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The Agency invited leading VR/AR/MR/XR developers to a virtual deep-dive on the latest developments in training devices, and how they’re adapting the regulatory process to accommodate inside-the-headset thinking. CAT Editor Rick Adams extracts some key comments.

Earlier this year, EASA qualified the first VR flight training device – developed by VRM Switzerland, a small group of young engineers hitherto unknown to the aviation training community. They represent the vanguard of what will surely be dozens of innovative developments of virtual reality/mixed reality/augmented reality devices seeking a space in the training curricula for airline pilots, cabin crew, maintenance technicians, and other aviation professionals.

Per usual, regulations struggle to keep pace with technology, but the European Union Aviation Safety Agency – first by forming a novel partnership with VRM Switzerland to evaluate the viability of their project, and now by addressing modifications to FSTD requirements and other guidance – is attempting to enable the type of flexibility which should encourage innovation to improve training efficiency, effectiveness, and safety.

As September turned into October, the Agency staged a two-day “ Immersive Technologies in Aviation Training” virtual conference, co-organised by Halldale Group and sponsored by Visionary Training Resources (VTR) and Modest Tree. The event featured more than two dozen speakers representing subject experts from EASA, OEMs, academia, training organisations, headset producers, and training device providers.

In their words, following are a few highlights from the presentations which provide a sense of the range of discussions and viewpoints.

Jesper Rasmussen, Flight Standards Director, EASA: “There has been only a little evolution in the conceptual approach to training since the introduction of flight simulators in the 80s.”

“The aviation sector and EASA face five challenges – “We need to …

  1. gain better insight into the different innovative training solutions
  2. ensure that novel training solutions will result in the same or better level of efficiency
  3. determine the potential safety benefits for flight crews when training high-risk manoeuvres
  4. push for future development of ICAO rules to allow new technologies at a global level
  5. address possible obstacles and drawbacks such as negative training and lower acceptance of new technologies by some audiences and older age groups.”

Bernard Bourdon, Head of Aircrew & Medical Department, EASA: “We still rely on theoretical learning, but virtual reality and mixed reality is suitable technology to support blended learning.”

“We’re now looking at a timeframe of having all the FSTD Capability Signature (FCS) documents published within the next two years. Then there will be a period for the stakeholders to be trained by EASA. So we’re looking at a final timeframe of 2025 when we will see the application of the FCS concept in helicopter and airplane type-rating training.”

Julien Colinos, Flight Crew Training OSD Expert, EASA: “For evaluating new training devices (OTDs – Other Training Devices), we should adopt an approach similar to the FCS (NPA 2020-15), in which we define the constituents and acquired experience.”

“Once a training device manufacturer obtains a ‘no technical objection’ from EASA, the ATO or training operator approaches its own NAA to validate the device and its adequacy to the training program.”

Arnaud Lozahic, Senior Expert – Flight Crew Training FSTD, EASA: “We believe training providers will be able to reshape their typical training footprint with a lot more diversity on the level of FSTD use.”

“We cannot wait until a new CS-FSTD is published to qualify training devices using new technologies such as virtual reality.”

Prof. Luca Chittaro, Human-Computer Interaction Lab, University of Udine: “The first lesson we learned is that to create effective virtual reality experiences, the most important device you should know about is the human brain.”

“Applications on different VR platforms show that they improve learning, knowledge retention, knowledge transfer… engagement, immersion… efficiency, error prevention… personal resilience factors such as perception of control over emergencies and self-efficacy.”

Bo Bennekov, CEO & Co-Founder, Bolverk XR: “With VR, we’re communicating directly to your emotions and using your muscle memory (attached memories to actions).”

“With VR software, we can record every procedure that you do and put it against your airline’s procedure.”

Marc St-Hilaire, Vice President Technology and Innovation, CAE: “Immersive technologies try to reproduce a perception of reality in the human body along one of the five senses.”

“It’s loud and clear, from all the people we work with, the see-through mixed reality where you actually see the real stuff and your real hands provides the most credible and the most positive training experience.”

Dr. Ir. Mark Wentink, multiSIM BV: “If you want to use VR headsets in an enclosed motion simulator cabin, you need to compensate for the simulator motion, ‘translations’ of the head need to be disabled (in the VR), add a kinematics model for the neck, and a calibration procedure to tell the virtual world what is your position (we do this in Desdemona with infrared sensors).”

Fabrizio Sillano, Head of Extended Reality, TXT Group: “Extended reality bridges the gap between theoretical and practical training. It allows students to practice on a digital twin in a safe and controlled environment.”

Markus Heinonen, Vertical Lead, Simulation and Training, EMEA and APAC, Varjo: “We have full control of every pixel. We can combine the physical and the virtual world seamlessly together. This is all with super-low latency, so it’s happening naturally to you.”

“VR and mixed-reality trainers provide a completely different level of price-to-performance when compared to the traditional ways of training. They are much more realistic and immersive than the current lower-fidelity ways of training, and they can even compete and in some ways be better than full-dome or half-dome simulators that are currently used in pilot training.”

