Chris Long reports from ICAO’s fifth symposium, held in Qatar.

The venue for the 2018 ICAO Global Aviation Training and TRAINAIR PLUS Symposium was Doha, Qatar. The event, sponsored in fine style by Qatar Aeronautical College, gathered some 1,000 delegates with a truly global representation for the three day conference.

High-powered Keynote speeches featuring H.E. Jassim Saif Ahmed Al-Sulaiti, Minister of Transport and Communications (Qatar), Dr. Fang Liu, Secretary General, International Civil Aviation Organisation and Sheikh Jabor Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Director General, Qatar Aeronautical College, launched the conference. They set the scene on the importance of commercial aviation as a catalyst to economic development, and confirmed the scale of demand for new entrants in all aviation disciplines.

The theme was “Aviation Training Intelligence” - a trade-marked term registered to ICAO. Perhaps this needs a little explanation - this refers not to brain horsepower, but to the gathering and use of data to analyse and shape aviation training. That involves everything from understanding the learning habits of recruits new to the industry, the industry’s specific needs, the content of training and the selection of technology and platforms to deliver such training effectively and efficiently. There is a great deal of data now available, but the challenge, as everyone knows, is how to select the relevant data for any given task. ICAO is very much aware that the rate of change in the broader world is such that civil aviation training has at least to match that rate. The acknowledged difficulty is that the world of aviation has so far been shaped by (sometimes costly) experience which has created an extremely safe transportation system. Gradual evolution has been the mantra up until now.

Any changes are viewed in the context of maintaining that critical level of safety in a world where the pace of change in technology and behaviours suggest that the long term consequences of adopting new solutions cannot be fully judged before implementing such revolution.

Focussed Sessions

The progression of the conference was through carefully focussed sessions. The first, concentrating on how to build training intelligence, ranged through identification of what issues should be addressed to capture the data. Human performance and behaviours have changed as a fully digital generation enters the workplace. Not only have learning habits evolved, but behaviours and expectations too, have moved on. Greater priority is now given to quality of life, and ethical issues now frequently play a part in career choice. The old model of a job/career for life has been replaced by the wish to be flexible with employment, so people now choose to move between not only jobs and companies, but often to completely different occupations. That means that there is even more burden on training and re-training tasks as new entrants and age groups join the industry. The upside is that this also presents an opportunity to benefit from fresh ideas and energy which an individual’s earlier experience can bring. These ideas and lessons learnt should be shared, perhaps through regional groups of universities and ATOs, and then into the global aviation training world.

The difficulty of measuring training effectiveness also was the subject of discussion. Whilst sophisticated Learning Management Systems, with and without the support of Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help, it was interesting to confirm that those with a more modest budget can create an effective solution with basic (if painstaking) manual assessment of feedback reports and data. Training effectiveness can also be measured in terms of Return on (Financial) Investment (RoI) - for instance, can you justify the cost of technology by benefitting from the reduction in training time? Careful selection of specific tasks for individuals can reduce training time - do you really need de-icing training in Florida? Can National Aviation Authorities more carefully mandate appropriate training within their own areas of responsibility, rather than a simple blanket instruction?

Education

A primary concern in the involvement of universities in education in the aviation disciplines is the lack of mutual international recognition. Other professions - medicine and law, for example, do recognise equivalent qualifications - aviation should do the same. The relatively modest presence of aviation-related courses in most universities means that they have low budgets, and critically, that reflects in the very small scale of R&D projects. We need to boost the importance of aviation in the mindset of universities, and encourage more of them to specialise in aviation, like Embry Riddle, Cranfield and the French state training organisation, ENAC.

We should also encourage creativity in universities by cross-fertilisation of thinking. For too long we have over-specialised when channeled into either STEM or humanist disciplines. To stimulate the mind and introduce new thinking we should, for instance, include exposure to arts and culture into the curriculum of the engineering/scientific community. That flexibility is essential in a future where many of the existing jobs will either change dramatically, or disappear completely as artificial intelligence takes over the routine and boring tasks. The competencies and skills of a new generation require knowledge of digital working, agile thinking, communication skills and thinking on a global operating scale.

