Having taken a few days to think it through, my impression is that this year’s WATS may have marked an inflection point in US airline training, especially for pilots.

The April 26 announcement of a bipartisan congressional bill to fund flight training and a call from two former FAA Administrators that same day to overhaul flight training seem to confirm that feeling.

The pilot shortage, perhaps better called a ‘personnel shortage’ given that vacancies exist all over the industry, had won acceptance from all objective viewers by 2018 and 2019, when the first airline cadet programs were announced. Of course, the pandemic stopped everything, though we saw technology developments, especially AI and XR, accelerate. 

This year’s opening session at WATS, featuring Dr. Daniel Serfaty’s keynote call for ‘personalised learning,’ and a panel discussion by leading airlines and aircraft manufacturers, not only expanded on progress of now widespread cadet schemes but also emphasized that airlines are moving quickly ahead with new training techniques and technologies, including AI and XR.

Adding to the picture is the realization that we now have shortages of both new and experienced aircrew due to heavier retirement numbers occasioned by COVID. So it seems obvious that we require better, more thorough, training to uphold and improve safety standards.

‘Listen to the Precision Learning WATS keynote from Dr Daniel Serfaty of Aptima’

Using AQP programs (note: the term “CBTA” was frequently, almost interchangeably, referenced) airlines can adopt and drive best practices. That means the US can move very rapidly once it decides it must, and the industry seems to have decided that indeed it must.

The recent FAA Safety Summit in DC was called to raise awareness of a spate of near accidents, mostly in the approach to airports and on the ground. Brief though it was, this event was a welcome development because it showed professionals’ recognition that it’s time to sound the alarm.  

There is no doubt the system is under strain. Recent FAA admission that massive understaffing in New York area Air Traffic Control could require cuts of 10% in east coast flights this summer may be just the beginning.

For these and other reasons, rising ticket prices are inevitable. No doubt the usual politicians will complain about airline ineptitude and price gouging. They could more usefully direct their attention to promptly making and confirming the appointment of a new (qualified) FAA Administrator, to allocating sensible long term FAA funding, and to allowing the FAA to focus on airline safety.