Dr. Bill Johnson, affectionately known in the civil aviation training industry as ‘Dr. Bill,’ took his Private Pilot check ride in 1966. “My instructor and check pilot, Delbert Koerner, received his from Orville Wright. 100% true story,” he says.
Dr. Bill is Chair of the Maintenance Training conference at the World Aviation Training Summit (WATS), organized by Halldale Group. This year’s event, the 25th WATS, will be held 18-20 April in Orlando.
Dr. Bill is the former FAA Chief Scientific and Technical Advisor for Human Factors in Aircraft Maintenance Systems, and is now CEO and Chief Scientist of drbillj.com. He has delivered hundreds of human factors speeches and classes in over 50 countries and has 500+ publications and media that serve as the basis for that continue to impact airworthiness training throughout the world.
CAT’s Robert W. Moorman spoke with Dr. Bill about his legendary career and the forthcoming 25th WATS.
CAT: In your long career with the FAA and other transport-related companies, as well as organizer of the WATS MTX conference, what remain as the most important issues affecting MTX?
Dr. Bill: Continuing to foster and evolve the safety culture within a maintenance organization is the most important issue. Twenty years ago, ‘safety culture’ was a loose term that has matured over time to where individuals may define their role in continuing safety.
CAT: Are there any issues for the maintenance sector that need to be discussed at WATS?
Dr. Bill: We’re losing experience. The average age of the [AMT] technician is going down. It’s important to dedicate a sufficient time to train technicians. AMTs require certification and extensive post-certification training.
The maintenance programs discussed at WATS are looking at better ways of applying technology for the delivery of the training and assessment of technical competence and culture. In a few presentations of the airworthiness stream, risk factors and attitudes that supersede technical knowledge and skill, we will have a speaker talk about resilience. Another speaker will talk about the proper use of following technical instructions.
CAT: It seems everyone is becoming involved in the eVTOL and eCTOL sector these days. CAE, FlightSafety and other training companies have signed agreements with OEMs for pilot training. Are they preparing enough maintenance training programs for eVTOL AMTs?
Dr. Bill: Schools, universities are stepping up to those training/education programs. The University of North Dakota has a whole program dedicated to that [eVTOL instruction]. A lot of the skills for engineering licenses in Europe and airframe and powerplant (A&P) in the US will require that knowledge and skill if they are working on newer manned and unmanned flight systems. Maintenance training programs at schools are evolving. The designers of these [eVTOL] aircraft are not necessarily the traditional designers of aircraft and support materials. These designers have a different level of understanding of the operators and maintainers than traditional aircraft builders had.
CAT: We keep hearing about the shortage of pilots and qualified AMTs seeking jobs at airlines or with business aircraft operators. I know this issue was addressed at WATS 2022. But could you give us an update on progress in this area?
Dr. Bill: We have one session at WATS 2023 – Next Generation Trainees and Training Methods, which will address the subject and what to do when we get the AMTs. Finding, hiring, assessing what skills they [new AMTs] bring to the job will be discussed. Which leads to another maintenance-related session: Competency-Based Training and Assessment (CBTA). How we design and deliver training, where we don’t have to start all over again, will be covered.
Dr. Bill’s final presentation at WATS 2023 is part of a panel session with Dr. Maggie Ma, a Technical Fellow at Boeing (pictured with Dr. Bill in Cologne, Germany) and Cengiz Turkoglu, Senior Lecturer and Compliance Manager, Cranfield University, UK. The panel will address ‘Evolution of Airworthiness Human Factors Training.’ “I will talk about the current status of training for FAA Airworthiness Inspectors. Dr. Ma will talk about the international human factors support that Boeing provides worldwide. And Mr. Turkoglu will speak about human factors activities mandated by EASA. We will all focus on how training topics are evolving.”
CAT: Would enhancing maintenance-related Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) help to reduce the shortage of AMTs?
Dr. Bill: AAR Corporation, which has an MRO in Oklahoma City and elsewhere, has a number of formal programs that provide internships between A&P schools and their company. Ryan Goertzen, VP of Workforce Development for AAR, and Crystal Maguire, Executive Director of the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC), are spearheading those programs.
CAT: What is the most innovative technology or methodology that has been developed for the AMT sector?
Dr. Bill: Low- to moderate-cost computer simulations that replicate the aircraft systems. FlightSafety and others use the technology within their own organizations and are selling it to schools, which deliver the training on affordable computers. One of our WATS sessions, ‘Development of Tools for Virtual Reality,’ deals with that subject. Affordable VR training is important.
CAT: What about training AMTs to work on composite-filled aircraft?
Dr. Bill: The schools are addressing composite education and repairs accordingly.