Also explored was the exciting potential of marrying academic competence with the acquisition of disruptive technology. The kind of imaginative cooperation between academia and industry specialist training organisations is needed, and is already seen with McGill University and ENAC, where exposure to “hard” and “soft” disruptive technologies is integrated into the educational processes. There are also lessons to be learnt from the fact that in 2012, of the 244 industry CEOs identified by IATA, some 50% did not have a university background. Promotion through competence and experience in the industry can provide the leadership skills essential to successful enterprises. Internships to introduce academics to the industrial world, and industry starters to the realm of academics, should provoke new thinking and new approaches.

Using the Data

The question of how Aviation Data-Driven Decision Making (AD3M) can benefit training outcomes was addressed. It is now possible to drive data to an individual level and so in theory, tailor training content and style to match that individual’s characteristics. The challenge is to work towards that, and at the same time to recognise that confidentiality and data protection are an essential ingredient in the present and future context. Also in that mix is the issue of what data could be shared in the best interests for the industry, and what should remain either individually or commercially protected. Sharing data could well lead to improved standardisation and potentially, increased safety - how do we reconcile that sharing with security? We should assume that data will be breached, so how do we develop systems to mitigate the effect of that?

On a very positive side, the feedback from good training data will help to predict and shape improvements in training - that already drives a lot of competency based training and assessment patterns, although not much of that is shared around the industry.

Mega data - for instance the predictive statistics on pilot/technician shortage, was not used effectively to react to long-term and clearly-identified issues. For instance - post 2008, training schemes of sponsored cadet pilots and technician apprenticeships were abruptly halted because short-term financial goals won out, in spite of that data. The hope is that in the future such data-supported long term predictions will result in positive action.

New Technologies

A (the?) major influence on future training is the selection and adoption of emerging technologies. A note of caution was sounded, in that an objective assessment of such choices should be made - does this interesting technology actually add to, and improve training?

To spread the very high cost of training, there is the possibility of enabling Open Technology with, perhaps basic course elements to be provided at no cost through a Freemium process, followed by specialist packages available by pay-on-demand. This would enable those who can’t pay the whole sum immediately to study part-time and get the qualifications progressively.

The almost instinctive adoption of such new technology was illustrated by the case of a six-year old who, playing a video game, got stuck. The solution he immediately adopted was get in touch with a classmate and solve the problem. This is a generation who, from the start, see collaboration and teamwork as the norm and the support of technology as the baseline. We must bear that in mind when designing training methodology and platforms.

That collaborative process enters the game when dispersed groups train together, linked by technology and, if necessary, simply guided by an instructional team. The use of avatars, and perhaps holograms, to mentor new arrivals not only appeals to this group, but helps to meet the challenge of the reducing numbers of experienced instructors.

In addressing the needs of that demographic, we need to sell the idea of formal training, create an attractive physical environment, present the training in modular and stackable units, and foster relationship and ethics, melding them into the cultural skills essential for the new workplaces.

Overview

In his scene-setting initial speech, Meshesha Belayneh, deputy director of the Technical Cooperation Bureau ICAO and chief of the ICAO Global Aviation Training Office, emphasised the need for the regulators to recognise and embrace the rapid changes in technology, training and social trends in the aviation industry. This conference put those issues into the spotlight, and provided some indicators of where those changes might be leading.

Editor’s Note:

It is interesting to note Jack Ma’s (Alibaba) assertion that we need to completely change the approach to education. He implies that for centuries (millennia?) education has assumed that the acquisition of knowledge was the goal, after which such knowledge could be applied. Ma believes that we should leave that knowledge base to the AI systems. We should concentrate on the nurturing of the unique human characteristics of creativity, teamwork, communications skills. In other words we should be fostering the “soft” skills which present AIs can’t replicate. Melding those to the “just in time” knowledge which AIs can bring creates a whole new dynamic to the workplace. Does such a mindset fit future aviation training?

Published in CAT issue 1/2019