I’ve always tried to apply the philosophy of what’s past is past, let’s deal with the future with the resources available to us.
It may not seem so as most of us self-isolate at home, avoiding friends and colleagues, while the global economy is also quarantined … but I think the next few years represent a window of opportunity for the aviation industry.
The consensus seems to be that it will take at least 2-3 years for the industry to fully recover once the pandemic is deemed to have eased and aviation restarts its engines. Air travel in 2023 may be quite different from what we knew in 2019: fewer airlines, fewer widebodies, curtailed routes to smaller markets.
Airlines will need to entice passengers back, and not just with low airfares. Similar to post-9/11 anti-terror measures, flyers will expect an abundance of assurances that airports are safe to transit through and aircraft (and fellow passengers) are satisfactorily sanitised. Configurations with fewer, and more comfortable, seats is a start; I’m certainly willing to pay more to reach my destination in a healthy condition. It’s also a good time for airlines to re-instill an attitude of customer service that seems to have been largely forgotten in recent years.
In the aviation training realm, this is an opportunity to finally jettison the baggage of training pilots the way they were developed 60 years ago. To eliminate prescriptive, hours-based, tick-the-box regulations and fully embrace performance-based training standards worldwide. We’ve been tinkering with CBT, EBT, MPL and other flavours of the month for the past couple of decades; what’s holding us back from implementing competency consistently?
As airline operations slowly ramp up, nearly every pilot, cabin crew member and maintenance technician will need to have their skills refreshed. Their recency re-qualification should be rigorous. They all must be at the top of their games. A recovering aviation industry cannot afford the MAX and MH370 kinds of tragedies that undermine public confidence in air travel.
Ab initio training is expected to struggle; with a surfeit of veteran pilots, there will be fewer requirements for new hire cadets for awhile. Yet, the industry needs fresh minds, and it takes at least two years to train a new First Officer. Is it time to re-evaluate the traditional ATO approach? And funding mechanisms?
While we’re at it, develop a robust Captain-development process, especially for younger, low-experienced candidates.
For technicians, perhaps the first change we should make is to get rid of the “maintenance” label. It has long carried a low-skill stigma that belies the largely high-tech engineering and systems knowledge that is required to keep new-gen aircraft humming in high ops tempos. We need a new persona to attract young people into this critical profession, together with engaging educational techniques.
Cabin crew have also lacked proper respect in view especially of the safety, medical and increasing unruly passenger situations they must deal with. Like hospital nurses, they are the underappreciated heroes of our community.
This is also an ideal opportunity to re-examine the training technology we use. And how emerging XR technologies might be effectively incorporated into the new curricula (including appropriate regulatory credits). If we’ve discovered anything during this virus lockdown, it’s that remote work and learning is eminently viable. So let’s take a hard, collaborative look at which components of aviation training can be migrated to point-of-demand tools in a performance-driven programme.
Now’s the time to innovate. Challenge the status quo. To finally get it right. We no longer have the inertia of breathlessly rushing to keep up with growth. We should not be bogged by politics and vested interests. We should demand the highest possible quality, and when the growth returns the industry will be prepared.
We cannot change the past. Though we should certainly learn from it. And we can change the future … if we truly want to.