Having observed the training and simulation community, both civil and military, for nearly 35 years, I am continually in awe of the imagination of the visionaries who conceive the technology innovations which push the envelope of training and, ultimately, safety in aviation. Yet, despite the magic we have witnessed in recent decades, especially in real-world visual image generation, my sense is that we are now on the cusp of the best of times for truly understanding how different individuals learn and how to adapt training to their style for whatever professional aviation role they choose.
CBT, EBT, IBT. Virtual, augmented, mixed and other X-realities. Data analytics. Machine learning and artificial intelligence. The return of supersonic flight. Electric-powered aircraft. Autonomous ‘flying cars.’ Performance-based navigation. Satellite-based tracking. Biofuels. Airport security transformation. A fascinating array of emerging and maturing technologies to enhance air travel and associated ground logistics.
Some of the new technologies, such as VR, appear to have a relatively low cost of entry into the training arena, especially compared to traditional multi-million-dollar full-flight simulators. This is a positive development, attracting new talent with fresh perspectives to our community, challenging incumbents to raise their own game. The XR applications will improve beyond the early adopter stage and eventually find their own level in the training scheme, just as flight training devices, computer-based training, and other elements of the suite.
With the relentless growth of passenger travel, this is a very good time indeed to be in the training school, training equipment, or training software business. The community cannot seem to churn out new pilots and maintenance technicians fast enough to meet demand. It’s a new golden age for aviation – with even doctors and lawyers enrolling in flight schools as salaries in the cockpit continue to climb.
There may only be a couple of factors, aside from the next global financial crisis, which could curtail the forecasted growth in aviation. One is that the training community may not have the capacity to ramp up to the level of demand … while maintaining and even improving the quality of graduates. Delivering the numbers without the requisite quality is decidedly not the answer, as weakness will manifest in poor decision skills, whether in the air or on the ground, and mistakes will lead to incidents, accidents, and loss of passenger confidence.
At the moment, the public’s faith in commercial aviation is a bit shaken by the MAX factor. Serious questions have been raised about the regulatory certification process, the aircraft design, and the level of differences training required. This is not just a Boeing or FAA problem, though they are at the epicenter. Doubts about one manufacturer or aircraft type foster doubts about other OEMs, other types. Accusations against one regulator reverberate to other authorities. Concerns for one training procedure stimulate questions about the entire training regimen. Is the industry managed properly? Or are corners cut?
As FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell told the community of training professionals at WATS, “a rush to judgment is unfruitful … in aviation, patience prevails.” But in this age of social media, instant indictments abound, fueled by false information and thousands of self-styled subject experts.
At the end of the investigation, whether weeks or more likely months, it will be the professional pilots who determine the fate of this or any other aircraft. The men and women on the flight deck have a vested interest in safety beyond the corporate bottom line, and if they are satisfied with the fixes … and the training to deal with this new black swan … their confidence will redound to the business people, families and empty-nest retirees in the tethered cabins.
Elwell reminded us how incredibly safe commercial aviation has been in recent years. Now we’re in re-set. If the golden times are to continue, we all need to be sure we set it aright.
Rick Adams, CAT Editor
Published in CAT issue 3/2019