Thor Paulli Andersen, CTO, VRpilot: “Studies from other industries have shown an improvement in knowledge retention of over 400% using VR training compared to traditional training methods.”

“What would help ATOs in the future – we see a need for regulations which would allow these new technologies, to give credits towards hours in the simulator in an MCC course or type rating.”

Jon Ward, VP of Sales EMEA & Johan Bouvin, Director of XR Software, Tobii Pro: “Eye-tracking allows us to capture natural behaviour, people doing things ‘in the wild,’ so to speak. It also removes the need for self-reporting because people often over-verbalise or ‘fill in the gaps’ when they have to remember something. It’s a direct window into thought and decision making.”

“We’ve got the ability to measure cognitive workload – hugely powerful tool when we’re looking at stressful situations, emergency situations, and where there’s large amounts of processes to be followed. We can also measure things such as stress and fatigue.

Joel Flinois, Helicopter Simulation Product Line Manager, Thales: “Current limitations of VR pilot training solutions:

  • no solution yet for MCC
  • not really adapted to complex and large helicopters
  • not really adapted to new avionic systems with touchscreens
  • limited number of training credits
  • more adapted to initial training
  • cannot be used today for recurrent training and checkings.”

“A mix between the current VR solution and XR for complex instruments and touchscreens appears to be the best solution today.”

Fabi Riesen, CEO, VRM Switzerland & Oluf Heil, Flight Crew Training ATO Expert, EASA: “You (VRM Switzerland) approached EASA because you had an idea of something you thought could be done. We said, okay, we think it’s possible; let’s do it together.”

“We are still engaged in a review of virtual reality at the next level; now we are looking at the requirements and the ability to train on a device that is type-specific. By the end of the year, I think we will have some conclusion to that subjective fly-out relating to approval of an FTD 3.”

Capt. Rick Parker, Acting Co-Chair VRARA Aerospace Committee/CTO, Visionary Training Resources & Dr. Aki Nikolaidis, Research Scientist, Center for the Developing Brain: “Typically when people learn some kind of skill set, and you cue them weeks or months after they’ve learned that skill, you’ll find that performance starts to decrease. To prevent that people will do ‘booster sessions’ – these are not feasible in a multi-million-dollar simulator, but they are feasible when you have an at-home training set.”

“As the amount of information increases, so too does information processing and the quality of decision making. However, after a certain point is reached, the decision maker has obtained more information than he can process. Information overload has occurred, and decision making ability decreases. Any information received beyond that point will not be processed.”

Capt. Shane Carroll, Head of Training Software, Airbus Training: “One of the reasons we’re excited about VR Trainer is that it covers all of the learning styles: visual (virtual cockpit, flow lines), audio (aural system response, instructor voice guides), reading/writing (aircraft library, bookmarks, subtitles), and kinesthetic (touch and feel – building muscle memory).”

Capt. Hans Härting, Crew Safety Training Representative, Lufthansa Group & Raghoonundun ‘Birdy’ Gunputh, Product Manager Safety Training, Lufthansa Aviation Training: “We were faced with a requirement to train the cabin crew on security search on different types of aircraft. Training 20,000 cabin crew on an actual aircraft during annual recurrent was not possible. We had to have reliable systems, and it had to be standardised. We built virtual reality training centres at our hubs in Frankfurt and Munich.”

“To standardise the procedure, we programmed it into our Virtual Interactive Assistant (VIA) – a ‘funny’ and ‘cute’ avatar. We program VIA in a way that crew members feel motivated to work in this particular environment.”

Lene-Marie Nissen, Chief Cabin Crew Instructor, SAS: “One important factor in training is tracking. If you don’t have any tracking, then the training doesn’t exist. In virtual reality, we have the possibility to track every little detail and what every cabin crew has been doing in the virtual room.”

Eva Roharikova: “The tasks for the focus groups (of the EASA Innovative Technologies in Cabin Crew project) are:

  1. create guidance for all cabin crew training utilising the same approach as used for flight crew simulators (RMT.0196)
  2. create guidance material that shall list all required competencies for all instructors delivering any cabin crew training via all the various types of methodologies.”

Lorraine Gibney, Cabin Operations Inspector, Irish Aviation Authority: “The aim of the (EASA Cabin Crew focus groups) is not to draft new legislation. Rather, it is to combine the expertise to draft guidance material for the design of all required cabin crew training and to ensure standards are followed in the approval and regulation in a process by the national authorities.”

Natascha Wohlschlager, Cabin Safety Inspector, AustroControl & Capt. Hans Härting, Lufthansa Group: “We suffer when we do aircraft familiarisation. We get the aircraft, net, for an hour. We have 20 people out there and they have 5 minutes to touch something, to see something, and I’m talking reality. We should leave this compliance-based approach and rather go the international way of competency-based training and assessment.”

“We could go for an alternative means of compliance (ALTMOC) if you evidence the same level of safety is guaranteed with this new way of training – and I completely agree with you, it’s better if you have the whole aircraft for yourself in virtual reality to check everything out without rush, and without cleaning personnel and maintenance.”

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