The recently merged L3Harris is expanding its airline training capacity, but with an emphasis on quality and attracting more women to the cockpit. Chris Long attended the fete.

Alan Crawford, President of L3Harris Commercial Aviation, and Robin Glover-Faure, President of L3Harris Commercial Training Solutions (CTS), were clearly delighted to welcome both HRH the Prince of Wales and Baroness Vere of Norbiton, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, to a new training and manufacturing megacentre close to Gatwick airport, which Crawford described as a "flagship training experience for our airline customers”.

Some 15 airlines (easyJet, Icelandic WOW, and Norwegian among them) are already using the RealitySeven Airbus A320neo, A330, and Boeing 737NGs simulators in the eight-bay centre. (A 737MAX is awaiting regulatory approval, for which there is no rush.) An adjacent 30-FFS-per year manufacturing facility at Crawley Manor Royal industrial estate will supplant space L3 has leased from Thales.

Behind the fanfare, the reality is that the demand for training has increased so much that an increase in global training capacity is required. Colin Rydon, Vice President of Training at CTS, stresses that, whilst the US$100 million investment in this impressive new training centre clearly demonstrates commitment to increasing the annual throughput of pilots, it is only one of the additional training centres L3Harris are opening, including an ATO at Cranfield and the expansion of the Arlington, Texas, training centre.

Growth with Quality, Diversity

The focus, though, is on maintaining quality rather than exclusively looking to build numbers. Key to that is recruiting and retaining good instructors, and realistic compensation packages and, perhaps, flexible working arrangements.

It is a fact of life that airlines see an uneven quality of training from a significant number of the global training facilities and can’t afford to fund the extra training to compensate for poor initial training.

Glover-Faure sees a future which embraces the use of AI, using the huge amounts of data presently being gathered to devise better ways of training pilots. That data can be sourced directly from the FFSs and from the immediate debrief after a training session, but also to build up an understanding of collective and individual training preferences and effectiveness.

After the opening ceremony he took the initiative to have a roundtable discussion to address the issue of diversity. Two key elements of that were to trigger debate on how to attract one half of the population (women) to the industry; the other was to discuss what funding mechanisms could be created to facilitate the entry of those from less-well-off parts of society, where people who potentially have the latent skills necessary for the role find a financial barrier.  

Both Jo Hjalmas, Head of UK Airline Academy based at Bournemouth, and Hannah Kirkham, a recently qualified commercial pilot, expressed the view that the industry is still a male-dominated arena; the lamentable figure of only about 6% of the pilot workforce being female really must be addressed.

David Morgan, COO of easyJet, pointed out that all the current female pilots of the world would fit into an A380 – a surprising (and shocking!) statistic.  He was able to report that the recruiting levels of their new cadets is presently 18% female, so they are well on the way to the target of at least 20% by 2020. The easyJet model of success in recruiting is largely due to considerable effort in getting out to schools to present the option of a career as a pilot. Another avenue to the wider public was through a series of documentaries which seems to have triggered interest in a population not used to considering the career. This should possibly encourage other airlines to make that level of commitment and engagement with youngsters, even those from a very early age.

At the London opening, L3Harris announced the first two recipients of 10 planned female-only scholarships to its ATP programme. Glover-Faure remarked they had been "overwhelmed" with applications.

The thorny question of funding the (expensive) training is still challenging. Jade Harford, Head of Aviation Skills and Diversity at the UK Department of Transport, said there is ongoing discussion with other stakeholders to explore funding options. It is a difficult challenge – both government and airlines have very tight spending constraints, so there needs to be some original thinking to plot the way forward.

The Evolution to L3Harris

CTS tucks into the Aviation Systems business segment of the L3Harris Technologies “merger of equals,” now the sixth-largest aerospace and defense conglomerate. Aviation Systems includes defense aviation products; security, detection and other commercial aviation products; air traffic management; and commercial and military pilot training, and is based in the Dallas/Fort Worth suburb of Arlington.

CTS assembles the legacy simulator manufacturing business of Thales (previously Thomson Training & Simulation, born as Rediffusion and Singer Link-Miles), flight training school CTC, acquired in 2015, the G Air Training Centre – now the European Airline Academy at Ponte de Sor Airport, Portugal (2016), and US FTD manufacturer Aerosim (2017).

Published in CAT issue 4/2019