Group Editor Marty Kauchak looks at how the maintenance community is adjusting its learning strategies to support new models of aircraft entering service.
This is a professionally challenging but rewarding time to be an airline maintainer. Individuals on the flight line, and in maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities are seeing two dynamics shape the sector.
New classes of increasingly capable aircraft are being delivered to end users around the world.
Embraer, for instance, continues to invest in its line of commercial jets – with initial deliveries of the new E190-E2, E195-E2 and E175-E2 models incrementally planned through 2020. And Boeing is rapidly expanding its B787 Dreamliner family. With the B787-8 launch variant now in service, the newest family member, the B787-10, is on track for delivery in 2018.
At the same time, learning technologies are rapidly evolving, allowing maintainers to learn and rehearse their skills throughout their continua of training – onto the flight line if necessary.
This February LATAM Airlines Group took delivery of its first B787-9 Dreamliner. As many CAT readers recall, LATAM Airlines Group SA is the name given to LAN Airlines SA as a result of its association with TAM SA.
LATAM Airlines Group will become Latin America's first operator of both the B787-8 and B787-9 variants of the Dreamliner family when the airline group launches B787-9 service on South American routes this April.
Entry of a new aircraft model into service has implications throughout a maintenance organization. Sebastián Acuto, the vice president of Engineering and Maintenance at the LATAM Airlines Group, noted all technicians trained to conduct maintenance of the Boeing 787 fleet are sent to a line and base training course lasting approximately 35 days, provided by Boeing, and later receive ongoing training at the group’s Technical Training LATAM (TTL) Center. “Technicians already trained to work on the 787-8 received a special day long course on the unique features of the 787-9 at the Technical Training LATAM, in Santiago [Chile], affiliates and other international locations.”
TTL is the training center for LATAM Airlines Group technicians and engineers, located at the LAN Maintenance Base in Santiago. The center delivers more than 340 courses a year, training more than 2,000 technicians annually. Each technician can participate in one or more courses a year on different subjects. Acuto explained the state-of-the-art TTL facility has training rooms equipped with computers, tablets, e-learning material and training simulators, which allow interactive training that complements theoretical concepts with practical exercises in a controlled environment, without risking the safety of aircraft and technicians.
While LATAM Group B787 maintainers immerse themselves in course content through different enablers, including a maintenance simulator, Digital Material and Online Training Material, more innovation and program changes are on this community’s horizon.
In the third quarter of this year LATAM Airlines Group plans to inaugurate its own simulator for maintenance training for its B787 fleet in the TTL Center. “This simulator allows technicians training in maintenance procedures that reproduce how the aircraft functions. They can simulate different scenarios, allowing the technician to learn with no risk to the aircraft or their safety,” the community expert explained, and continued, “ The simulator will be located in a special room with space for 16 technicians (8 pairs), who will be able to practice/learn different situations in parallel. Between 2015 and 2019 this simulator is expected to train more than 500 technicians. This project is currently in the development phase.”
Acuto pointed out LAN and TAM are also implementing a new data management system to facilitate and optimize maintenance work on their aircraft. “To do this, the companies will be providing their mechanics and engineers with tablets loaded with specially-designed software that will give them direct access to manuals, interactive videos and all the content they need to detect errors, and access airline manufacturer spare part inventory. This information will also be available offline.”
This new system will represent a fundamental change in the way maintenance is performed at LAN and TAM aircraft maintenance hubs, since it will significantly reduce the time mechanics use to repair aircraft, from the time they discover a problem, to the time they find the solution in the corresponding manuals.
The training subject matter expert further noted “LATAM Airlines Group will be the first airline group in South America to have this technology, which in addition to reducing maintenance time will allow the companies to optimize safety and operating standards as well as save the equivalent of 600 trees in paper each year.”
LATAM Airlines Group has also gained authorization from DGAC (Dirección General de Aeronáutica Civil) Chile to prepare an e-learning course for all personnel working in areas related to maintenance of the B787-9 fleet.
Evolving Embraer E2 Training System
Embraer is taking maintenance training to the next plateau for the E2 family of aircraft scheduled to enter service later this decade. The still evolving Embraer E2 training model is based on Active Learning, supported by a blend of technology and instructor-led instruction.
Luís Carlos Affonso, the chief operating officer at Embraer Commercial Aviation, provided several insights on the E2 model. The corporate executive noted early on, that in line with the latest training technologies under development to train maintenance technicians around the world, and responding to Embraer’s customer requirements, the Embraer Maintenance Training Center is developing new multimedia based training tools and making state-of-the-art software available, such as the virtual aircraft with fault simulation and troubleshooting features. The training content will be made accessible to all customers and will be delivered through the internet by means of a learning management system.
With respect to simulation and training industry supplier support, the Embraer Maintenance Training Center is conducting the selection process for some of the training tools. Part of the material and solutions will be developed and delivered by Embraer’s team of subject matter experts and training professionals. “For our MBT, Embraer is proud to announce that AKKA (Groupe AKKA Technologies) has been awarded to develop and deliver the product solution,” Affonso revealed.
