer performance assessments. “I expect that we will continue to build, support and evaluate such safety programs,” Johnson predicted.

The government executive also asserted that worker fatigue continues to be a challenge, providing a compelling case for organizations to raise the awareness of the safety hazards of fatigue in training programs. Johnson pointed out, “that does not necessarily mean excessive duty time limits and regulations. Instead, government and industry must cooperate to identify and apply proven methods to manage the fatigue hazard. Training is a significant tool necessary to alter all levels of industry fatigue awareness. That will remain as a priority.”

Delta’s maintenance training program is being harmonized with the FAA’s interest to include human factors in the wider range maintenance community activities. Indeed, Compitello recalled that human factors is “a big program for us.”

In one instance, Delta TechOps Training conducts a human factors course required of all maintainers. He continued, “But we also incorporate human factors into our aircraft initial training and any area that we know can be a potentially dangerous situation. And so we make sure we point them out and include that not only in classroom training but on-the-job training.”

One basic application of human factors for this organization focuses on the Airbus A330 main gear door and the hazards that surround it after a recent incident.

Technology Strategies

The FAA’s Johnson reflected that his earlier stated priorities suggest that simulators and some other training methods do a good job of “looking” like the real world. Indeed, he also noted that simulator “face validity” is high. “Now, simulator instructors and other maintenance trainers must push to continue to mix the reality of the work environment into the technical training explanations,” he added. And observing that latest trend in progress, he encouraged the community to continue down this course. “Training scenarios must be based on the hundreds of monthly voluntary event reports. The industry must strive to make better use of event data. This is not a new concept. The best instructors seem to have the best stories. Today’s voluntary reports can enhance the number and the quality of the stories. But it takes a formalized effort to ensure that maintenance error stories are routed to the training department and properly integrated into the curriculum,” he remarked.

These and other technology developments are in use by the community or are on its horizon.

LTT’s Lange noted that his global organization’s “optimized training program” reflects human learning capabilities in different ways. In one instance, the blended learning approach is helping the generation of digital “natives” (born after the 1980s) and the digital “immigrants” (from earlier eras), learn and reflect on the content in the way they can best learn. “We are working with pictures, mix of media, self-learning tools and discussions. Also we take into mind that in the afternoon the learners need a special attention to keep them attentive. Group work, or hands on training can help to respect the biorhythm.”

The training entity also uses different training media. Next to the computer based training for basic training themes, this technology is also used as a self-learning tool in the field for type training. The organization also uses type training simulators in its courses. “Therefore we generated special tasks for the basic training courses that reflect the necessary content,” Lange remarked, and added, “One important item was to bring all our course notes into our iPad APP LTT viewer. More than 25,000 users are now connected to the LTT viewer and this content. LTT published nearly all relevant documents for self-learning to prepare learners for the full, basic examination of the EASA CAT A1 and CAT B1/B2 [licenses].”

The bridge to mobile learning is also built at LTT. Also available for the students are dictionaries and abbreviation lists. Another just-in time product the organization developed is web-based training, to describe the differences between the old EASA B2 and the new EASA B2 after 1149/2011 was enacted. “This product is highly requested in the EASA environment, because the 145 organizations do not want to have different qualifications,” Lange said.

In one major effort at Delta TechOps Training, the Atlanta-based organization continues down its path of eliminating paper from its courses of instruction. To reach this end state, Delta TechOps Training is setting up cloud-like accounts for its students that will help provide more capable electronic maintenance manuals and other benefits. Compitello described one advantage. “This will help the students at the end of the course or when they get home, to download their paper notes into the electronic maintenance manual, which will be on a cloud account.”

Delta TechOps Training students are expected to have cloud-like accounts later this summer. The establishment of cloud accounts for all students is an internal Delta IT effort, without the support of any outside vendor.

Delta TechOps Training is also collaborating with other internal airline training departments to develop a common, future IT plan for all airline stakeholders – pilots, flight attendants, dispatchers and others – in addition to maintainers.

Conceptually, this joint effort among training departments would provide common content among communities’ training programs in a similar format and other advantages. “Instead of individually fighting for some piece of technology or some new advancement we can do it as a group – the more united a voice you have, the better the outcome,” Compitello concluded.