The 2019 Edition of the World Aviation Training Summit was described by many attendees as “the best ever.” CAT’s Editorial Team chronicles the highlights.

WATS 2019 Conference Chair Chris Lehman, Editor of The Journal of Civil Aviation Training (CAT) magazine for 20 years, invoked a member of the ‘Greatest Generation’ – his father – in defining the term professional: “someone who always does the right thing, regardless of whether anyone is looking.”

“For me,” he explained, “it means a constant and never-ending drive to use every tool at our disposal, every piece of data, every applicable research finding, every appropriate technology, and every ounce of curiosity to build the skills, resilience and overall human performance that we need and rely upon.”

Understanding the human equation is the most critical component, Lehman noted: “Human beings are not machines, and on occasions when they don’t give us all the performance we seek, the blame is never theirs alone. If there’s an industry that understands this, it should be this one.”

The conference was shadowed by the investigation into two recent fatal crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, and, to his professional credit, Daniel K. Elwell, Acting Administrator of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), did not shirk from addressing the elephant in the room. In a keynote address, Elwell declared the loss of life “an unspeakable tragedy,” and stated: “We will not reinstate the aircraft until we have the data that provides it is safe to do so and we have reviewed all evidence.” He cautioned that the inquiry could take a year or more. “A rush to judgment is unfruitful, and does not remedy the actual cause,” Elwell cautioned, adding, “In aviation, patience prevails.” Elwell said, “The process does not and cannot rely on hunches.”

Many attendees remarked that the 22nd cache was “the best WATS ever.” From Administrator Elwell’s keynote … to discussion-provoking panels ranging from air carrier best practices to concerns about hard landings … to the specialized streams addressing unique regional airline pilot, maintenance technician and cabin crew topics … to an exhibit hall with an array of emerging technology demos (many featuring virtual and other “realities”), WATS 2019 was start-to-finish and wall-to-wall full of informative, in-depth insight into the challenges facing the airline industry training today – with plenty of innovative solutions on offer.

Nearly 80 speakers and panelists addressed variations on the WATS 2019 theme, “Identifying and Promoting Professionalism in Aviation Training and Operations,” absorbed by more then 1,100 registered attendees representing more than 100 international airlines. Over 70 exhibitors, led by Diamond Sponsor CAE, Gold Sponsor TRU Simulation + Training, Silver Sponsors FlightSafety International and Pelesys, and Bronze Sponsors Alsim and Jetpubs, offered a widening range of training technologies and management tools geared to addressing the increasing demand for high-quality aviation training.

This report, within the confines of a print publication, can only touch on a few of the high points.

World Airline Pilot Training Track

In the “opening act” session, Daniel Serfaty quickly got attendees’ attentions when he predicted,“In about 15 years … your job will probably be drastically different than the one you perform today.” Jobs will change – eliminated, replaced, transformed. He noted that for a software engineer today, 18 months after graduation, his or her knowledge “is obsolete unless you find a way to reflect that knowledge.” The CEO and principal founder of Aptima observed that we’re in the “third wave” of artificial intelligence, which has huge implications for human performance, including the challenge of designing the system when the system is changing beyond the parameters it was designed for. Serfaty complimented the civil aviation sector for its efforts in performance measurement, “which are better, in aggregation, than any other industry I know, with the healthcare industry being about 30 years behind you in this process, and other industries are trailing further behind.”               

Capt. David Owens, global head of standards at CAE, asserted in Developing Better Pilots, Faster that the availability of more real-time data from simulators and other sources to build new, innovative training sessions is “tied to the real issues for an individual pilot, for what I am starting to call IBT (individual based training) – your pilot, your history.” He noted that individuals “learn in different ways, have different values and ambitions, and insist on being treated as individuals – they want individual work, individual training sessions, individual feedback and individual events. Owens offered another theme that would be repeated through the conference: that training data should belong to the student, so the history stays with the student and is objectively used through their continua of learning, from cadet through instructor.

Karen Moore, managing director and principal occupational psychologist at Symbiotics, broadened delegates’ insights with Selecting for Resilience Then Maintaining Mental Well Being – Keeping the “Right Stuff.”  More rigorous and proactive actions were suggested for this area of wellness among the aircrew cohort, including colleagues, supervisors and others: regularly looking for those areas of stress and other negative factors a person can encounter; helping to minimize the factors; and doing better to support the individual to keep him or her functioning effectively. “We need to know how people are feeling regularly – not once in their career, or as they change jobs or other milestone, so we can help those people who need it and get help at the time they need it,” Moore concluded. 

Steve Smith, product director for MissionFit, FlightSafety International, and Jennifer Birdsong, director, Advanced Learning Technology & Development, reviewed the Colgan disaster through the prism of the conscious and subconscious brain. “It is easy to believe that they ‘spiked’ in their stress level – their conscious brain was simply overwhelmed on what was going on in the cockpit, and their conscious brain was not performing on a whole level, it was at the bottom of its performance.” As for the subconscious brain, pilots for this aircraft model were not required to practice what to do in a stall – so they did not have the muscle memory on what to do in that condition.

Capt. Laura Lucas-Hines of Delta Airlines provided a compelling reason to change instructional strategies with Committing to Video – Engaging Today’s Pilot. Individuals, she noted, process imagery about 60,000 times faster than text, and retain 75-90% of that content as opposed to about 10% of reading text. Delta’s e-Brief training videos, produced by Atlanta-based DVI Group, “allow us to provide a solid reference material tool that our pilots can use anytime, anywhere – before or after the simulator, before a check ride, or even on the line if they want to freshen one of those skills,” she noted.

