While increasingly capable technologies support fleet maintenance learning programs, training organizations continue to place a priority on classroom techniques, reports Group Editor Marty Kauchak.

Maintainers around the globe are aided by a diversified, increasing array of technologies throughout their continua of instruction. While training organizations obtain these learning tools, once they are proven to enhance and support their courses’ objectives, program leaders continue to place a stronger focus on the very broad area of technique – from the quality of instructors to instructional design and other attributes. According to subject matter experts, the importance of technique will outweigh technologies in their programs into the near term.

Technology Infusion

New, ever-more-capable learning tools are entering training organization maintenance curricula – and are providing early, solid returns on investment. 

In one instance the Airbus Maintenance Training Concept (bring the aircraft into the classroom) is supported by the Airbus Competence Training (ACT) solution. It includes not only courseware training material with animated schematics but also a virtual aircraft, a virtual cockpit and the technical documentation. Joe Houghton, vice president of Training and Flight Operations Support at Airbus Americas, explained that the strategy’s training courses become more interactive, with theory and practical training being performed in sequence. “In addition, some practical exercises (e.g. troubleshooting tasks difficult to perform in a real aircraft environment), can be performed in the classroom. This contributes not only to a better skill, knowledge and attitude retention but also the development of suitable skills in a safe environment (no risk to damage the aircraft) while reducing the on-aircraft practical training and associated costs.” One attention-getting return on investment realized for this technology was reported to include “more than 50 percent of practical tasks performed in the classroom, thanks to the ACT Trainer.”

Houghton’s Miami-based organization provides training for Airbus customers’ flight and cabin crew, as well as maintenance personnel. Most of the facility’s trainees come from Airbus operators in Latin America, the US and Canada, although the center also trains cadets from Asia and the Middle East. The Miami Airbus Training Center trains approximately 2,500 trainees a year.

A second instance of technology insertion was provided by Mrs. Eike Nowiszewski, head of Training Development at Lufthansa Technical Training, who called attention to the LTT enterprise’s use of learning technologies in its maintenance classrooms, noting its vocational students are receiving iPads not only as learning assistance but also to serve as an e-book for their courses, web-based training, course diaries and for research. This training organization also has a new learning management system supporting this cohort, with new capabilities, including virtual aircraft models populating learning content.

While these and other learning technologies populate classrooms and other learning venues, a confluence of factors are encouraging training organizations to take a deliberate, measured approach to these acquisition decisions.

LTT’s Nowiszewski pointed out: “In the next three-to-five years we will get more and more technology, but from my view, it is very important to see what is needed – the actual use case,” and rhetorically asked, “Is it virtual reality, or is a good mix of training needed all the time?”

She further pointed to the imperative for VR and other emerging technologies to  mature technically. This theme has resonated with training professionals in the military and other high-risk industries covered by CAT and its sister publications.

Operators and others in those communities often report “sea sickness” when using some state-of-the-current-art systems – creating a negative training experience. And then there are other capabilities provided by live training that are perhaps just appearing on corporate business development and technology departments’ R&D horizons.

Nowiszewski also emphasized it is very important to feel how heavy a component is. “It is not something you can click on a tablet and recreate the feel of a wheel on a landing gear. That wheel is very heavy and must be pushed to the landing gear.” 

While initial technology products are enabling instruction and their broader technology baselines mature, the all-encompassing topic of technique is still paramount in training organizations. 

Airbus believes it is essential to select the best technique and technology to meet the expected training objectives. Image credit: Airbus Training Center, Miami.
Airbus believes it is essential to select the best technique and technology to meet the expected training objectives. Image credit: Airbus Training Center, Miami.

The Push of Learning Technology on Technique

“For the most part, our instruction is primarily instructor-led; that is the core of the technique,” Mike Giard, director of Global Sales and Marketing, and Bombardier ATTP Liaison at FlightPath International, told CAT. Recognizing the primacy of the instructor in its courses, FlightPath encourages and trains their instructors to be as engaging as possible and optimize student involvement.

Giard spoke to CAT from the perspective of Alliston, Ontario-based FlightPath International offering maintenance training courses for almost every fleet type in operation from OEMs Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer. FlightPath’s portfolio, in one instance, makes it the authorized provider for Bombardier on the CRJ series, and includes relations that have been in place for years with many airlines. While there are over 20 FlightPath technical instructors on staff in Canada and abroad, about 70% of the company’s maintenance training is deployed, conducted at the increasing number of FlightPath training centers around the world and at their customers’ base of operations. 

