The 18th annual World Aviation Training Conference & Tradeshow (WATS) took place at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, in Orlando, April 21-23. Conference Chair Chris Lehman captures some of the highlights of what is always a very intense three days.

With over 1,100 attendees hailing from 50-plus countries and 110 airlines, WATS broke new delegate and airline attendance records once again. Already the world’s largest gathering of aviation training professionals, for 2015 a helicopter training stream was added to complement the airline pilot, regional airline pilot, cabin, maintenance and Spanish language tracks. And with Diamond Sponsor CAE, and Platinum Sponsor L-3 Link Simulation & Training, some 60 exhibitors showcased their training and simulation know-how.

Targeting Risk 

Opening Keynote addresses were delivered by FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker, and Captain Howard Attarian, SVP Flight Ops, United Airlines. Whitaker picked up immediately the conference them of “Targeted Training Interventions” and showed how “Risk-based Decision Making” is enhancing proactivity in aviation safety. That means the analysis of many sources of data and targeting resources to address the real risks. Whitaker also pointed to the FAA’s work in helping to strengthen the pilot pipeline in the midst of the new ATP requirements. New rules for stall training and icing, and the impact to simulator technologies were also outlined, as well as the power of “individualized training” which is one of the natural outputs of the data-driven Advanced Qualification Program (AQP).

Captain Attarian of United chimed in during a second keynote on Safety Reporting Culture and Threat Identification and Tracking. He reminded delegates of the FAA’s Safety Management Systems (SMS) rule that came into effect on March 9, 2015. All US Part 121 airlines must now have an approved and implemented SMS. The airline executive then went on to provide an airline practical view of how to facilitate Risk Management and Risk-based Decision Making.


A combined stream plenary zeroed into the most pressing issue the community is dealing with – personnel supply and demand. Boeing Flight Services told delegates the focus is necessarily on Asia which will account for more than 40 percent of the 37,000 aircraft to be delivered in the next two decades. New ATPL training rules in the US, and the high cost of training is squeezing the community and it was stated that unless the industry and government can create a national initiative to address these issues, we will lose the ability to attract new people.

Airbus Miami moved the discussion to training technology and technique, pointing to the unique “clean sheet” training program that has been created for a new airframe – the A350. Innovative training tools supporting a competency-based training (CBT) approach utilizing functional learning and “learning by discovery” will enhance training efficiencies. CAE continued the “competency-based” theme. “Instructors can better adapt curriculum in real time,” and “a global training network for cadet through captain training will help give the airlines strategic flexibility and training innovation.”

WATS Pilot

The issue of competency training emerged again in the Global Pilot Supply and Primary Training session. ALPA encouraged stakeholders to take a holistic approach to training, and to look at competencies, not hours, in their curricula. Building experience is key, achieved through the continuum of learning so aspiring pilots can say “I want to be an airline pilot. I know I have to pay my dues – provided I get a reasonable paycheck.” Rickard Wikander, an advocate of MPL programs since his undergraduate days at Lund University, asserted that MPL “is working” but it is “…caught in a political discussion that may be going nowhere.”

A regulatory session included insights on the impact of newer regulations on community simulators, as well as a unique perspective from Jules Kneepkens on navigating the issues surrounding European license approvals when located outside the EU. A combined ICAO/FAA and CAE presentation updated delegates on the release of ICAO Doc 10011, The Manual on Aeroplane Upset Prevention & Recovery Training (UPRT), as well as the “LOC-I Collaborative”.

Delta Air Lines opened day 2 by telling the assembled delegates how the airline’s integrated training and safety management systems have been progressively integrated through the last five years. Data highlighting “threats” in flight operations are used to recommend changes to standard operating procedures and processes, and support engagement with regulators and simulation and training equipment manufacturers.

Dieter Harms returned delegates to competency-based training. “Task based training has reached its limit. We need to prepare students for the unseen…we need to go from task-based to competency-based training.” And Lufthansa CityLine and JetBlue debunked the belief that multi-tasking on the flight deck makes the crew member more efficient.

