New Aircraft Tech - Opportunities & Threats.

How to reap the benefits and mitigate the risks within your Flight Department?

Mario Pierobon  |  20th March 2015
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Mario Pierobon
Mario Pierobon

Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University London,...

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The ever-increasing supply of technological upgrades that enhance aircraft performance and flight safety are both an opportunity and a threat, notes Mario Pierobon. How should you train to mitigate the threat aspect?

As with all technology, it is possible that performance improvements are accompanied by an increased risk. This is particularly the case if the technology is complex and sophisticated, and its appropriate use requires specific training on the part of the user.

One of the many roles of the flight department manager is to keep pace with technology, and choose the items that will enhance the operations of the flight department. The selection process begins with a risk assessment of technological implementation – and that will mean weighing performance benefits with the risks faced.

Firstly, is there a real need for this new technology within the flight department? When technology implementation is being considered, all the necessary risk mitigations that the change would require are not yet in place. Therefore, risk reduction is a must. In a flight department the reduction of the safety risk associated with technology implementation is ultimately attained by means of consistent training to best practice.

Is the organization prepared to manage the changes that the new equipment will bring to the operation? There should be a plan to smoothly embed the new procedures within the operating system to ensure the calibration of technology end-users to a safe enough standard.

Structured Training

Training for technology currency is done in a structured fashion within commercial operations that are required by law to have a training system headed by a ‘Post Holder Crew Training’ officer. For these operations, internal quality controls and authority oversight should - in theory - ensure a thorough training system.

However, flight departments that do not operate commercially need to consider and structure their training system themselves.

They’d do well to look at how commercial operators manage their training for technological currency.

Once a training need is defined, the onus will be on the flight department manager to ensuring adequate finances and time are dedicated to technology currency through the necessary training. When time and money are made available the flight department manager should decide whether an external training organization would serve the purpose best, or whether ‘in-house’ training will be adequate.

Sometimes there is no other option than going through an approved training organization to gain ratings, but sometimes it’s possible to provide training internally like (for example) when transitioning to a paperless cockpit via an Electronic Flight Bag system. When training is internal, however, it is vital to select a ‘qualified’ trainer with adequate credentials.

In-House Safeguards

When the opportunity arises to deliver in-house training, you should guard against two particularly common traps:

Employing own personnel for the purpose of delivering training carries the risk that, while the staff member may be a proficient technology user, the same person may not be proficient at transferring his or her know-how. It may be necessary to ‘train the trainer’ to enable them to impart their knowledge in an adequate manner to their colleagues.

Online training is on the rise in the world of aeronautical training, and this clearly signals the commoditization of training in the industry. The quality of training online greatly depends on the integrity of the service provider. But with online training it is often difficult to ensure that those partaking in internet-based training are actually partaking in the learning process.

While the flexibility of on-line training can actually improve the learning process, the flight department manager should opt for training solutions that unequivocally test technology-proficiency (e.g. a written exam).

The Correct Method?

With regard to the choice of the training method, in his foundational book Human Factors in Flight, Captain Frank Hawkins recognises how as individuals we prefer certain learning methods over others. Yet he adds that individual preferences may not always be significant in reflecting the optimum training, even if individual temperaments and cognitive styles should be carefully considered if major changes in technology are involved (i.e. to the glass cockpit).

If the training requires live interaction – and the exchange of experiences and lessons learnt – then lessons and discussions as training methods should be preferred over lectures, which are better suited as a training method to introduce and give a general background to a subject, notes Hawkins.

Once the necessary method is defined what remains is to ensure the training is delivered, where necessary in an ongoing manner.

Documentation also should be amended to detail new or revised operating procedures as precisely as possible, thus leaving no room for doubts in interpretation and calibrating technology users’ performance to common, high operating standards.

Thus you can see that to effectively implement new technologies into the flight department and minimize the safety risks associated with the new technologies, you cannot simply expect to glean all that you need from an operations manual, which tends to be purely descriptive and generic in scope when it comes to detailed procedures.

Ultimately, in addition to the above outline, if you are to minimize the risks posed by new technology in your flight department, then fluency in the development of procedures (based on the identification of the main tasks, their sequential ordering, and their specification) together with details as to the tools needed to accomplish tasks should also be part of the training system.


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