An epic 21st anniversary edition of the World Aviation Training Summit (WATS) took place at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, in Orlando, April 17-19, 2018. Conference Chair Chris Lehman captures some of the highlights.

With almost 1,200 attendees from 46 countries and 100-plus operators, WATS 2018 delegates digested a staggering level of global S&T content delivered by the industry’s most knowledgeable personalities. With five conference tracks, the WATS 2018 theme was “The Role of Technology and Data in Optimizing Career Paths, Human Performance, and Operational Safety.

Diamond sponsor CAE, Gold sponsor TRU Simulation + Training, a host of Silver and Bronze sponsors, and some 70 exhibitors showcased their training and simulation know-how.

Opening Remarks and Keynote Addresses

Speaking to theme of WATS 2018, John S. Duncan, director of Flight Standard Services at the FAA, stated that while many safety metrics are improving or holding constant, “We’re using technology and data to improve performance and operational safety. We can and must improve safety.” To that end, the FAA has several areas of interest, including optimizing career paths. Noting that industry health relies on the ability to attract the right personnel, and intelligently using technology to train them, Duncan discussed compliance philosophy stating that the FAA completed 15,000 compliance actions, resulting in these problems being resolved and risks mitigated.

Honorable Earl F. Weener, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) board member, said his organization investigates about 1,500 aviation incidents annually. He summed up the NTSB challenge with a quote from Douglas Adams: “Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” Nevertheless, Weener stated that 80% of its recommendations are positively responded to. “We determine the cause not the blame – we leave that up the lawyers.” He stated NTSB meets congressional mandates through independence and objectivity and presented NTSB’s current “Most Wanted List” which includes: preventing loss of control in flight, and ending alcohol/drug impairment.

Setting the Stage

Plenary session presentations focused on industry personnel challenges and technology directions from Carl Davis, Boeing Global Services, Joe Houghton from Airbus Miami, and Torbjorn Wischer of CAE. The quickening pace of Virtual Reality (VR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) was noted, with AI seen to have particular promise in augmenting human decision making. The technologies are driving training footprint optimisation, and in a preview of the instructor resource session coming the next day, instructors were seen as vital resources in the continuum of training, particularly in their role as mentors.

The discussion moved quickly into pilot demand issues with CAE making the case for augmented training solutions, particularly data-based methodologies, and technologies that will smooth and refine the training pipeline. 225,000 new pilots will be needed globally by 2027 - about 70 a day - resulting in a critical need to apply these new techniques.

The Primary Training Issues session ratcheted up the diversity issues. “It’s all about women” said Colin Rydon, VP Training at L3 CTS. Globally in 2016, about 52% of the graduates in higher education were women. “But only 4.4% of FAA licenses for airline transport were awarded to women.” It was stated that women have competencies often valued for success in aviation, but that finances are still a real impediment to all students.

The importance of mentoring was brought up again by ALPA, and how it can complement training, both formally and informally. For airlines, these initiatives help lower attrition, reduce washouts, and produce better adjusted employees, not to mention reaching under-represented groups. Steve Smith, from FlightSafety International (FSI) furthered the discussion on the pilot training footprint citing artificial intelligence and cloud computing as two technologies enabling the migration of learning out of the training center, while helping to maximize instructor effectiveness

Regulatory Perspectives

March 2019 resonated with attendees at recent WATS events according to Robert Burke, the Manager for AFS-280 at the FAA. That’s when all part 121 air carriers are required to conduct UPRT. Air carriers must include UPRT for pilots at all training stages and simulators must be upgraded. Marc Brogan, of New Zealand CAA drove home the flight instructor sub-theme of WATS and outlined the effort in his nation to solidify the flight instructor’s role as a professional and respected career. Don Dillman of FedEx Express closed the session and called attention to the ACT ARC which provides a forum for the US aviation community to provide recommendations to the FAA, and stated that a priority is Loss of Control incidents.

By day 2, airline perspectives were coming from the carriers – Scott Nutter of Delta outlined the “clean sheet” training designs for A350 and C-Series jets on order. Particular note was made of the power of the Level 7 FTD to increase availability and schedule flexibility, compared to an FFS, while reducing facility and maintenance expenses. Similar to earlier presentations a robust discussion on emerging learning technologies ensued, with another acknowledgement of the potential of AR.

Captain Shem Malmquist brought his experience as a B777 captain to bear when discussing Training to Facilitate Adaptive Capacity in Automated Systems. A NASA study has showed that self-reflection of a pilot’s own performances provides a 20% improvement in comprehension compared to a traditional instructor-trainee briefing. And CEFA Aviation profiled flight data animation products which facilitate knowledge exchange between crew members, allowing benchmarking against a pilots own performance to improve future flights. The morning was wrapped up by more discussion about moving certain skills training to lower-order devices from FSI and FedEx.

Human Factors

The dedicated Human Factors session saw Carolyn Vaughan of Qantas tell delegates that HF is “not just a training thing”, it is a systemic approach to safety needs across the aviation enterprise. Fujii Shigeru of Japan Air Lines, updated delegates on his airline’s efforts to establish a proactive and productive system to mitigate/eliminate PIC decision-making errors by deep learning AI. Using a B787 simulator the system recognizes voice, motion and equipment, and prompts when abnormalities are perceived in training. And Javier Rivera, of the University of Central Florida, presented a report on what the airline industry can learn from CRM programs in other sectors.

A cross-section of industry experts from around the globe focused yet more attention on the instructor. Dr. Sunjoo Advani led a panel which established agreed-upon attributes for these professionals. Instructors have not been as valued as they should be, given their enormous importance in promoting the culture of the industry, their formal and informal mentoring activities and the requirement to transfer the needed knowledge and skills to an increasingly diverse candidate pool.