Staying Alive: Teaching Angle-of-Attack Management” was the topic co-presented by Capt. Suheil Abumariam, Gulf Air, and Dr. Sunjoo Advani of IDT. DeclaringAoA a safety-critical parameter, they emphasized that angle of attack is not the same as pitch attitude. (For more on AoA and upset prevention and recovery training, see our UPRT special section in this issue of CAT.)     

Capt. Mike McCasky, managing director of Flight Training at United, said that, by 2039, United will retire every pilot on its seniority list, creating yet more opportunities for a new aviation career, not only being initially hired, but entering the selection gate for captain and other positions of responsibility at earlier points.

United’s short list of desirable attributes and skills it is seeking in its new pilots:

  • Strong decision-making skills,
  • Safety focus,
  • Dependability,
  • Integrity,
  • Professionalism,
  • Team work,
  • Ambition / learning approach.

In the special panel on hard landings and unstable approaches, Dr. Advani, related that an insurance company for the civil aviation sector solicited his comments about a “slight uptick, a slight increase” in claims resulting from airframe damage incurred from hard landings. Based on a survey to which 25 airlines responded, he concluded, “We can’t really draw conclusions from this. But the fact the respondents said they have issues of unstable approaches and hard landings is giving us some insight – there is something going on.”

Dr. Jeremy Goodman, Product Lead SATCE at the Quadrant Group and Dennis Hartley, Principal Systems Engineer at Collins Aerospace,led off the final day of WATS with Realizing an Active Airport Environment - SATCE and Visual Systems. SATCE’s (Simulated ATC Environment) technology underpinnings include speech recognition, AI, visuals and others, merged to raise the level of complexity in the simulator to match the complexity of real-world operations. “This is about providing the crew with as realistic environment – real-world complexities – as we can, because this is where they best learn their core competencies,”

With the whimsical topic title of How to Be Better in Bed, Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist known as “The Sleep Doctor,” and Jetpubs director of standards Wally Hines addressed reducing fatigue among pilots, which is “not just an inconvenience to crew scheduling … it’s a safety of flight issue.” NASA reports that pilot fatigue is the cause of 15-20% of all accidents. Dr. Breus discussed caffeine management – “caffeine can be your friend; it can also be your enemy” – as well as meal planning and fighting in-flight fatigue.

Regional Airline Pilot Training Track

The Regional Airline Training Track of WATS 2019 again broke attendance records. Leading the track was Capt. Paul Preidecker, chief flight instructor for Air Wisconsin.

Vin Parker and Bill Whyte of Compass Airlines expanded the professionalism theme by describing how that concept will be applied to that airline’s improved version of the advanced qualification program (AQP). Compass will identify, define, and incorporate key behavioral analysis into its AQP, with elements of professionalism, pilot monitoring and expanded situational awareness as elements.

Participants also voiced inquiries about an alternative to one-time pilot personality assessments that will be required by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). This new approach was presented by aviation psychologist Paul Harris and Capt. Shem Malmquist as a means for pilots to learn how to improve their performance through gaining a better understanding of their personality.

The FAA’s Rob Burke provided his annual summary of the latest developments concerning the agency’s various rulemaking actions, while Barbara Adams provided an update on the FAA’sATP Airman Certification Standards and upcoming release of the Airman Certification Standards for the ATP certificate.

Cabin Crew Training Track

The cabin crew training stream was organised and moderated by Jeanne and Alan LaVoy, who were joined by Dan Duren, learning consultant at Southwest Airlines University.

David Jones, Quantified Design and Roger Low, American Airlines, led the audience through the benefits of virtual reality training, and how American has incorporated VR into its training programme, while simultaneously having a non-cabin crew member of the audience learning how to successfully operate an aircraft door using VR; within 20 minutes she’d mastered it.

In an interactive workshop, Doug Harward, founder and CEO of Training Industry, highlighted trends in corporate learning and adapting frameworks to modern learning systems. He said the focus needs to shift from blended learning to blended experiences for effective learning.

A workshop led by Terry Whitaker from BlessingWhite, a division of GP Strategies, looked at developing personal and organisational competence in engaging a multi-generational team. The key is understanding each generation’s strengths, areas of expectation and similarities between the generations.

Maintenance Training Track

The five maintenance stream sessions focused on factors close to the heart of the MTX community. Organized and moderated by the inestimable Dr. Bill Johnson, FAA, the sessions examined production and recruiting, retention, and some training and education methods.

The competition for technicians is intense, the numbers needed are increasing, the workforce is maturing, and the recruiting base is decreasing. Christian Delmas, Airbus, noted that worldwide more than 500,000 new mechanics will be required over the next 20 years, over 130,000 in the Americas alone. “The demand is increasing, the supply isn’t.”  The training challenge is made more complex by new aircraft technologies, the continuing need for safe and reliable maintenance operations, and need for adaptation to new training technologies.

Crystal Maguire, CEO of the Aviation Technical Education Council, cited their 2018 Pipeline Report that mechanics continue to retire faster than they are being replaced, projecting a population decrease of 5% in the next 15 years. Currently new entrants make up 2% of the population annually; 30% of the workforce is at or near retirement age. Clearly there is a need to increase enrollment in AMT schools.

The consensus is that the solution to workforce development lies in a systems approach to the problem of mechanic shortages that makes aviation mechanic a desirable career choice and encourages retention.

Ryan Goertzen described the AAR Corp EAGLE Pathways program to recruit, develop and grow the technical workforce by partnering with educational institutions and enabling career progression using stackable credentials. EAGLE describes the five core values: Ethics, Airworthiness, Greatness, Leadership, and Engagement.

Published in CAT issue 3/2019