The 19th annual World Aviation Training Conference & Tradeshow (WATS) took place at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, in Orlando, April 19-21. Conference Chair Chris Lehman captures a few of the highlights

With almost 1,100 attendees from 46 countries and nearly 100 airlines, WATS continued its tradition of running simultaneous pilot, regional airline, cabin, maintenance and helicopter (HATS) training tracks, with presentations from some of the world’s most knowledgeable S&T professionals. New for 2016 was SECA – Student Education & Careers in Aviation, a special reach-out to the Next Generation, and focusing on the opportunities available in aviation, delivered by many of the main WATS 2016 presenters. And with Diamond Sponsor CAE, and Platinum Sponsors Aerosim and TRU Simulation + Training, some 70 exhibitors showcased their training and simulation know-how.

New Regulatory Cultures and Risk-Based Decisions

Opening Keynote addresses were delivered by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, and Earl Weener, board member of the National Transportation Safety Board. With this, his third appearance at WATS, Huerta immediately zeroed into this age of “big data,” and the power it gives us to focus on where the actual risk is in training and operations. “If the data shows successes, focus on the other challenges…” Huerta also noted the increasing participation of the FAA in all of the WATS tracks and that this helps reinforce his desire to interact with the broader aviation community, and the promotion of trust and confidence - including openness, proactivity, and the elimination of fear of reprisal.

Earl Weener from the NTSB delivered a second Keynote that included the “NTSB Most-Wanted List” – the issues currently being targeted. These included operational distraction, ending substance impairment, medical fitness for duty - and in a prelude to one of the major discussion points later of the conference - the issue of loss of control in-flight (LOC-I).


The Opening Act

Airbus, CAE and Delta Air Lines cast the net wide in a plenary session that had the effect of framing the nature of the next three conference days. In particular Jon Tovani of Delta nailed it with the remark “How do we make a safe system safer?” He emphasized the power that increasing knowledge of human behaviour – together with increasingly sophisticated technologies – offers the industry as we chase safety dividends. Airbus urged delegates to understand decision-making more completely, and to realise that recognition is absent in many accidents. In fact, it was stated that the process where experienced individuals recognize a situation – known as “Recognition-Primed Decision Making” – is the way we actually solve problems and it is time aviation accepts this reality. CAE’s presentation was also prognostic for the overall WATS conference, asking how ready the community was to systematically address critical training for future pilot cadres. By pointing out that the solution lies in the instructional mix of adaptive learning, objective pilot assessment and an embrace of new technologies such as augmented environments, the company helped set the stage for the sessions to come.img_1589

UPRT Regulatory Realities

An excellent presentation from Captain Nathalie de Zeigler of the French BEA, included direct suggestions for loss of control training using lessons learned from Air France 447 and Air Asia QZ 8501 accidents. Airmanship and leadership failures were common to both accidents, as were errors in responding to “startle” indications. Further, neither crew had adequate manual flying training. She called for increased academic and operational understanding of aircraft flight envelopes and regimes.

The FAA reminded delegates of the agency’s roadmap to implementing stall and upset recovery training, with a 2019 implementation date for full execution of requirements, including enhanced aerodynamic modelling for simulators. And TRU Simulation + Training pointed out that several years have now passed since ICAO 9625 “Qualification of FSTDs” was completed. Edition 4 has been published which includes guidance for simulators incorporating the UPRT requirements.

Pilots, F/O’s and Captains

United’s Captain John Weigand focused on the generational shift and “brain drain” occurring as an expected 85,000 new pilots enter the cockpit in North America over the next decade – and some 5,000 annually over the next several years. His company’s LEaP program – Leadership, Excellence and Professionalism - is being rolled out for all company pilots, focusing on CRM, TEM, mentoring and professionalism. The critical issues of pilot mentoring and leadership skills were also seized upon by JR Starch of US Aviation Group. Sound moral character, integrity, and commitment to positive action were all cited as foundational characteristics of aspiring Captains. Starch’s impassioned plea for “mentoring” was repeated many times throughout the conference.

