With more than 60 years of experience, LAT is one of the most respected airline training organisations in the world. CAT’s Chris Long offers a first-hand look at their latest innovations in pilot and cabin crew training.
What surprises with Lufthansa Aviation Training (LAT) is the realisation of the considerable scale of this organisation. There are 55 FFSs (22 of them in Frankfurt; further training centres are in Berlin, Zurich, Vienna, Munich and near Essen), 12 FNPTs and 11 flat-panel trainers which together cover 15 current aircraft types. With more than 21 emergency simulators, 26 door trainers, and multiple fire/first aid training modules, it rapidly becomes obvious that this training operation is not of ordinary size.
Initially and primarily tasked as an enabler for Lufthansa airline, the capability (50%) is now extended to include some 250 airline customers. With 12 training locations, over 700 instructors and 1,000 employees deployed in Germany, Switzerland and the USA, and from a business perspective an adjusted EBIT for 2018 of 27 million Euros, LAT can certainly be classed as a major player.
That build up did not happen overnight – it is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group, formed in 2017 after the merger of Lufthansa Flight Training and Swiss Aviation Training. There are three business units, comprising the European Flight Academy, which covers Lufthansa Group’s schools in Germany, Switzerland and those in Vero Beach, Florida and Goodyear near Phoenix, Arizona, responsible for ab initio pilot training. The Pilot Training unit delivers further flight training, both for the group and for third-party airlines, and the Safety and Service Training caters for cabin crew and flight crew, with joint training in First Aid, Human Factors/CRM and Security training.
That illustrates the scale, but the intangible and critical benchmark of quality largely rests on the historic thoroughness and reputation established over 60 years. Jörg Schönfeld, Head of Training, is very well aware that maintaining such a track record requires continuous work in progress, and the selection and training of the instructional team is fundamental to that goal.
All instructors are selected from volunteers who have considerable operational experience, many drawn directly from the parent airlines. Another key element is the serviceability rate of the equipment, and by having its own in-house and highly trained simulator engineers, they succeed in maintaining an extremely credible serviceability rate of more than 99% – a figure that many training providers would love to have. This measures approximately 267,000 FFS hours in 2018, including 40,000 hours of “wet” training for other customers.
Arne Rohwer, Chief Instructor Airbus, is keen to stress that the syllabi are framed by mandatory compliance to the manufacturers’ Operational Suitability Data (OSD), with the approvals under EASA alongside any additional requirements set by the NAAs. LAT is constantly monitoring trends in the world of learning and development and continues to build a database of potential service providers with helpful technologies and approaches. And when the time is right, “We also dive into new possibilities like we did with our newly introduced virtual reality solution. In the field of Safety and Service training, we now train over 100 learners per week in our VR-Hubs in Frankfurt and Munich.”
Quicker Learning Processes
Schönfeld clarifies: because learnable data is rapidly changing in many subject fields, the production process for the development of training media and sessions needs to be quicker. Learners now place higher demands on training units and personnel, as well as in the choice of the media and technologies involved.
Waiting for information when it is needed is not an option anymore, nor is having to ask for it. Users want to control a learning process that is as smooth as possible. Hence, the design of training needs to focus even more strongly on the learner. This means that competency and evidence-based training must make use of actual field-related data. This sidesteps the organizational process that usually orders the production of a training design and its delivery.
There are three key aspects to change digitalization of training:
- speed in training design,
- production and delivery, and
- a reassessment of the functional roles of training providers and departments.
One approach currently being examined is the use of adaptive learning systems instead of “classic” web-based training in self-study modules. It is early days yet to properly assess the long-term effects of these changes to the training paradigm, but “we do expect positive effects,” Schönfeld noted.
Accessing information “just in time” is not an option for the line pilot. It is still essential to recognise that, at the end of the day, a pilot must be able to do everything to make air transport safe and efficient. This means that he/she must be competent in the function of the systems and the correct procedures, but also be able to transfer those learned procedures to the cockpit and use them in the day-to-day operation. The learning pattern will include self-learning phases and simulator training as well as classroom training. The role of the training provider is to ensure that these different training phases interlock, administer the platforms for web-based training, book the simulator sessions and provide suitable and qualified trainers and mentors.