Sunjoo Advani presented research efforts supporting the development of the Manual Operation of 4th Generation Airliners ( Despite the safety benefits of automation systems in 3rd and 4th generation aircraft, the research revealed crews may be overloaded in terms of numbers of events occurring on the flight deck, and a key outcome was the suggested need for flight crews to train resilience in their continuum of learning. Current research results from Arizona State on Informal Learning Environments suggest gaps in knowledge from formal training are often bridged in informal activities.

A welcome perspective was provided by Frank Cheeseman of ALPA – Exploring Just Culture in Aviation Training. One attribute of this culture is respectful dissent that embodies effective communications between aircrew members. He asserted that crews who performed the best in startle incidents were those that communicated best.

In a Breakout session, Chris Sharber from United delivered an outstanding Human Factors presentation titled “Normalization of Deviation.” Sharber noted crews should strive to use standard operating procedures (SOPs) as a foundation of operations, and that the behaviors of flight crews involved in Go-Around incidents has led to a troubling normalization of deviance away from SOPs.

Regional Airline (RATS) 

This year's RATS track featured fifteen presenters covering a wide array of topics that included an FAA regulatory update, results of a new study on the impact of the First Officer Qualification (FOQ) ruling, cockpit automation, upset recovery training and a new means to reduce unstabilized approaches. The RATS track was expertly moderated by Captain Paul Preidecker of Air Wisconsin.

The nearly full-house of RATS Track attendees was particularly interested in the impact of the FOQ ruling study presented by Nancy Shane of Cape Air/Nantucket Airlines. The results showed that compared to pre-FOQ new hires, those hired after the ruling had a significantly higher number of total flight hours, but they were more likely to need additional training and less likely to successfully complete training. A number of attendees called for other airlines to contribute their new-hire data in order to enhance the now-ongoing study.

As might be expected, the RATS sessions related to pilot supply and student pilot funding also stirred the pot. Stacey Bechdolt, of the Regional Airline Association (RAA), said that outreach efforts are finally starting to overcome Congressional indifference to these pressing industry challenge areas.

The student pilot funding session was led by Mark Sawyer of Aerospace Consultants and Terry Hibler of FlightSafety International. Hibler pointed out that the three new regional pilots presenting at RATS said that they most likely would not have become pilots if they had needed student loans. He also said that the airline industry will not sustain its current growth, let alone future growth, without a student pilot loan system in place and called on all segments of the industry to work to develop new funding sources, and that the industry must become financially involved in the solutions.

Cabin Crew

Superbly moderated once again by Jeanne and Alan LaVoy, the cabin track was kicked off with a Q&A with Jan Brown, chief flight attendant and survivor of the Flight 232, Sioux City crash. As a result of the accident she has become an advocate for child safety. Martin Maurino, ICAO, continued the theme of child restraint by looking at how to address the challenges at an international level.

Doug Farrow, FAA, discussed the development of AQP training for flight attendants, while

WATS veteran Paul Caldwell, of SkyWest, continued that theme outlining the evolution of training at his airline from “Death by PowerPoint” to scenario-based and hands-on. Thomas Kaminski gave a tour of “The Lodge” at JetBlue University and Michaela Green and Tammy Hoevel from GoJet Airline presented the development of their cabin trainer.

Day 2 started with two presentations around the subject of lithium battery fires. How to deal with the realities and risks of the often hundreds of lithium batteries in personal devices on each flight is an on-going issue.

The day was chock full of international airline and industry S&T perspectives, including the training challenges surrounding the US Airlines/American Airlines merger, cabin-cockpit crew joint CRM training, on-line training programs from Emirates, and why Southwest Airlines now has a dedicated department that deals with social media.

This very valuable conference track was rounded out by perspectives from MedAire on safety and security of aircrew when abroad, as well as an overview from ICAO on the Cabin Safety Training Manual.

Maintenance Training

Moderated by Dr. Bill Johnson of the FAA, the maintenance training track once again assembled an international cast to explore the latest developments in this critical sector.

Klaus Schmidt-Klyk opened the conference with an overview of a last ¼ century of engineering training, while Ryan Goertzen of Spartan zeroed in on the gaps between Part 145 schools and industry, by outlining a unique MRO partnership that focused on workplace performance readiness. Anneke Nabben from NRL presented a study from EAMTC that looked at maintenance performance, HF and safety. Bottom line is that training and operations must cooperate, and training must be relevant to that operation.

