How technology is changing training in the airline industry
The aviation industry is facing a major personnel shortage. According to Boeing’s 2018 Pilot and Technician report, airlines will need 790,000 commercial pilots and 890,000 new cabin crew members in the next 20 years. This is a concern for several reasons, including the fact that airline positions require a lot of training.
Commercial pilots, for example, must train as a private pilot and have a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight experience to obtain their commercial license. Flight attendants kick off their careers in the sky by attending a 3-to-6-week live-in academy. These are big training investments for the airlines; much training has necessarily been done in person and such programs take a long time to upskill new workers.
Advances in technology and e-learning, however, may allow airlines to change the way some of that essential training is delivered as they quickly onboard an incoming Millennial and Generation Z workforce.
As an example, cargo handler, Air General, uses SAP Litmos to deliver online training for new hires as well as ongoing learning for its teams. The Litmos platform enabled the company to automate training programs that were formerly managed manually in spreadsheets and slide decks. The company cites the SAP Litmos learning platform as the driver behind improvements in its employee base and a significant reduction in employee turnover.
What other types of training is the aviation industry delivering and how are they serving it to employees?
Here is a look at some of their approaches.
Flight training — without the simulators
Most pilot training uses aviation simulators — a detailed, realistic piece of equipment built to look and feel as much like the real thing as possible. Those simulators are the reasons pilots often have to travel to training centers to complete their annual training. What if, however, the physical simulators weren’t necessary? Virtual reality is beginning to offer an alternative to physical flight simulators. A French technology company called Go Touch VR is developing virtual flight simulators that use sensors on the fingertips to give trainees the feeling of touching the controls on the instrument panel, for example.
Japan Airlines is using Microsoft’s HoloLens, a mixed reality application, to train flight crew as co-pilots. HoloLens gives those trainees detailed hologram displaying the cockpit instrument panel with visual and voice guidance provided through HoloLens.
Pilots must complete several hours of training and assessment every year in order to stay licensed. Flight attendants also have to renew their training yearly. In most cases that means that pilots head to a training center for their course, and flight attendants must head back to the academy for a one or two-day refresher course. Norwegian Air, an airline with crew members located all over the world, found it was a challenge to get everyone back to Norway for classroom training.
To make sure all its employees were getting consistent training, Norwegian Air used SAP Litmos’s LMS to ensure that all employees were able to complete their courses while traveling. Norwegian Air can also use Litmos to keep track of renewal requirements and remind employees when it’s time for training.
Customer experience is important in all industries, but on airplanes — where customers are seated together for hours on end, sometimes in stressful situations — customer experience is paramount. And when situations are handled badly, footage of incidents often go viral. Training is a good way to ensure those incidents don’t happen. United Airlines, for example, recently responded to an incident in which a passenger was forcibly removed from a plane by rolling out “compassion training.” American Airlines launched de-escalation training last year after a confrontation between a passenger and a flight attendant was posted online. United has also launched a module in concert with the Special Olympics to train airline crews on how best to serve passengers with intellectual disabilities.
While some of those courses take place in-person, others are technology-enabled. Airports Council International for example, uses an online survey, courses and gamification to improve customer service at airports.
Not all training modules have to do with the experience of being in the air. The United Nations’ aviation agency, for example, is proposing mandatory training for personnel to recognize the signs of human trafficking. Qatar Airways, in an effort to combat international wildlife trafficking — a crime which often uses airlines to transport wildlife or other contraband like ivory — announced a new online program for its employees this past February. The new program, which the company says is “targeted at those roles within the airline which are most likely to encounter illegal activity” will help employees understand smugglers’ routes, methods, and how to report and respond to illegal activity.
Airlines and the remote workforce
Training remote workers is a new problem for many industries, but not for commercial airlines, which have employed a remote, mobile workforce for nearly a century and have spent decades figuring out how to train and communicate with those workers when regulations suddenly change or new training is needed.
Anecdotally, according to a conversation I had with a senior airline pilot, airlines used to use a three-ring binder filled with memos to meet this challenge. Workers had to initial each page to prove they’d read the information. That was in the 1980s. In the ‘90s, email took over. Now airlines use apps and internal social networks to communicate vital information to remote employees.
There may be no better industry to handle the challenge of remote training. Now — with improving e-learning tools — airlines are armed with a more comprehensive toolbox than ever before.