Technician training is essential to safe, efficient operations, while a growing focus on cabin connectivity has spawned a variety of new instructional courses. Representatives from CAE, FlightSafety International and Satcom Direct share their expertise
The toolkit of today’s maintenance technician is just as likely to contain a laptop or tablet as it is a set of wrenches. Aircraft and their maintenance needs have evolved, and maintenance training has evolved along with them.
“The skillset demands have evolved dramatically,” explains Sridhar Parthasarathy, Global Sales & Growth Leader, Business Aviation Maintenance Training at CAE. “Aircraft are more sophisticated, more software driven, with less need for mechanical skills and more emphasis on software. We see operators missing flights because the cabin Wi-Fi is not working, for example. Modern aircraft also have computer systems gathering maintenance data, and technicians must be able to interpret and manipulate that data.”
Meanwhile, DeWayne Dixon, Regional Director, Training Operations – Maintenance/Cabin Safety at FlightSafety International (FSI) says the key to teaching technicians how to work with the data is fostering close relationships with the OEMs. “As they’re designing the new technology, we want to see it so we can train for it. That’s how we ensure sufficient people are ready before a new aircraft enters service.”
Teaching maintenance on a modern bizjet requires a suite of tools that delivers the skills required and works with the learning behaviours of a new generation of people who’ve grown up using tablets and smartphones. Those tools include virtual reality (VR). Parthasarathy explains that CAE waited to understand the learning benefit from VR before adopting it. “The approach we’ve taken is more about practical skills, procedures and muscle memory than troubleshooting. VR is great for practice that can’t be done on a real aircraft.”
Remote learning is another important asset and Parthasarathy reports that CAE’s training output is split roughly equally between students coming to a CAE facility, CAE visiting a customer facility and remote learning. The latter option “accelerated during the pandemic, but we’d been doing it for a while before, especially with helicopter operators working from remote bases,” he says. “We’ve invested in creating interactive, immersive learning environments where students are in the classroom physically and remotely. And we really can tell who is paying attention, with tools that tell us when someone is looking at the right screen and when they have a browser open!”
Dixon reports that FlightSafety’s instructors regularly travel to customer locations. “We use live learning too, with remote students embedded into the classroom. The experience is the same, except the remote student can’t go to lunch with his or her peers. The capability came on fast during Covid and it’s still widely used, especially, for example, if the alternative for a European company is sending people over to Savannah.” Some courses have e-learning components too and FlightSafety employs on-screen simulations of key systems.
FlightSafety’s new Virtual Engine Trainer (VET) offers clients a new way to deeply explore Pratt & Whitney Canada’s turbine engines. Using these VET simulations in classrooms and across the internet during live learning events, FSI’s qualified instructors can demonstrate ultra-fast, extensive engine disassembly, troubleshooting and problem solving that would be too expensive or dangerous in a live training scenario. “We’ll never replace the hands-on experience, but leveraging the VET greatly expands the learning horizon,” Dixon states.
The focus at CAE and FlightSafety is on training for certified engineers. Parthasarathy says students typically need aircraft-specific knowledge, or they come to CAE for what he terms ‘grounding courses’. “This foundational training covers things like how to take care of wiring, learning basic troubleshooting, or how to isolate faults. Most of our work is type-specific though, but we do also offer professional development training, around leadership skills. Technicians’ roles evolve over time, and they need leadership and management skills, they need to know regulations and how to communicate with clients.”
Dixon describes FlightSafety’s maintenance training offer in more detail. “We do type-specific training that includes initials and updates, covering system knowledge, system updates and ASC/STC/SID information. There’s also engine run and taxi training that provides the student with normal/abnormal and emergency training in the simulator and the classroom. We also have engine- and avionics-specific courses, and courses geared around troubleshooting, like Operational Maintenance Procedures and Advanced Troubleshooting courses. And, of course, we have courses around cabin connectivity, like aeroIT, because having the Wi-Fi not working is now as bad as having an issue that will ground an aircraft.”
For experienced technicians learning a new aircraft type, Dixon recommends constructing a ‘pathway’ of courses, like the FlightSafety Master Technician training paths, building type-specific knowledge onto their experience. For a newly certified technician, perhaps someone joining their first MRO, he says: “We might suggest more basic courses first, taking a ‘building block’ approach to generic skills before type-specific training.”
Reinforcing the importance CAE and FlightSafety place on cabin connectivity maintenance training, Satcom Direct (SD) has developed its own EIS (entry into service), aeroIT, aeroCNCT (Crewmember Network and Connectivity Training) and IA (Inspection Authorization) Renewal courses, for flight crew and technicians. Josh Wheeler, Senior Director of Entry into Service and Client Services, explains.
“SD EIS provides comprehensive training for the flight department and flight crew to ensure the best customer experience. Training sessions are tailored to focus on the customer’s individual connectivity configuration and how it links together using the full SD ecosystem. The content may therefore include sessions devoted to SD hardware, including the Satcom Direct Router (SDR), the SD Pro operating system, SD Plane Simple antennas and their compatible modules. It also includes information about the SD Data Centre and cybersecurity awareness. The course is regularly taught to a complete flight department, aircraft management company and crew, so that all stakeholders are informed. Very occasionally, the owner also joins the course. The content includes reviews of related satellite networks and the SD Geek Box, the tech equivalent of a connectivity first aid kit. Courses take place at the SD EIS hangar in Melbourne, Florida, or the customer’s own location.”
Now in its third edition, SD aeroIT is available through FlightSafety International in its Cabin Master Technician Program and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, as part of its Aviation Maintenance Science, with an area of concentration in cyber technology, avionics and security bachelor’s degree. The aeroIT certification is also available through the SD Learning Management System or, for candidates preferring an immersive instructor-led training experience, the course is run at Melbourne.
Wheeler continues: “aeroCNCT is the industry’s only certification supporting industry professionals working with, or responsible for, connectivity during flight. The two-day course was developed with input from crew members and is intended to demystify the network and give cabin crew the skills, vocabulary and confidence to support passengers and principals while flying. Crew are invariably the interface with principals and as the reliance on data grows so this course supports their daily operations; it is available at selected FlightSafety facilities too.
“Finally, the IA Renewal course is geared towards maintenance personnel and provides eight credit hours towards their IA renewal. Delivering an understanding of what system is onboard an aircraft and how it operates, it is part of a wider certificate that allows an aircraft mechanic to perform inspections on aircraft to make sure they meet official safety standards.”
Challenges and changes
Wheeler speaks about the relatively new demands for IT expertise in the cabin – knowledge entrants into the industry will no doubt want when they begin their careers. The challenge with that is attracting new talent in the first place. Recognising the shortage of aviation technicians globally, Parthasarathy believes training organisations have a role to play in meeting that shortfall. “It’s about attracting a more diverse group of talent and then better preparing them to be productive technicians. Today we aren’t seeing a notable diversity, the industry is still almost 98% male, and we all have a role in making it attractive to everybody. And it’s not just gender and race diversity, it’s age as well.
“The tools we use in training and simulation have evolved too. People used to learn by shadowing an experienced technician, but now that has severe limitations because students can’t use the advanced tools they need to understand issues they don’t normally see,” Parthasarathy concludes.
For his part, Dixon reckons the pandemic moved training forward by a decade. “We were only considering live learning pre-Covid, with a view of getting there in a year or two. March 2020 arrived and within two weeks we had live learning set up. Not only that, but we went to EASA and got it approved. Now we’re already looking at the next generation of aircraft. Soon, we may have this same conversation about eVTOL.”