In recognition that the pandemic is driving a major shift to more online instruction in aviation training, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has issued guidelines to National Competent Authorities (NCAs) for enabling and monitoring virtual classroom instruction and distance learning.

The emphasis on remote training, EASA cautions, is “for conducting theoretical parts of the training according to the applicable training program/syllabus … hands-on practical training should be conducted as per the applicable training program.”

The guidance applies to flight crew, cabin crew, air traffic controllers, and maintenance personnel for both modular and integrated courses.

“NCAs are encouraged to facilitate this change as much as possible,” the EASA document states.

A large section of the 10-page document focuses on virtual classroom instruction, which is defined as “a virtual environment, not physical location, where synchronous learning takes place.” EASA says that “face-to-face classroom instruction delivered by an instructor may be replaced by virtual classroom instruction, such as video conferencing, if an acceptable level of communication and interaction is ensured with appropriate equipment and tools.” However, there are no specific requirements for IT infrastructure, including such issues as user authentication and personal data protection.

The agency envisions student interaction and discussion. For example, “an active and simultaneous exchange between instructor and students,” including taking into account non-verbal communication cues such as tone of voice and facial expression. The instructor should create “opportunities for both independent learning and learning from one another,” guiding the students “in developing and practicing the skills they need.”

EASA suggests a maximum of 12 students in a virtual classroom.

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They also recommend “intensified oversight … in particular in the initial phase” by NCAs, including access to the virtual classrooms to sample the training.

Distance learning, which by nature is asynchronous, i.e. without real-time interaction, requires progress “to be more closely monitored. This can be done by additional (online) tests.” EASA also says, “the training provider should have an evaluation meeting with the students at the training centre.”

In pilot training, distance learning is applicable only in modular courses.

Before launching into remote/virtual instruction, training providers should use a change management procedure to update their training manuals.