In collaboration with EASA, Halldale Group recently hosted a Heads of Training (HoT) interactive online workshop with about 40 leaders from airlines, aviation training organisations, and academia. EATS Chair Capt. Jacques Drappier provides a summary of the workshop’s highlights.

The HoT meeting has been an annual staple prior to Halldale’s European Airline Training Symposium (EATS), and is typically one of the most robust, no-holds-barred discussions of the year. Last year, of course, the live EATS event could not be held, and as a consequence, neither could the in-person HoT meeting.

Many airline and ATO training leaders had expressed interest in holding such a forum virtually to engage in discussions on topics of vital and timely interest to the training community.

The Five Hottest Topics

Based on a pre-workshop survey, five topics were identified for discussion: Skill Decay, EBT, UPRT, XR/VR, and Big Data. Five industry subject matter experts acted as moderators for the event, rotating among the virtual break-out ‘rooms’ to engage the views of several participants in each room.

Here are summaries of each of the topics discussed:

Skill Decay: Moderator – Capt. Tanya Harter

Skill decay has become an issue during the pandemic and the restart of airline operations. Numerous reports reference pilots making errors that were relatively uncommon in everyday operations pre-pandemic.

The discussion group mentioned a variety of skills that are affected: hand/eye skills, language skills, radio skills, procedural skills. And not only concerning pilots, but other aviation professionals as well such as technical or ground handling.

Lack of practice is, of course, the apparent cause, but other elements are contributing factors. One of these often overlooked is changes in procedures where pre-pandemic changes were not deeply stabilized in pilots’ minds, adding to the confusion when a pilot comes back after a prolonged interruption.

Mental health is also increasingly a problem with fear of job loss, personal financial issues, and health concerns among the top causes. These issues can become apparent in the cockpit as errors in operations.

What might be remedies for these issues? Training in all formats or devices is the answer: line training in the simulator, more sim sessions, keeping pilots current even when not actively flying, using virtual tools for training, keeping pilots together within the company.

Capt. Harter is active on the A320 and is Board Director, Technical Affairs for ECA.

EBT: Moderator – Frederik Mohrmann

The first draft of the EBT manual was released several years ago, and one might think that most airlines have the situation well under control. However, our survey showed that this still is the number one topic of interest for two-thirds of the HoT participants.

Mohrmann, who is the EBT Programme Manager at the Royal Netherlands Aerospace Centre NLR, ascertained multiple axes in the discussion.

One main question: is there too much guidance in the EBT world? With EASA leading the industry in setting safe frameworks for EBT, some fear that it may become very complicated and overly prescriptive, with the risk of falling into the old trap of rigid, compliance-based training instead of performance-based (competency) training. The introduction of CBTA/EBT will therefore perhaps imply significant changes in the way oversight is done (e.g., performance-based oversight principles), to mitigate such a devolution of CBTA principles.

For some countries, cultural background may undermine grading and effective feedback. The solution here might be to accept a prescriptive CBTA initially, and slowly shift to a performance-based program as experience and confidence grows (similar to the mixed-EBT approach).

EBT for small operators is another issue. Does it make sense to go through the heavy paperwork for an operator with only two or five airplanes? While it may seem attractive to keep it simple, it might be better to make an effort at the beginning instead of fixing problems later, especially when it comes to implementing core principles of CBTA and performance-based training.

Academies are, contrary to airlines, looking for more guidance in CBTA, especially in the realm of practical flight training. It is expected that this guidance will be developed as experience from recurrent (EBT) training trickles down to ab initio and type-rating training.

Finally, the group discussions also identified an opportunity for training device manufacturers to develop instructor operating stations (IOS) adapted to CBTA/EBT training and scenarios, facilitating the integration of dynamic, competency-based syllabi into the IOS.

Overall, much work still to be done: ensure EBT fundamentals remain understood and in place in expanding regulations, find solutions for small operators, adapt simulators to better assist instructors in CBTA, and close the gaps In the training pipeline running from ATOs to airline operators.

UPRT: Moderator - Dr. Sunjoo Advani

We have discussed Upset Prevention and Recovery Training in working groups and conferences for more than a decade. One would think that since the implementation phase is active and most authorities have mandated UPRT, there would be little interest in further discussion. Nonetheless, based on the survey for the HoT meeting, UPRT is indeed an area with implementation challenges, and sometimes unintended shortcomings, in applying the regulations.

Dr. Advani, President of IDT and former chair of the ICATEE working group that drafted the UPRT regulation, looked for answers within his HoT groups.

The first question is finding the right balance between compliance and competency. The sometimes complex and exhaustive regulatory requirements can be so confusing for some that the training quality suffers. It appears to be challenging to some to develop a compliant programme while also providing meaningful training. There must be enough time to train both basic skills as well as realistic scenarios, which in fact validate the basics.

The on-aircraft training requirements remain a complex subject for ATOs. Finding suitable aircraft, qualified instructors, and understanding the various authorities' needs can make it difficult. Instructor qualifications are paramount!