Embraer is examining the use of intelligent tutoring, augmented reality and other applications in its courses. To that end, the Embraer Maintenance Training Center is constantly participating in international forums where training and learning technologies are conceived. Embraer is researching, along with its Customer Advisory Board, how to allow intelligent tutoring and other technologies to respond to its customers’ requirements and enhance maintenance technician service readiness. Affonso noted, “We are specifically researching augmented reality to train mechanics, but as the training analysis evolves for the E2, we will include that which best fits our customer needs and expectations.”
Of special interest, while the simulation and training market vaults ahead in some technologies, Embraer continues to value its cadre of instructors. Affonso emphasized “that at Embraer, we believe that the knowledge and experience of our instructors are immeasurable tools for not only instruction but also for constructing long lasting relationships that enable our customers to freely come to us with questions and opportunities for improvements.” Based on this business model, the aim of the E2 instructional model is to be 50% instructor led and 50% self-learning in order to maximize the learning curve. Asked if that percentage will gradually increase, Affonso responded, “Yes, as for any new program and with the extensive use of leading edge technologies in our maintenance training program, it is natural that we revise the effectiveness of our training program from time to time.”
An Identified Training Mismatch
Even as tablet technology and other cutting-edge learning enablers become pervasive, Canadian-based CaseBank Technologies has observed a significant mismatch in maintenance training in the civil sector.
Historically, maintainers could comfortably fall into specialist categories that roughly aligned with the aircraft technology: engines, avionics, structural, and others. Phil D'Eon, the company’s president and chief technology officer, noted with modern aircraft, some of those lines are blurring - navigation affects autoflight which affects power plant and fuel management, and other outcomes. “Lately we find that many customers are increasingly wanting their techs to become ‘generalists’, especially when the size of the maintainer group at a given location is not large enough to afford specialists,” the executive said, and continued, “However, specialists deal with a relatively narrow scope of issues, repeatedly, and so are less at risk of forgetting details. By comparison, being a successful generalist is much harder because there is so much to know, and the nature of the issues addressed changes constantly making it impossible to remember everything forever.”
One Company’s Response
CaseBank Technologies reports success in addressing its identified community shortfalls by providing interactive, guided diagnostic systems that improve first-time success rates of unplanned maintenance and repairs. Indeed, the company’s guided diagnostic system, implicitly imparting training through “guidance”, is used daily by nearly all Bombardier CRJ and Q-series operators, as well as extensively in the high-end business aircraft and military sectors, Gulfstream and Lockheed Martin for example.
D'Eon shared additional insights on the business case for his company’s increasingly popular maintenance products.
The firm further observed maintenance training traditionally focuses on how systems work, including the theory, or what the designers think is going to fail and how to correct the failure. “CaseBank’s product complements that with a completely new paradigm for maintenance training, namely how systems fail in the real-world, by harnessing field experience in the guided diagnostic process,” D’Eon remarked.
And while new aircraft models entering service around the globe are exceptionally reliable, which means that no one technician will ever experience all the failures, D’Eon emphasized these aircraft are also exceptionally complex, meaning that there are so many parts that there is always something failing. “Practically speaking, anything that has gone wrong with that type of aircraft has gone wrong in the hands of somebody, somewhere out there. That means there is a very high chance that the problem at hand is not new.” So although it may be new to the technician, the intelligent troubleshooting system draws upon the compiled experience of the global community to provide troubleshooting guidance and ultimately serve up a known solution to the current problem. “In that way, the technician learns from the collective experience of technicians around the world, as a byproduct of troubleshooting the aircraft,” the corporate executive added.
D’Eon also noted that an individual tech might never have seen the particular problem before (in the classroom or otherwise), so the troubleshooting session itself may be called upon to provide training to the tech. Alternately, the tech may have forgotten his training, especially if he/she is dealing with a rarely encountered set of issues, for which an instantly available refresh is needed, literally on the job, and not necessarily part of a formal training regime.
The community subject matter expert continued “When any of our customers presents an initial symptom (of a problem) to our application, a dialogue between the tech and the applications ensues, called a session. During that session, the tech is able to call upon support resources that are linked to the knowledgebase, including all manner of media: documents, pictures, 3D animations, video, sound-clips and even entire lessons, depending on the extent of knowledgebase authoring enrichment. But furthermore, the technician learns about new failure modes through a system that is continuously updated with the experiences of his/her peers around the world.”
Message for the S&T Community
While not an official “requirement” Embraer’s Affonso provided a snapshot of his company’s learning environment for the awareness of the simulation and training sector as it pursues new products.
The corporate official emphasized the Embraer E2 training model is based on active learning, where the students are involved in a series of practical activities instead of being in a classroom as passive listeners. “The learning is progressive, building knowledge and skills, and contributing to the student’s attitude as he or she evolves from theoretical to practical and ending with On-the-Job Training at his or her maintenance organization through the adequate combination of lecture and technological training tools.”