The WATS 2023 Maintenance Conference featured a myriad of thoughtful presentations over two days. They included sessions on human factors in maintenance, installing a safety culture, virtual reality vs. instructor-led training, resilience, time management, improving communications skills, and developing easy-to-understand technical manuals, among other topics.
On a Human Factors panel, Dr. Maggie Ma, Technical Fellow, Boeing Commercial Airplane Division, stressed the importance of instilling a safety culture within maintenance organizations and the voluntary reporting of events using Maintenance Error Decision Aid (MEDA) for maintenance human factors. To augment safety, there too remains a need for peer-to-peer observations and line operations safety assessments (LOSA) during normal business hours, she added. Which would include anonymous, confidential and non-punitive data collection.
On the increased use of virtual reality (VR) as a teaching tool, Cengiz Turkoglu, Senior Lecturer and Quality Manager at Cranfield University’s National Flying Laboratory, said VR is an important tool favored by younger students, but not a panacea for learning. A blended approach with instructor-led education is preferable, he said.
Later that day, Joseph Merry, President, Jet Maintenance Consulting Corporation, echoed sentiments that VR is part of continuing education and students expect that kind of training. Not that long ago, VR was a technology that only the military could afford. Today VR is becoming affordable at the A&P school level, said Merry.
Anca Gosling, Director of Aviation Training Content and Development for Aeroclass, a training content developer, spoke on the need to improve Aviation English instruction, with the use of 3D visual images and other communications tools. Being clear in instruction materials for non-English speaking students is of paramount importance to maintaining safety on the ground and in the air.
Gosling gave a tragic example of the ongoing need to improve Aviation English communications: the 25 January 1990 crash of Avianca Airlines Flight 52, a Boeing 707-321B. The scheduled flight from Bogotá, Colombia to New York City crashed in Cove Neck, NY after running out of fuel. Poor communications between the flight deck and air traffic control was considered a factor in the crash.
AeroClass Training is working with Sensibilities Studios of Brisbane, Australia on developing a virtual instruction program on Aviation English, with the use of 3D images.
Dawn Whyte told attendees that her journey toward resilience, her presentation topic, began years ago after experiencing job loss, divorce, depression and self-doubt. It was a compelling beginning to her talk. A life-coaching course at Rhodes Wellness College in Vancouver, Canada gave her footing for a new life and career. She began volunteering and eventually formed her career coaching business.
With broad-based applications, resilience instruction can be a valuable component of an air transport employee training regime, said Whyte. The training could apply to those people in pressure-filled positions, including aircraft maintenance technicians (AMTs), pilots, flight attendants, front-line airline personnel and managers, she said.
Resilient people, said Whyte, are flexible. They look after themselves and engage in behaviors to keep them on course. Managing change, coping with internal and external demands, is part of becoming a resilient person.
Resilience instruction is not a one-and-done, go-it-alone application. “Resilience is not the end goal; it is an ongoing journey,” said Whyte, a former air traffic controller with 30 years of experience. ”It is not an achievement, but a state of mind that takes constant work.”
Steve Harnden, an electrical engineer with GP Strategies, addressed the value of soft skills for MTX maintainers, trainers and supervisors. Prioritizing tasks, time management, mentoring of new employees, and delegating tasks appropriately were key components of Harnden’s presentation, geared mainly to MTX supervisors.
“We don’t teach soft skills in college,” said Harnden. “The same is true in technical training [schools]. Soft skills can improve communications between line personnel and management level staff, he added.
Harnden recommended supervisors get to know the personnel with whom they are working. Don’t assume anything, he said. The maintainer may be technically proficient, but it’s unknown if he/she can work effectively with other people. The more questions you ask, the more the supervisor learns about the personality of the maintainer with whom they are working.
While a valuable tool, personality assessments of employees can be tricky. You can probe, but be careful not to be invasive.
“There are plenty of commercially available personality assessments,” offered Harnden. “Get your HR department involved first, if you think you want to start using any of them. You can easily move into the realm of asking questions about lifestyle, religion, political persuasion or other forbidden topics, if you’re not careful. You’re on mighty thin ice legally if you cross that line.”
Root Cause Analysis (RCA), the process of identifying a cause of an incident or accident, was another topic Harnden covered. There’re several steps to RCA: define the problem, gather data, identify causal factors, determine the root cause and recommending and implementing solutions. “It’s important to understand what contributed to an event, such as maintenance mishap,” said Harnden.
On the same panel was Michelle Arredondo Aragon, Maintenance Instructor, Ascent Aviation Services, who spoke on the need to develop easy-to-understand technical manuals. Trainers should simplify the complicated instructional language in the training manual, she advised. Producing more creative graphical and animated training materials would be helpful to non-native English speakers particularly, she added.
Dr. Bill Johnson, who has led the WATS’ maintenance sessions for more than 20 years, is stepping down. He provided a few parting words: "It has been a pleasure and an honor to be affiliated with WATS and other Halldale international summits. The opportunity has permitted me to observe and appreciate the highest level of professional commitment to the importance of all aspects of maintenance training."
"I know that the maintenance stream will continue to grow and be an important part of WATS. I extend my most sincere thanks to all.”