Chris Long visits ATR in Toulouse, France to learn about their training expertise.
The strength of the airline industry is often characterised by citing the massive numbers of aircraft orders announced by both Airbus and Boeing. Certainly those are impressive, but they do not paint the whole picture, and when we drill down to the level of pilot and technician demand across the globe, the broader range of expansion in aviation becomes clearer.
Evolution of Regional Aircraft Demand
Underpinning a significant part of the infrastructure to support the increased demand for travel, particularly in the developing world, is the essential element of regional aviation. This has continued to increase worldwide, with the possible exception of the United States, where changes to legislation of pilot qualifications are helping to accelerate the pilot shortage, and therefore the scale of regional air transport.
As the impact of the unstable and, until recently, ever-increasing fuel costs, has made itself felt over the last decade or so, the trend to replace turboprops with 50+ seater regional jets has been reversed. The natural consequence has been for the manufacturers of the regional turboprop aircraft to see a significant uptick in orders. A major beneficiary of this change has been ATR, based in Toulouse, France, whose order backlog of 89 aircraft in 2005 has surged to its present level of 330+ as of July 2014. The present annual delivery rate is 80 aircraft per year, and this is set to increase to 100 per year in 2016.
All the indications are that even with the increased delivery rate, that backlog will continue to grow as demand, particularly in Asia, ramps up. There is also the strong prospect of massive expansion in Brazil and South Africa, and other regions may not be far behind. Couple this with the potential replacement of established fleets in the US and Europe, and the future looks good.
ATR has delivered close to 1200 aircraft, currently based with some 180 operators and in 90+ countries, and the strong order book will no doubt see this increase in the near future. The inevitable increase in the training task requires some serious forward planning and preparation.
One of the characteristics of the regional aircraft market is that whilst there are some operators who have a large aircraft fleet, the typical regional airline will often have a relatively small number of aircraft on its books, and frequently that number is not big enough for an operator to sustain its own training base. An additional element is now emerging, as lessors are increasing their ATR purchases, and, of course, they too, do not have their own training facilities, so training must be provided in support of these entities (this market segment alone needs an increase of two to three FFS per year). The challenge for ATR, then, is to provide support as close to the customer as possible, and to maintain safe and efficient training standards.
With his job title, Christian Commissaire, VP Training and Operations, clearly shows that, in common with some other OEMs, ATR has made the very strong link between training and operations absolutely clear, so that both perspectives can share feedback to track and improve the essential tasks. He sees ATR as the custodian of best practice in the training requirements for the aircraft, and the underlying policy is to retain the core training - there is no franchise from ATR to deliver their own syllabus of training.
At its home base in Toulouse, ATR has a training setup which embraces the full range of training development and delivery. In-house expertise not only devises the content and methodology, but steers those syllabi through the EASA /FAA and other regulatory approval processes. The courses on offer are not just for flight crew and technicians. Increasingly new entrant airlines appreciate support in training for flight operations personnel and dispatcher training to facilitate entry into service. Cabin crew training can also be delivered wherever necessary by nearby Air Formation, also based in Toulouse.
Hervé Barthe, head of Flight Training, sees one of the critical elements of ensuring adherence to training standards as the use of ATR’s own instructors to deliver the training wherever it is needed. Not only does the legacy fleet have to be supported, but the latest ATR types - the ATR 42/72 600 Series, have new displays and equipment, and therefore need training to ease the entry into service. This includes development of new manuals and training guides. In addition, the constant update and introduction of new systems such as ADSB come into play; specific courses need to be crafted and delivered to the operators.
Although the original concept of the ATR Training Centre was to support new deliveries largely through initial type ratings, the rapidly increasing numbers of aircraft in service has inevitably spurred the demand for recurrent training. A further challenge is that the geographical reach of the ATR fleets means that training has to be provided across a wide global spread.
As Barthe points out, the co-location of the manufacturing facility and the ATR Training Centre (ATC) in Toulouse means that the development of the aircraft and the design of the training systems can be made in parallel, so that as soon as the aircraft is ready to go the training package can match it immediately. However, the welcome surge in orders has inevitably generated a shortfall in present capacity to respond to the demand for training. This is being addressed, and sufficient new FFSs will be in place to match even the level of requirements predicted for 2016.
Naturally the ATC already has a full range of facilities and equipment. The most recent addition is a latest generation CAE 7000 Series ATR-600 FFS, which received its initial qualification in January 2012, and which embraces the latest visual generation system and video debriefing function. This is supported by a new MFSTD, a CAE Simfinity Integrated Procedure Trainer, which features a 3D setup with touch-sensitive screens that create a representative flight deck. From 2015 all trainees will have tablets to support their training.
CBT provides the introduction to the trainees, with instructor-led classroom work to answer queries and reinforce the training. With one third of the training tasks being technician training, a 3D virtual maintenance trainer has boosted the training effectiveness, and reduced the amount of time required on the real aircraft by 50% - a significant improvement; the FFS is now only used for engine-run training.
Where and What Training?
ATR is directly involved in training in six locations around the world. Four of them are operated directly by ATR in Toulouse, Paris, Singapore and Johannesburg, and together those offer a choice of ATR 500 series and ATR 600 series FFS. Two other centres are operated by third parties, one managed by Avianca in Bogota, Columbia. This was certified by EASA in December 2013 and the one managed by L-3 Link Simulation and Training in Bangkok, Thailand, expects to have the EASA certification by the end of 2014. Barthe is keen to emphasise that in all six training centres, the training is delivered by ATR instructors.
The entire range of training courses can therefore be delivered as required by the operators, and in addition the FFSs can also provide training across the range of qualifications in the form of either dry or wet leasing as selected by the customers. However, all the programmes are co-ordinated and planned by a specialist department in Toulouse.
Given the concerns about levels of future recruitment into the industry, ATR has supported a programme to provide training for certified aeronautical maintenance engineers from Tanzania. This project is presently on a modest scale, but is an indication of a possible model for future training processes. It brings three entities together - Precision Air of Tanzania (the first operator of the ATR 42-600 series) and the aeronautical and space educational institutions in Toulouse. So far some 22 engineers have graduated and are now operational with Precision Air.
Commissaire relishes the challenge of boosting the training capacity now needed for the increased ATR fleet. He holds fast to the belief that ATR must retain the core training in order to guarantee that the critical standards of safety and efficiency are retained, but is keen to see new technology and methodology adopted to continue to improve the delivery and training effectiveness. Part of that future may be to explore a new area, ab-initio pilot training, which is particularly relevant, given that the ATR aircraft are frequently the first type rating for recently-graduated students of ATOs.