The 17th annual World Aviation Training Conference & Tradeshow (WATS) took place at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, in Orlando, April 1-3. Conference Chair Chris Lehman files this report.

With over 1,000 attendees hailing from 48 countries and 80 airlines, WATS lived up to its status as the world’s largest gathering of aviation training professionals. The five conference tracks - pilot training, regional airline pilot training, cabin training, maintenance training, plus a new Spanish language track - were supplemented by breakouts and expert panels. With Platinum Sponsor L-3 Link Simulation & Training, 65 exhibitors showcased their training and simulation know-how, and it was announced that a helicopter training track will be added in 2015.

Extracting the Value

Opening Keynote addresses were delivered by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, and US NTSB Vice Chair Christopher Hart. Huerta emphasized that “safety is priority 1 for the FAA,” and challenged delegates to extract the maximum value they can from the conference content. He zeroed in on the international nature of the industry, stating that many of the training issues in the US airline industry “are global issues that require international harmonization.” He noted the airspace impact of unmanned air systems (UAS), the issues surrounding simulator qualification for full-stall maneuvers and the on-going pilot training rule making. These include duty time and rest rules and the new ATP and flight hour requirements which will be implemented in August.

Christopher Hart focused on the critical need to always be promoting the virtues of judgement and professionalism, stating that human error is always 100 percent of the cause of accidents, whether it’s pilot error, maintenance error, management or system design error. “That is why training is critical. Especially for more complex systems, we need to improve the linkage to training.”


Before breaking into the separate tracks, all delegates obtained a “high altitude” view of some major issues. Captain Jacques Drappier, Senior Training Advisor at Airbus, addressed the issue of culture in training, pointing out the reality of increased diversity in the workforce. While we all strive for safety, “…there are different ways to get there….we need to accept and understand cultural differences. We can use training to change positively our professionalism and organisational culture.”

Scott Nutter of Delta followed up with the question “How good is our training?” explaining the answer has many responses. His organisation supplies the answers tailored to the needs of a head of training, a CFO, or in fact the FAA. He also discussed how the answer can explicitly address Return on Investment (ROI) variables. Finally, Heidi Giles MacFarlane and Paulo Alves of MedAire delivered some unique insights on training for in-flight medical events (IFMEs), stating that responding to an IFME is part of the flight deck-cabin crew resource management process.

WATS Pilot

Moderated by Peter Moxham and Dr. Michael Karim, the dedicated WATS Pilot sessions began with valuable perspectives on pilot supply and primary training standards, including the results of a US GAO study on pilot supply. While the study results were inconclusive, it did point to the fact that the flight experience of qualified pilot applicants is declining and much more needs to be done to help with the financial burdens of pilot training. The myths surrounding the Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL) were explained by CTC Aviation, as well as commentary on whether the US will adopt this proficiency-based approach with its emphasis on selection, airline partnership, heavy use of simulation and training quality over prescriptive hours.

The rest of the first day covered a large range of diverse topics including the nature of “digital natives” and how they use technology to learn. Southwest Airlines outlined its unique Pilot Monitoring program that uses a green-yellow-red scale to assess the potential for “consequential error,” while Airbus Miami discussed the impact of the new FAA rule revising training requirements for Part 121 carriers. The new requirements must be implemented by Training Centers which include flight simulation approval, pilot monitoring, remedial training and extended envelope training, amongst others.

Day 1 closed with a unique perspective on the growing role of “Individualized Training” from Jetpubs Inc. By moving away from a one size fits all approach in recurrent training for example, it is possible to train to a common standard, but with customized training for a specific individual.

The next two WATS Pilot sessions were chock full of content too detailed to report adequately in this space, and it is recommended that the WATS 2014 website be visited for the detailed Proceedings. The content included an excellent Alaska Airlines/ICATEE presentation on Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT), a discussion of the benefits of G-force producing simulators, and an AgustaWestland presentation on rotary wing training, and how a training emphasis has dramatically reduced accidents over just the past several years.

The final WATS Pilot session included a presentation from Utah Valley University exploring how CRM must continue to evolve and how important it was to teach integrity and self-discipline. Crew Training International looked at how evidenced-based training interventions in USAF UAS crews promoted safety and performance. Finally, Finnair Flight Academy provided compelling evidence that training for fuel efficient operations is achievable and has high ROI.

RATS Pilot

Led by the RAA’s Training Committee, with particular support from Scott Foose, Paul Preidecker, Al Barrios, Darrin Greubel, and Paul Kolisch, an entire day was devoted to regional airline training issues.

If some are uncertain about whether there is a pilot shortage, this community does not share that uncertainty. ExpressJet reported that it is now not able to hire as many pilots as it needs, and most regionals cannot see the situation improving soon. A shortage of flight instructors is also apparent, and the new First Officer Qualification (FOQ) rules specifying new hires have 1,500 hrs and an ATP is exacerbating the situation. The point was made that the pay gap between regionals and the majors needs to be closed, as well as the need to find ways to help pilot candidates obtain the additional flight hours that the FOQ now requires.

A session on Airmanship focused on the deficiencies regional carriers are now seeing in the applicant pool from aviation colleges, including lack of situational awareness and hand-flying skills. Some pointed to perceived attitudes in some of the younger generation including not taking responsibility for their deficiencies, and an entitlement orientation. The importance of aviation colleges having partnerships with carriers was stressed, and the University of North Dakota (UND) told delegates some 75 percent of surveyed student pilots planned on pursuing a long term career in aviation.