Regional Airline Stream (RATS)

During what was perhaps the most highly attended RATS sessions in the history of WATS, representatives of regional airlines first heard from FAA representatives Robert Burke, Susan Parson and Barbara Adams about how the agency and its partners are continuing to update the Airman Certification Standards (ACS) for the Airline Transport Pilot. Burke also discussed the recent four-year extension of the Air Carrier Training Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ACT ARC).

RATS Chair Captain Paul Preidecker, of Air Wisconsin, led a panel discussion about the wide variation of previous flight experience today’s new hires are bringing to regional airlines because of their more diversified backgrounds and ages. The theme of the panel was how this change in pilot demographics is impacting regional airlines’ training footprint, and how training departments are working to develop solutions.

Preidecker stated that his airline is trying to adapt its syllabus to match the experience levels of new hires. The consensus was that regional training departments will have to find out for themselves where students are at in their knowledge and skill levels. Then they will need to work to match their training curriculums with the needs of todays new hires.

In the third RATS Session, UND professor Shayne Daku provided an overview of the learning preferences of 19- to 20-year-old Generation Z students. This group favors video-based and group learning, as well as individual self-paced learning and UND has geared its courseware to appeal to these characteristics. Also in this session, Horizon Air described how it set up a data analytics model of its flight training program to determine where bottlenecks where occurring.

The final RATS session on Human Performance was kicked off by Dr. Nicklas Dahlström, Human Factors Manager at Emirates Airline. He questioned the notion that flight hours relates to expertise. He also said there is enough flight data, but not enough analysis of it. Vin Parker, AQP Manager for Compass Airlines, stated that the burden for finding the best pilots is resting with regional airlines. To provide them with better tools, AQP must mature, and Michael Varney of EBT Solutions described how Compass is transitioning its AQP CQ program into Evidence Based Training.

Maintenance Stream

Moderated by Dr. Bill Johnson of the FAA, the global reality was explored, beginning with new learners and instructional approaches. A better training experience through immersion via VR, AR and MR technologies was discussed, as arguably maintenance has more immediate promise for these technologies than flight. Spartan outlined the first FAA-approved blended A&P course consisting of a distributed on-line component of 13-16 months and seven months hands-on, giving a diploma in 20 months.

Managing risk and change was addressed by Dr. Siobhan Corrigan of Trinity College who noted that “70% of change management initiatives fail”, and a key reason was a failure of change leadership, and not recognizing that managing change requires a socio-technical systems approach. Michael Howerton provided a rationale for effective leadership training and described the must haves for leadership development – alignment with company values, participation of top managers and coaching. The payoff is a reported median ROI of 700%.

Non-technical issues in training received considerable focus and FedEx stated the importance of “aligning training with the obligation to the customer,” posing the question of how do we hold ourselves accountable for training effectiveness. Competencies remain a dominant issue and not only includes the SKA required to perform a task, but also includes the profession’s ethos and way of working.

The remaining sessions included the impact of national culture in training – never to be underestimated – and a reminder about the need for today’s students to be engaged in learning and performing real tasks in a collaborative hands-on, simulated and/or actual work environment. P&W provided fascinating metrics on the ROI of training, and several speakers pointed to the growing technician shortage, the need to evolve curriculums to provide more relevance to the real world, and the continuing retirement bulge.

Cabin Crew Conference

Moderated by Jeanne and Al LaVoy, the cabin stream presented yet another global survey of the issues in this community. The absolute highlight of the stream was a presentation by Sheila Dail, the US Airways flight 1549 in-charge who described her experience with the Hudson River ditching in 2009. The takeaway was that her training worked but there is a need for psychological support in the wake of traumatic events. Dick Richardson, a passenger on the flight, told his story and how the leadership experiences of those on board shaped the way they dealt with the incident.

Stream sessions included a focus on Situational Awareness with Peggy Hurlbert of the FAA emphasizing the need to look for opportunities to include SA best practices in training scenarios and the value of training to support safety culture. Lori Brown from WMU updated delegates on the future of Mixed Reality in training, particularly her research on HoloLens applications. Technology themes continued with JetBlue University explaining the value of xAPI to track learning, while American Airlines demonstrated how the carrier is using a learner-centric training program for initial flight attendant training with significant cost savings and reduced training time.

GoJet weighed in with a focus on Training to Proficiency with a back to basics approach, reinforcing a general conference theme of how a simple approach can work as well as complex training tools. And WATS veteran Paul Caldwell of SkyWest drove home the value of data-driven training and yearly curriculum development.

The sad reality of human trafficking was dealt with extensively this year. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) provided an overview of what human trafficking is and how they have been addressing the issue including an Awareness Campaign and mandated training that began in 2016. Appropriately, Martin Maurino of ICAO provided a global regulator`s perspective, given the global nature of the issues and challenges.

Explore the enormous range and detail of the WATS 2018 presentations on the WATS website at

SECA Convention

For the third year, WATS included the Student Education and Careers in Aviation (SECA) convention. This year, more than a hundred aspiring student pilots and others attended. Highlights included presentations by aviation career advocates, and an opportunity to tour the WATS exhibition hall. The event also featured a chance to converse directly with airline pilots and other aviation professionals in individual and group settings.

CAT Pioneer Awards

For the second year in a row, CAT Magazine presented its “Pioneer Award” to another set of deserving simulation and training leaders. The establishment of these awards was driven by the need to raise the profile of the training community and its highly skilled and dedicated professionals.

This year we were pleased to recognise:
- Captain Chris Ranganathan, Etihad Airways
- Dr. Nicklas Dahlström, Emirates
- Mark Dransfield, TRU Simulation + Training

Published in CAT issue 3/2018