In the future, the aim will be to link information and learning content even more closely and to fully exploit digital possibilities in the form of mobile learning content, personalised training paths and social learning offerings.
As a provider of aviation training mainly for AOCs, LAT possesses the knowledge of training design, the flow of training and, of course, the active training itself, as well as the necessary structures to facilitate training on high-tech training devices and infrastructure.
Applying Current VR
Frequently new technology is fascinating but has to go looking for a job. That is not the case for virtual reality. Very quickly after the gamers had initiated and embraced it, the aviation industry started to identify areas in which it could be employed, and training was an obvious start point.
Marc Langsteiner, Head of Product Management at LAT, notes that Lufthansa rapidly saw that it was an excellent solution for cabin crew training, specifically for the Aircraft Security Search training (ASS) during recurrent training. The two ASS alternatives, training on the real aircraft or the mock-up, were not the best options. First, pulling an aircraft off the line in either Munich or Frankfurt in order to complete that ASS task, with all the associated costs, is expensive. Second, mock-ups were not considered as adequate – they tend to have a generic cabin layout, and the regulations specify that the training must be carried out on a platform that replicates the current fleet. During the training, one instructor worked with up to 18 trainees, so there was little individual coaching on a real aircraft or mock-up. With over 20,000 cabin crew, a better system was needed.
Serious research and planning were essential – it has been widely accepted that the normal human tolerance for playing/working in a VR environment is on the order of 20 minutes. Go much beyond that timeframe with the present state of the art, and there can be either loss of balance/instability or headaches. No training value at that stage. Once that was recognised, however, the advantages rapidly mount up. Not only can routine tasks, such as the inspection of the cabin for any security threats, be carried out well within the 20 minutes, but by transferring gaming logic, with either time constraints or increasing levels of difficulty, the whole experience can be both effective in training and an enjoyable experience. Equally importantly, the digitisation of training facilitates individual pace and emphasis, so not only is it fun, but it is much more effective than legacy processes. Many trainees don’t want to stop when the session is complete!
There are now nine single-person sized booths – constructed so that someone moving about won’t fall over or hurt themselves – in both Frankfurt and Munich. The training has to be suitable for a team who are aged anywhere between 20 and 60, so clever physical and software design has to appeal to all. The goal was to make the VR technology as invisible as possible for the user, and the training itself to remain the primary focus. A solution for that is the Virtual Interactive Assistant (VIA) which leads the trainee through the session, repeating or explaining to the individual as required. VIA also now allows a single instructor to deliver individual (and therefore better) training to up to nine trainees at the same time (and up to 18 trainees in one VR-Hub session). Another major impact is, of course, the reduction in costs – estimated to be 70% in comparison to the training on the real aircraft. That is a significant sum across the total number of trainees.
About 8,000 trainees have already been through the system.
The next question, of course, is what next? Langsteiner is looking at other cabin training options, as well as considering how pilot training could benefit from this. Yes, the segments will still need to be limited to 20 minutes for the present time, but tasks such as the walk-around and initial cockpit checks are well suited to the use of VR.
The future use of haptics and innovation such as the Varjo devices, which enable a “zoom” function to allow precise reading of figures and indications, which will help pilots to integrate display information into their actions, may be the way forward. As the technology advances it is highly likely that the useful timeframe will expand, and with the foundations established it is entirely credible that much more training in this style will become available.
The scale of LAT is impressive, but the continuous search for the best ways to improve learning and the quest for effective new technologies seems to be in the DNA, and the indications are that the ongoing process will maintain that quality. In the meantime, Schönfeld oversees the daily throughput at Frankfurt as some 200 pilots a day undertake various forms of training, joined by 1,000 other trainees – a very impressive number.
Published in CAT issuse 5/2019