Dr James Allen introduced a subject of concern for an aging workforce – Latent Medical and Environment Conditions (LMEC) and the need to integrate health and safety and HF instead of the current stovepipe approaches. Dr Bill Johnson outlined useful FAA initiatives for HF in training with resources available at Phil D’Eon of CaseBank Technologies explained the latest methods of using knowledge bases to identify training gaps by focusing on performance gaps and then delivering performance support and Just-in-Time Training (JIT).

Technology in training was the opening subject of day 2, and included Calian Inc.’s experience re-designing military maintainer training from instructor created/led to formalised elearning in a LMCS/LMS environment. Airbus Miami provided excellent insights into the realities of composite repair on modern aircraft and the fact that type of training must be hands-on, as 53% of the A350’s weight is carbon fiber. And FlightSafety International provided recurrent training perspectives and the FSI blended solution of e-learning plus practical training.

The remaining sessions of the conference saw Jazz Aviation discuss virtual reality in maintenance training and the ROI`s achieved, the FAA`s perspectives on Risk-based Decision Making in the maintenance context, and the necessity on closing the gap between inspectors and operators. Turkish Technic weighed-in on the way they use SMS as the foundation for training and Sabena technic waxed on the need for adaptability in training centres, pointing to the fact that “Survival is necessary, therefore change is mandatory.”

Helicopter Training

Brand new for WATS 2015 was a helicopter training track, called HATS, and moderated by senior CAT writer Rick Adams. Effectively kicked off by Tony Molinaro of the FAA via Skype from the FAA Rotorcraft Safety Meeting in Fort Worth, Molinaro cited International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) statistics, including the fact that US helicopter accident rates have been cut by 50% over the past decade.

Adams told delegates that there will be about 1,000 new helicopter deliveries each year for the next five years, a third of this in the US and Canada. And like the fixed-wing community there is a growing pilot shortage.

Heli Offshore, a safety focused organisation by Bristow, CHC, Babcock, ERA and PHI provided important insights on industry collaboration, and the increasing reliance on data-driven safety enhancements. CrewFactors stated that 80% of accidents were as a result of human error and poor communication.

Helicopter training devices are advancing with increased price/performance ratios and some 50% of accidents are on the ground, necessitating a look at appropriate simulation devices and fidelities. Jim Takats of TRU Simulation + Training weighed in on the subject and objective motion cueing testing, while Frasca looked at NVG training technologies.

Several other presentations followed, including Gordon Woolley, Chair of the IPTC Working Group who indicated that a new ICAO manual would soon propose new regulatory guidance. One of the key issues in the industry is the need for specific mission training, something that the regulators don’t currently address. With an enormous number of mission profiles, the community is markedly different in many ways from the fixed-wing community, yet similar training challenges are evident, including the role of HF in accidents and the rise in the collection of “big data” for training and best practise development.

Simulation Technology and eLearning

Several common themes emerged from the joint Simulation Technology Insights presentations. The days of the high fidelity and very capable, but expensive, full flight simulator being the crown jewel of a training organisation’s learning system may be waning.

Vance Ontjes, the courseware development manager at TRU Simulation + Training,  observed “There is a void with industry hungry for more in-depth avionics, evidenced-based and other training - lower level devices are springing up everywhere.” The need for training and simulation companies to work with OEMs was also stated, to obtain flight and other data for training devices, and to do so affordably. FlightSafety strengthened the case for the use of lower level devices (LLDs) when feasible. LLDs have lower acquisition costs, are more efficient for smaller aircraft, and have other advantages which warrant their inclusion in training programs.

The last WATS joint session took a look at Mobile, eLearning and Training Management Systems including a case study from CAE on the role of closed-loop training systems with social learning and gaming. “Adaptive Learning” in the context of pilot, cabin and maintenance training was explored by Allegiant Air, while Nathan Cross of Sun Country powerfully illustrated the “lessons-learned” and the successes realized during the incorporation of a new LMS into his airline.

Explore the enormous range of presentations on the Halldale website at See you in 2016.