UPRT is ongoing training, not a one-shot effort. Academics are the basis, and the programmes should focus on prevention first, but also devote enough time to recoveries. Upsets are rare, but their startle-effect can rapidly escalate the pilot’s stress levels. Instructor training is key to success, and instructors should adapt training to individual needs. Take the necessary time to get it right, or it is time wasted!

"Regulations are more like a shopping list of approved ingredients. Ultimately, an operator must prepare the meal for the pilots through qualified chefs (instructors); authorities must ensure proper nutrition and avoid food poisoning. The 'poisoning' refers to 'negative training transfer', and it should be in everyone's best interest to avoid it." – Dr. Advani.

XR/VR: Moderator – Mark Dransfield

What of all this fancy technology, and how can we use it in aviation training?

A partner at SimOps and a world expert in training devices, Dransfield guided the XR/VR discussion.

VR/AR/MR/XR are coming on strong and starting to have a presence in training, but there seems to be no clear direction in pilot training application. It is used to good effect in cabin crew and maintenance training sectors, it seems, but the cost/benefit potential in pilot training is not well understood or agreed upon. However, the desire to do more training more frequently, and avoid travel restrictions by training at home/remotely, are driving factors rather than the technology itself.

It is acknowledged that VR/AR and similar digital technologies are what Gen Y millennials (currently 25-40 years old), Gen Z (born 1997-2015) and future generations of pilots expect to use in training. A far more readily available and easier immersive approach (without getting into an FFS) can be linked to competency-based training and perhaps even big data.

In 10 years, the heads of training expect to see the inclusion of VR/AR and even AI as the new normal in pilot training... and we should embrace it accordingly. But it is not clear how we will get there as an industry... the cost and operational benefits will need to be understood. Some people see no cost-benefit, see it as a threat to the FFS, and are indeed wary of embracing such concepts in the current climate.

The Task-to-Tool approach (of ICAO Doc 9625 Edition 4 and the new EASA FSTD NPA) is vital. Some are worried that this is another case of finding some training to fit the latest technology boom rather than the other way around.

Ab initio and airline training may drive the use of VR/AR very differently.

The instructors (where relevant) and how they will interface in a VR training environment with one or even two trainees is a significant unknown. This role merits further discussion on virtual instructors and virtual instruction.

Finally, applicable regulation must be agile and light. The rules from FSTD qualification to FCL accreditation must be quick to respond with the adoption of the technology into training and will drive the industry forward… industry can't afford to wait the usual five years minimum for the regulations to catch up with the technology!

Big Data: Moderator - Capt. Chris Ranganathan

The Chief Learning Officer of CAE centred the discussion around key questions.

How confident are we in the quality of training data?

It is clear there is a lot of training data available, but using data comes with some strings. Culture is one of them: data need to be culturally normalised. In international training, the interpretation of a western instructor vs. a non-western trainee might create doubtful data.

Accurate analysis of this large dataset is another issue: interpreting data costs money.

Training of good instructors to ensure quality of reports is also time- and money-consuming. Not spending enough on instructor training or data analysis could create false insights with unintended consequences. We also need to consider how we measure the effectiveness of training by looking to connect operations data with that from training.

What have we learned from all this data, and what have we changed because of it?

With one or two exceptions, most operators have not used training data to its full potential. Unless there is an organisation behind the data to connect operations and training, and convert it into action, it is as any tool: only as good as the operator. The inclusion of training data (from instructors and simulator telemetry) in the scope of the EASA “Data4Safety” (D4S) initiative, is seen as an opportunity to add another dimension to the project’s goal of establishing a more predictive safety system.

Outsourcing data analysis was discussed from different angles; it seems that, for the moment, this is not yet widely considered.

Finally, there was discussion around the relationship between data from selection and initial licensing through to airline type-rating and recurrent training. Interesting, but for the moment not readily possible, and there is no single tool available. Further, cadets coming out of an academy go to various airlines, and it is not always possible to get the data back from those airlines. And who should assemble the multiple data and analyse? Academy or airline?

Next Steps

“I very much appreciated the opportunity to listen to other views to in effect benchmark what we are doing here,” commented one participant in post-workshop feedback.

The two-hour HoT workshop with industry experts and authorities highlighted several issues. A good start given the limited amount of time for discussion. “Each topic could have filled a day easily”, remarked another participant. “Needed more time on some subjects… I would have preferred longer sessions with slightly larger groups”, another echoed.

So Now What?

Halldale Group President and CEO Andy Smith proposes deeper discussions on each of these topics, a working group approach if you will, incorporating by stages broader participation from the aviation training community – to analyse the current situation and produce recommended guidance for airlines and ATOs to better address each of these issues.

We will be reaching out to the HoT participants and their colleagues for feedback on the best way to proceed.

Halldale and CAT magazine will also be addressing each of these topics in depth in the coming months, so we invite organisations and subject experts interested in providing examples, case studies, concerns, and especially best practice solutions. Please contact CAT Editor Rick Adams at