The conference continued to drill into current training issues as it opened on day two. Captain Chris Hanson, British Airways B777/787 training manager, held the attention of delegates as he discussed joint ratings. He encouraged airlines pursuing this path to focus on human factors, ATQP harmonisation, and to follow OEB’s. Dr. Kathy Abbott of the FAA reminded delegates of the importance of flight path management training. Training is more than “automated flying”, and that planning, execution and assurance of the guidance and control of the aircraft’s entire trajectory and energy must be part of training. The industry expert weighed-in on the need for a better definition of the role of PF (pilot flying) and PM (pilot monitoring).

United returned to the podium via Captain Michael McCaskey who presented the merits of training management systems and then the airline’s lessons-learned, both in terms of the challenges of implementation and the benefits and efficiencies once it was brought on-line. Optimising efficiencies with new technologies while delivering better training was the result, and that theme emerged yet again with a Truestream Aerospace/OOFIS Institute for Information Technology presentation that looked at a research project investigating the tailoring of transition training to individual pilots.

Captain Warren Christie of JetBlue introduced “Gateway Select” – one of seven pilot training programs at his airline. With partner CAE, this is a 4 year ab-initio program, offering a guaranteed job as a first officer upon completion.

Regional Airline (RATS)

Delegates took notice as the RATS track opened when Jennifer Sunderman of the Regional Airline Association (RAA) stated that regionals may have more applicants, but only about 25 percent were considered hireable. Kent Lovelace, of UND also pointed to the looming shortage of Certified Flight Instructors (CFIs), and addressed the lack of professionalism of some newly graduated CFIs.

ERAU discussed the Pilot Source Study 2015, which focused on more than 6,700 new first officers at 19 regionals hired after the First Officer 1,500-hour rule went into effect in 2013. Ironically, many of these pilots required extra training, including extra Initial Operating Experience (IOE). Captain Paul Preidecker, of Air Wisconsin and lead RATS moderator, described how the demographic change in the new hire pool impacts the training time required.

On a more positive note, ExpressJet, Envoy Air, and PSA Airlines all presented information on the successes of their Pilot New Hire Incentives Programs. Sunderman outlined the RAA’s new proposed Air Carrier Enhanced (ACE) R-ATP Pathway. A major focus is on pilot screening and selection. Seneca College of Toronto and Jazz Airlines presented one example of an alternative to US pilot pathway programs. Captain Paul Kolisch of Endeavor Air challenged the assumption that the FAA is responsible for some airline accidents, since it had not established regulations for the unique circumstances that led to those accidents.

Closing presentations focused on the after-effects of the 2013 F/O Qualification ruling and suggested that performance (both hard and soft skills) during new hire pilot training is a clear predictor of long-term success at any airline.

Cabin Crew

Long-time WATS cabin moderators Jeanne and Al LaVoy led another excellent overview of the major cabin training issues.

Thomas Kaminski of JetBlue opened with their TEM model, while American Airline’s Stephen Howell discussed his company’s embrace of tablets and mobile technologies to efficiently deliver training modules and video directly to learners. Delegates learned that Southwest Airlines has adopted the Mager Methodology and applied it to training design, with the result that Initial Training has been reduced from five weeks to three, saving $1.9 million in the first year. In fact, in a WATS first, a joint session on Mager’s Criterion Referenced Instruction (CRI) was conducted with the maintenance track in concert with Southwest.

Both Inflight Innovations and Airbus focused on online learning, covering the range of student learning styles, the importance of Blended Learning, and technologies such as Airbus’ “Virtual Cabin”. And another joint session with the maintenance track was led by Cubic Global Defense and Emirates, with real-world insights into games-based training and immersive learning.

Martin Maurino from ICAO outlined ICAO guidelines on training and reporting for cabin fume events and Noel Houlihan of Aer Lingus spoke about identifying and tackling the problem of inadvertent slide deployments, and how his airline cut the number of incidents. And training for flight attendants assigned to open more than one exit during an emergency evacuation was addressed by WestJet, and how training was provided to address the subject.

An emotional and disturbing subject was presented by Sherry Saehlenou. Her presentation “In Plane Sight – Human Trafficking” demonstrated how cabin crew are in a unique position to help people being trafficked. Current inflight medical issues were rounded up by MedAire and Comply365, including the availability of integrated training solutions to deal with the range of events. Wrapping up this final aeromedical theme, Dr Shari Frisinger and Colette Hilliary looked at factors which might interfere with an individual’s mental capacity to recognize and mitigate cabin risks, and shared tools and techniques to counter these influences.