CAT: Airlines have beefed up or re-created their in-house pilot training academies. Is the same thing happening at local colleges and universities and schools for AMTs?
Dr. Bill: The quality of equipment at AMT schools has been evolving. Again, it might be tied to computerization, where so much can be simulated at a reasonable cost.
Above, Dr. Bill Johnson with the 2018 Flight Safety Foundation / Airbus Human Factors in Aviation Safety Award.
At right, checking out Virtual Reality training at American Airlines.
CAT: There is a philosophical debate on whether there is an AMT shortage. Is the shortage due, in part, to the low starting pay – particularly at non-union small airlines, business and general aviation aircraft maintenance operations?
Dr. Bill: Supply and demand dictates there should be a pay raise at all levels to get the mechanics. I think that is happening.
When fleets are grounded and flights are delayed, the value of qualified maintenance personnel will be increasingly appreciated. Salaries will rise accordingly.
CAT: What are your thoughts about foreign repair stations? AMT unions are against them for obvious reasons. Where are we on that thorny issue?
Dr. Bill: I think things have quieted down extensively, especially as people look at the skill and training requirements that EASA requires of technicians, even compared to FAA requirements for an A&P license. The regulations for what repair stations are able to hire and operate are as stringent in China as they are in the United States. I don’t think that is much of an issue anymore. Aviation maintenance is an international product that has to maintain a minimum standard of safety.
CAT: What are you most proud of in your career?
Dr. Bill: I worked for the FAA longer than any other company. I am proud of the website that FAA put together for aviation maintenance in the area of human factors. As I work on my presentations for this WATS, I went to that website and looked at all the materials that we made available to the industry. A lot of that human factors and safety work evolved from my work at Lufthansa and 13 years with Galaxy Scientific, a company that contracted with the FAA. Things we did way back when continue to contribute to education, safety and human factors.
I am also proud of the PEAR (People, Environment, Action and Resources) model, which I created with a colleague, Mike Maddox, in the 1990s. We were colleagues in the late 80's doing a lot of human factors work in the nuclear power industry. We started using PEAR in the mid-90s in an effort to take the "mystery" out of the HF topic.
The FAA, Lufthansa and others worldwide use PEAR as a way to think about human factors.
PEAR is about people – how they come to the job, their attitude, training, knowledge, fitness for duty. I continue to teach human factors for the FAA. Every aviation safety inspector takes a course in human factors. We start with PEAR and use it to look at all aspects of human factors.
The next area we explore is the environment in which they [AMTs] are working, which includes the physical, social and technical environments, and incorporates the safety culture and the relationship between labor and management.
Finally, we consider the resources needed to get the job completed, ranging from technical documentation, proper tooling, sufficient time and people to complete the task. PEAR lets you walk into any situation and start looking at human factors immediately.
CAT: What does the aviation industry (airlines, bizav, GA) need to do to attract AMT candidates, apart from offering better salaries?
Dr. Bill: Somehow the trade of becoming an AMT needs to change. This is a job that is worthy and attractive. That is happening. Aircraft (with or without pilots) will always need maintenance. It is a secure job. It is challenging and one can derive high job satisfaction and pride as one performs critical safety work for the world.
CAT: Any thoughts on your long association with WATS?
Dr. Bill: I respect the Halldale organizers of the event because they pull together the training audiences that are truly committed to discuss ways of improving training and sharing what they do with their training programs. The event provides the opportunity to meet new people and renew professional and personal relationships with people who have a shared interest and dedication to training. The delegates leave business competition aside and share ideas to promote industry-wide continuing safety and efficiency. Seasoned pros talking to other seasoned pros. I am fortunate to have done this for a very long time.
What I like about WATS and the other Halldale meetings is the overall constant professionalism of the speakers and the audience, the dedication of the speakers to deliver a quality presentation to their peers, the audience participation with excellent comments and questions. Also, seeing familiar faces of delegates, speakers, and personnel at the exhibits, and the quality of professional support from the Halldale staff, year after year.
CAT: Final comments?
Dr. Bill: I have been fortunate to work with excellent companies and organizations that have invested significant time and money on creating and supporting maintenance human factors. That includes Lufthansa Technical Training, FAA Flight Standards, the FAA Chief Scientific and Technical Advisor Program, the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, the DOT Transportation Safety Institute, as important examples.
Important colleagues include Dr. Katrina Avers at FAA, Mr. D Smith at the Transportation Safety Institute, Dr. William Rankin and Dr. Maggie Jiao Ma at Boeing, Dr. Michael Maddox from Search Technology, Mr. Klaus Schmidt-Klyk at Lufthansa Technik, Mr. John Goglia, the first A&P to receive a presidential appointment to NTSB, and a cast of hundreds from airlines, MROs, organized labor, the US Armed Forces, NASA...