Warren Christie, JetBlue’s vice president of Operational Planning and Training, outlined his air carrier’s training strategy in a far ranging interview with Group Editor Marty Kauchak on February 21, 2014. Insights from their discussion are provided in this article.

JetBlue’s ambitious business model includes fleet restructuring, route expansion and other activities. A rich mix of learning technologies will enable the New York-based carrier’s pilots, cabin attendants and maintainers to safely operate their fleets of aircraft and help achieve the company’s strategic goals.

Technology Enabled Learning

JetBlue continues to invest in simulators and other technologies for its learning audiences. The air carrier’s inventory of learning tools includes Level D flight simulators and Level 5 flight training devices (FTD) for its flight crews, and virtual cockpits and virtual maintenance trainers for its maintenance crews. “Unlike most other carriers, we also use our flight simulators for our maintenance crews in their training program as well, for taxi qualifications and aircraft starts,” the community training executive explained. In another instance an Embraer E190 Level 5 FTD is dedicated to maintenance training. The device allows technicians to learn and refresh their skills using the central maintenance computer for built-in test functionality.

JetBlue’s maintenance training program is supported by a CAE-built virtual maintenance trainer. CAE is this airline’s largest supplier of training devices.

Another strategy which sets JetBlue apart from many other air carriers is its significant investment in learning technologies for flight attendants, in particular E190 and Airbus A320 cabin trainers. “The A320 cabin trainer has a motion system on it,” Christie added. Additionally the cabin trainers for both aircraft models permit the programming of multiple scenarios. Visual systems for the cabin interior, smoke generators and an attached cockpit add fidelity to this group’s training sessions.

Embraer provided the E190 cabin trainer, and Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter Group) manufactured the A320 cabin trainer.

Christie acknowledged the rapid evolution of learning technologies, including serious gaming, for all learners. He further emphasized that JetBlue’s focus remains on bringing the aircraft, and the flight deck in particular, into the training environment with as much realism as possible.

“We’ve invested heavily in simulation. We don’t spend much time in the classroom any longer. We do all of our systems and procedures training in FTDs because we feel the pilot benefits from touching the knobs, pushing the buttons and seeing the impact it has on the aircraft. The tactile feedback is better than you would ever receive in a classroom.”

Asked for his “help wanted list” on how the simulation and training industry can better respond to the civil aviation community’s requirements, Christie responded, “My general response is invest where it will bring value to the operator.” The airline official’s following example is one that should resonate with others in the civil and military aviation communities. “Spending a lot of money to provide a better visual model for raindrops does not have an impact on how a pilot will be trained or how they will perform. The money is better spent perfecting aerodynamic aero models to make the simulation as accurate as possible. And the same applies for in-flight and maintenance training – to invest only in areas that will provide value to the end user.”

Last October JetBlue outlined its fleet restructuring plan, which includes converting 18 A320 positions to A321s and an incremental order for 15 A321ceo and 20 A321neo aircraft.

As there are common type ratings among the A319/320/321 models, there are limited “differences training” requirements for flight deck crews in the restructuring plan. Indeed, JetBlue’s pilots completed their differences training via distributed learning (DL) last Fall for the A321.

Similarly, maintainers are completing their differences training for this restructuring plan through DL.

The passenger-cabin experience in the A321 will be upgraded, providing a requirement for a different, higher level and scope of learning. Christie pointed out, “We’ve invested in a premium cabin trainer which will replicate the functionality in our premium cabin. And we’ve created a premium training program for our in-flight crew members who will serve our in-flight customers.”

The Beta class for the enhanced in-flight training started the week of February 24.

While JetBlue does not anticipate a pilot shortage in the near-term, its long-term pilot acquisition strategy includes a ‘gateway program’. The effort includes partnering agreements with Embry-Riddle, the University of North Dakota, Inter-American University and other institutions.

“We have established a mentoring and flow-through program where students can apply to enter into the gateways with JetBlue after graduating and obtaining licenses and certificates. They will go on and fly for Cape Air for a few years. Once they meet the hour requirement we’ll look at them again. If they stay in the program and in good standing they will get an interview at JetBlue. We have had more than a dozen pilots that have come through that program. Several of them now flying in our aircraft have been very successful,” he recalled.

Airline-Wide AQP Effort

JetBlue is also creating Advanced Qualification Program (AQP)-based learning models for all in house groups, from pilots, maintainers and cabin attendants, to customer support agents, ground operations members and others.

“We’ve taken an AQP model along with evidence-based training and the data collection process, and have created AQP models for all of our crew member groups,” Christie explained, and added, “From a regulatory perspective, there are recognized pilot AQPs and dispatch AQPs which we have. But we have also created ‘AQP-like’ – using the same instructional system design methodology that we first used for our pilot AQP and have applied that to all of our curricula for the other crew member functions as well.”

The expanded use of AQP models for other learning audiences is allowing JetBlue to make data-driven decisions on where to better invest its training resources.