Similarly, LTT, while it is among the global maintenance training organizations investing in, and watching the expansion of, learning technology capabilities, also still values its instructors. “Technique and methodology, paired with instructor experience, are the key issues for our instructors to provide the right level of training our clients want and that we are aiming for,” observed Panagiotis Poligenis, head of Strategy and Business Development. LTT is in a unique position to meet these challenges. Being part of the world-leading MRO provider Lufthansa Technik [see sidebar, LTT as a Training Change Agent], LTT’s instructors are situated to constantly gather valuable experience, from an aircraft operators’ point of view and MRO at the same time. Poligenis continued, “The benefit of the training participants due to this constellation is of high value, which results in improved performance in their daily work.”

Poligenis provided a second take on technique, observing, “As an EASA-approved organization, there must be an appropriate mix of theoretical versus practical training.” The industry veteran placed this mix in context, noting that in order to work in Europe as a line maintenance mechanic, “there is a relatively large amount of theoretical training, with EASA mandating training organizations provide, ‘as far as possible,’  practical training on the aircraft in a real-live environment.” LTT rates itself as “pretty strong in and very proud, that we have introduced new technology (aircraft panoramic views and others) to transfer part of the aircraft practical training to the virtual domain in the classroom.”

Airbus’s Houghton also addressed advancing technique – with appropriate blends of learning technology. The Airbus training executive offered that there are several teaching techniques, and the new technologies bring new opportunities to the training means. “However, it is essential and it remains our training expertise, to select the best technique and technology to meet the expected training objectives.” In a follow-on that should resonate well within the community, Houghton noted it remains a challenge for all training organizations to keep training material up to date and benefit from the latest technologies to improve the teaching techniques while remaining compliant with applicable regulations and trying to optimize the training efficiency. “For example, we can easily say that e-learning solutions are more adapted to recurrent training purposes than initial training. However, part of initial training can also be performed thanks to e-learning solutions, whereas recurrent training may call for instructor-led courses when practical exercises on real components are required (e.g. optical fiber, wiring, hydraulic, composite repair courses).”

“Trust Caveat” as a Beacon Moving Forward

While FlightPath casts one eye on technique and, in particular, its strong instructor cadre, it also uses and embraces technology in its classrooms – with more on the way. Indeed, Giard observed, “As a philosophy, we know we need to go there – especially with the younger entrants understanding and expecting technology,” but with an important caveat – the technology must bring training value to courses and deliver meaningful content. “We’re very, very deliberate about selecting the right training element to be used with technology.” And beyond that, FlightPath’s maintenance organization adheres to the “trust caveat” – where pilots and passengers trust the plane is safe and ready for flight. To that end, “Today, that trust requires a human element in the classroom. We want to maintain the human-led, instructor presence in the classroom, where humans (students) can relate to humans (instructors).”

Giard noted it is difficult to define the current balance between technology and technique in the classroom. “We have continually assessed and integrated new technology, but of course it is difficult to say where it will go. Just this year FlightPath introduced augmented and virtual reality with our new partner Modest Tree of Halifax, Nova Scotia. We are at a point where traditional-led instructor technique can be blended with this type of VR integration.”

At WATS 2019, Modest Tree demonstrated a 3D CBT-based learning tool which has been delivered to Jazz Aviation, to address a requirement to increase the efficiency of maintainers inspecting aileron cables. Sam Sannandeji, Modest Tree’s CEO, explained his customer provided the requirement to have its maintainers complete all inspection procedures on a Bombardier Q400. “They didn’t want something 2D or ‘gimmicky,’ and they didn’t want the maintenance personnel to depart their comfort zone – which is their own task sheet.” 

Of added significance, training products such as this could be delivered in different platforms – PC, VR, mobile and others – using the company’s Xplorer software for creating immersive 3D presentations. “We can also bring students and instructors together virtually, through Xplorer software’s cross-play capability – to include an instructor and others, from different platforms, all within a unified virtual learning environment,” the Canadian corporate leader concluded.