Maintenance Training

Dr. Bill Johnson, FAA Chief Scientist for Maintenance Human Factors delivered yet another global sweep of today’s training issues.

Returning speaker Denis Manson, Aviation Australia, spoke on Part 147 schools and the tension between wants and budget constraints, as schools “strive to make students job ready.” Kyle Crooks of TRU provided a rare peek into the world of military maintenance training, pointing out the critical need to focus on training outcomes first, not the technology.

HF continuation training and the progression towards a “zero-error culture” was addressed by Lufthansa Technik, while D. Smith from the US DoT urged a focus not just on the theory behind SMS, but “the how.” Embraer spoke to the costs and benefits of live aircraft training as compared to multimedia, and reminded delegates that the optimum technology mix starts with the Training Needs Analysis (TNA). And Terry Michmerhuizen of WMU opined that work instructions are typically “text heavy” and written more for developers than maintainers, suggesting “more graphics.”

WATS veteran Nusret Bulent Topcu, Turkish Technic, made the point that training organisations are in the midst of constant change, and while we must maintain relevance to the training task, we need to look beyond KSA’s to help students thrive in change, and make training “more eloquent and elegant.”

Helicopter (HATS)

Moderated by Rick Adams, this second iteration of the HATS helicopter conference saw the US Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) offer up a “zero accident” challenge to the industry. Nick Mayhew from Bristow Academy said total accidents have fallen 54% in 2015 since a 2001-2005 baseline. Increasing use of simulation and continuing to adopt many of the initiatives of the fixed-wing community, including SMS programs and scenario based training, were seen as pivotal.

PHI exhorted delegates to go “beyond minimums” in the pursuit of professionalism and excellence, echoing the messages of keynote and plenary sessions. Thales noted the 80% operators had less than 5 helicopters and the addition of more training academies would help all operators get affordable access to FSTDs.

Frasca and Allen Corporation presented initiatives that were discussed in the fixed-wing sessions including personalized and adaptive training, while other presentations returned the discussion to adopting airline programs such as LOFT, and the use of the complete range of simulators, from FNPTs to FSTDs.

Final presentations rolled in the issues of sharing the airspace with UAV’s, increasing the scope of FTDs for helicopter training, and Live, Virtual and Constructive training concepts in the civil world. The bottom line for HATS 2016 was that Mission Training, together with certain fixed-wing training concepts can help maintain the downward accident trend, particularly a focus on pilot judgment, decision-making, optimum use of simulation, and fostering a just culture.

Simulation Technology and eLearning Update

WATS Conference closing sessions included an update of FSTD technologies, including simulator electric motion, projection, and display technologies. Barco mentioned three trends to watch in the projection space: increased fidelity, higher performance and continued migration to COTS, as well as weighing-in on the lamps vs solid-state projectors debate. FSI walked delegates through the evolving state of the art in visual displays, while Moog illustrated the nature and advantages of current electric motion technology.

The final session of the conference stayed true to the Conference Chair’s promise of “staying strong to the end”. Dr. Suzanne Kearns dazzled with her grasp of competency-based training, and what it means in the aviation context, while Lori Brown of WMU told interesting tales of leveraging technologies within a lean (academic) environment. Of particular note were extraordinary videos illustrating research in augmented reality. Finally, Kim Halat made clear the similarities and differences between SCORM, new SCORM, xAPI and Tin Can, and the value of the latter three as we move into the future.

Explore the enormous range and detail of the WATS 2016 presentations on the Halldale website at See you in 2017 for the 20th anniversary of WATS.

Boxed text below:

WATS Pilot Breakout Panels

*Airline UPRT Implementation Experience, moderated by Dr. Sunjoo Advani

*International Pilot Training Consortium (IPTC), looking at the work of IPTC Working Group 3 on FSTD ATC Voice Communication Training, led by Captain Mike Varney, Etihad Airways

*FAA National Simulation Program (NSP) update and Q&A, led by Larry McDonald, AFS-205