A session on using Threat and Error (TEM) management principles to manage professionalism in regional operations was well-received. The main question was why some pilots do not do the things they are trained to do, and this was followed by a view of the threats to professionalism. Among them are automation-induced complacency, failures in risk mitigation, not learning the value of mistakes, and repetition-induced complacency. The consensus was that professionalism can be trained. The final RATS session concerned Pilot Training in Transition. Panelists advocated for training in unexpected events, such as unstable approaches, go-arounds, rejected take-offs, stalls and stick-pusher events.

Cabin Training

Moderated by Jeanne and Al LaVoy, the cabin track dug into some of the most topical training issues impacting the community, and first up was a “Lessons Learned” session and a discussion on TEM from JetBlue University. The evolution of a training organization was presented by American Airlines – including the factors to consider during a merger. Southwest Airlines delivered an interactive session on the importance of teaching standards and consistency amongst instructor staff.

The theme of instructor consistency and standards was carried on with a presentation from GoJet, particularly with regard to different instructor backgrounds and ages. Norwegian Air Shuttle spoke of the virtual eTraining that has been integrated with its crew management system, saving both time and money. Inflight Innovations spoke about licensing cabin crew and the benefits that can be realised both in Europe and elsewhere.

ICAO kicked off a “Global Insights” session, describing the ICAO Competency-Based Approach to Cabin Crew Safety Training, and an overview of the ICAO training manual. Emirates provided an outline of its advanced training methods and facilities, while Novair and Swedavia Stockholm-Arlanda Airport explained how the airline works closely with the rescue services with jointly developed training.

A “Current Challenges” session included “Training to Deal with Social Media” from Southwest Airlines. The AFA talked about passenger PEDs and a presentation from Ahead! pointed to the fact that security training and safety training should be trained together, and not separately as is often the case.

Western Michigan University provided research results from a study on how light impacts crew alertness and WestJet outlined the issues surrounding implementing a fatigue management system for flight attendants. FlightSafety and CornerStone Strategies discussed “interpersonal emotional contamination” and included the results of an on-line poll that took place during the session. Finally, MedAire looked at training for the new US OSHA regulations and discussed the characteristics of a “super instructor.”

Maintenance Training

Moderated by the FAA’s Dr Bill Johnson, the maintenance sessions kicked off with an Airbus presentation on the importance of building and cultivating a safety culture in maintenance training. Boeing chimed in by stating that safety culture must be organisation-wide, and voluntary reporting has to be encouraged, including removing fear of punishment. The session concluded with a report from the GAO which cast doubt on whether there actually was a shortage of technical personnel.

The focus on safety culture and Safety Management Systems (SMS) was also part of a session that specifically looked at the role of industry Trade Associations, including the Aeronautical Repair Station Organisation (ARSA), Airlines for America (A4A), Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), and the Aircraft Electronics Association (AES).

In the “Emerging Trends” session, Toll Aviation advocated for the use of well-designed serious games; they can have a significant effect on training outcomes, including “training by stealth.” Turkish Habom spoke on training needs analysis to fine tune his organisation’s training to emphasize learning rather than memorization. The result was a monetized ROI of about 170%, most of which was found in a reduction of maintenance error. The value of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) was demonstrated by Embry Riddle with a Human Factors course developed using the technology.

Bill Johnson kicked off the next session on HF Curricula with his presentation on updating and aligning the Maintenance HF Curricula which is based on EASA Module 9 topics, but adds and expands on them. The Australian CASA presented their innovative training package “Safety Behaviours: Human Factors for Engineers,” including multimedia tools - more info at

The final maintenance session addressed critical issues for the community. First up was infoWERK who reported on their program with Cargolux to determine the impact of Maintenance Simulation Training Devices (MSTD), some of which is in the area of increased student performance. Training Orchestra spoke to the challenges of delivering training in an era of “do more with less,” and Joaquin Villarreal, FedEx and Chair of the A4A Maintenance Training Network Committee, spoke of the upgrade of ATA Spec 104.

Peering into the Future with your Peers

An extraordinary international panel on day 3 led by Dr. Sunjoo Advani with representatives from FlightSafety, FAA, ALPA, Alaska Airlines, Boeing and NASA, addressed the question: “What are the key future needs for commercial pilot training and how does science, technology and industry intend to respond to these needs?” A similar session is planned for the EATS conference in Berlin, October 28-29.

A final session on e-learning kicked off with an excellent presentation on mobile and elearning from Dr. Suzanne Kearns, including valuable details on the four levels of elearning and what each level delivers and at what cost, details of which are on the WATS 2014 website pages. The follow-on panel with representatives of the FAA, Aegean Airlines and students from Western Michigan University offered delegates a dynamic Q&A session.

WATS Pilot Breakouts (possibly in box)

  • Spanish Language Session on Latin American Training Issues
  • Presentations on Halldale WATS 2014 website page
  • FAA National Simulator Program (NSP)
  • Q&A Session by Atlanta-based sim qualification team
  • CAE-led Special Panel on the ICAO Manual on Aeroplane Upset Prevention and Recovery
  • Panelists from FAA, EASA and ICAO. See WATS 2014 website page
  • Special Panel on the Alternatives for Funding Pre-Employment Training of US Professional Pilots
- Presentations on Halldale WATS 2014 website page
  • Special Panel on Implementing an EFB Program
  • Led by USA Jet Airlines. See WATS 2014 website page