Tipping the Balance to Technology

As learning technologies mature and more products populate the community’s curricula, within limits, techniques will evolve.

Airbus’s Houghton captured the essence of how technologies will not only increase in an organization’s portfolio, but integrate the latest capabilities, including cloud-based learning.“For several years now, Airbus has developed its own solution with ACT. The ACT was initially developed for the A380, the A350 and the A320 Families, and in 2019 Airbus completed the family with the A330 (including the neo version)” He continued, “We are also introducing a new classroom layout (compatible with the current one) using a tablet PC. The next step consists of getting access to updated training material using cloud solutions.”

While the potential of learning technologies is unleashed in training organizations’ maintenance classes, Houghton reminded CAT, “Regulations, which drive the maintenance training principles, will also have to evolve to take maximum benefit of the new technologies.”

A final, thought-provoking point was offered by LTT’s Poligenis, who concluded that as learning technologies migrate into his organization’s curricula for maintenance learners, “we’ll never reach the point that practical training will be replaced, to be clear on that. We see it as an enhancement for practical training and an opportunity to optimize the time on site at the aircraft.” 

LTT as a Training Change Agent

Lufthansa Technical Training (LTT) is a total subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group. The company offers maintenance training programs that meet European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and many other national aviation authorities’ requirements.

LTT’s business model has three product portfolios:

  • Providing aviation maintenance vocational training in the German education system;
  • Basic aviation maintenance training, with courses ranging from EASA Part-66 training modules to electrical wiring systems to human factors to borescope training, to management of maintenance organizations, and many more; and
  • Type training for aircraft models mainly operated within Lufthansa Group.

The latter two portfolios are dynamic, responding to aircraft (new Boeing 777 models and others) entering the Group’s fleets.    

Of significance, more than 600 companies worldwide in aviation manufacturing, in maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and in other aviation-related fields trust this approved EASA Part-147 organization’s competencies. With training facilities at its core bases in Frankfurt and Hamburg, and elsewhere in Europe and Asia, it is the maintenance training competence center of the Lufthansa Group. And while much of this training is delivered under the LTT banner, there are products provided under joint venture agreements, for instance, with XEOS and EME Aero to support those companies’ engine and related product lines.

Beyond the company’s expanding business model, LTT is responding to changes in its customers’ requirements and in the classroom, by maintaining a measured, successful balance between program learning technologies and techniques.       

Advancing a Firm Technology Base

LTT has used a measured approach, including matching to requirements and need, to introduce technology into its classrooms. Mrs. Eike Nowiszewski, LTT’s Head of Training Development, noted that for more and more aircraft types her company applies LTT's own ‘Media Concept’ in its training. “The primary objective is to strengthen the competence and skills of our trainees already in the classroom by using as realistic, as possible, didactics. By the regular use of this media mix the aircraft is almost present in the classroom. With the help of the maintenance training device, switching operations in the cockpit are simulated, and the handling of failure indications in connection with the aircraft documentation is practiced.” By using System Schematics, cross-system relations are explained. Furthermore, the Spheric Views offer a pin-sharp, 360° insight in all relevant aircraft divisions to illustrate the installation position of individual systems and components. She said this is especially useful for segments which are not visible or accessible during normal operation of the aircraft.

“Lufthansa Technical Training developed a spherical panorama for the training of the Bombardier C Series (now Airbus A220). It offers the possibility to hide the installed cabin. This gives training participants an insight into installation locations that cannot be demonstrated in the usual practical training,” Mrs. Nowiszewski explained and added, through the usage of such spherical panoramas or web-based trainings as well as simulations, LTT ensures very illustrative and realistic practical courses. “This spherical panorama can be used by VR lenses, tablet and also with the computer for the trainer screen at the white board,” she concluded.

LTT also developed dedicated structure panels for A350 trainings to help the trainees in gaining awareness for new composite materials, as well as to experience relevant inspection and repair techniques.

Moreover, Lufthansa Technical Training will shortly introduce a fully web-based basic training platform in accordance to EASA PART-66 requirements. Panagiotis Poligenis, head of Strategy and Business Development at LTT, told CAT the web-based training session will provide opportunities for trainees and MRO organization to optimize trainee presence time in class and will be fully digitized. - Marty Kauchak

Published in CAT issue 3/2019