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Aviation Conference Focuses on Industry Challenges from Training Perspective

The World Aviation Training Summit celebrated its 25th anniversary in Orlando, Florida. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | John Flett)

The aviation industry continues to exhibit positive signs of post-pandemic growth as the northern summer schedule gets underway. A number of airlines are approaching or have surpassed 2019 planned capacity levels though this does differ by region.

The North American and European markets were unhindered by travel restrictions last year but some countries in South East Asia have only recently removed COVID-19 restrictions. Only last week announced that ‘all travelers and returnees will no longer be required to submit either a certificate of a negative result of COVID-19 test conducted within 72 hours prior to departure, or a valid COVID-19 vaccination certificate of three doses or equivalent.’

Though the industry is displaying positive signs of returning to pre-pandemic levels of operations it is not without a number of challenges. Airport caps on aircraft movements, production line delays of new aircraft and strategic flight cancellations are all indicators of an industry faced with a worldwide workforce shortage.

Exceeding customer service expectations is a focus of the industry but above all is doing so in a manner that achieves and maintains the highest level of safety.

With aviation organizations vying to be attractive employers to retain staff and with a technologically savvy generation entering the workforce, whilst maintaining and enhancing the industry’s safety record, engaging training has become a focus.

The World Aviation Training Summit (WATS) is an annual event organized by the Halldale Group that brings together ‘aviation training professionals, serving airlines, aircraft manufacturers, regulators, training providers and the training industry.’

WATS recently celebrated its 25th anniversary in Orlando, Florida with over 1100 attendees networking and attending a wide range of sessions. The summit offers three separate streams related to pilots, cabin crew and maintenance in addition to joint sessions on commonalities such as the regulatory environment.

WATS opened with a panel of flight operations executives from airlines and major aircraft manufacturers discussing the current aviation environment, issues the industry faces and how improved training can assist in overcoming challenges and delivering on the paramount goal of safety.

The use of technology and AI in training was spiritedly discussed throughout the four-day summit and WATS provides a forum for these and other subjects to be debated. Halldale Group founder and chief executive officer Andy Smith says the aim of WATS is “not just to improve training, it’s to improve overall safety. It’s going to take the entire community to do this and we cannot sit there and expect the regulator to get it right. And with this much change going on it’s going to need the suppliers, the end users, the educational groups to get this right.”

In addition to WATS, the Halldale Group organize the European Airline Training Symposium (EATS) and the Asia Pacific Airline Training Symposium (APATS). The chair of WATS, Rick Adams, highlighted a few of the initiatives the events feature that deliver toward a broader industry collaboration. “This started in Europe with a head of training meeting a number of years back. That also led to an aircrew training policy group that actually helps to advise EASA on an unofficial basis. We’re rolling that over to here starting this year with this conference.”

Smith sees the value of a WATS-initiated aircrew training policy group (ATPG) as being “immediate and “there to help the regulator move their key issues forward. But, it’s also become a sort of sounding board for where they might go next.

An ATPG can also come to the regulator and say, hey, you know, we ought to be looking at this and then (the regulator can) either say no, yes or will you do it and we’ll listen. The good thing is that we already have an ATPG in Africa and there’s one coming for the LATAM region. And I believe there’s one coming for India as well. This idea of teaming up to solve training problems is great. We are part of that, so we’re trying to drive that forward.”

The impact of industry needs, technological changes and the next-generation workforce have seen EASA recently update the guidelines for cabin crew initial training to allow for the use of virtual methods. EASA Guidelines on Initial Cabin Crew Training state: “Digital learning can replace classroom training, specific hands‐on exercises, or traditionally simulated exercises if well designed e.g. to include the necessary interaction to fulfill the training needs and requirements of the subject or part of it.”

The guidelines go on to say, “The method should be approved by the NAA, when satisfied that the method’s effectiveness in strengthening the trainee’s knowledge and skills and in enhancing the desired learning outcome has been demonstrated. Digital learning could be selected as a training tool when it is deemed suitable to attain the learning outcome and its use results in an equivalent or increased level of competence for the trainee.”

Smith and Adams are positive about the impact that WATS and the other events have on the aviation industry’s training environment. A key part of what the summits do is to continue the conversations beyond the annual events. Adams mentioned that, “in between the live event in Europe, we’re doing a virtual event kind of mid-year update with that same group (Heads of Training).”

“The whole point is to keep the discussion going and enable people to address issues as they need to,” adds Smith. “We’ve stood up as sort of Super LinkedIn, if you will, which allows people to talk to each other, but also allows the creation of working group spaces and so forth.”

The networking and collaborative element of WATS, bringing together aviation professionals from major airlines, aircraft manufacturers, training organizations and associated industries, allows for valuable discussions. Adams puts “the highest value” of the conference on what he calls “the hallway conversations.” Explaining that “you bump into somebody, either you know them or maybe they know you, and you discuss a particular topic or maybe it evolves into other topics.”

Summing up the value of collaborative efforts to improve safety within the industry through more effective training, Andy Smith states: “If you’re going to address real issues, you’ve got to be open, honest. And if you can’t do that, you’re not going to make much progress.”

The next WATS is scheduled to take place in Orlando, Florida between April 29 to May 2, 2024.

APATS 2023 will be held on Aug. 29-30 in Singapore.

EATS 2023 will be held on Nov. 8-9 in Cascais, Portugal.

John Flett


  • John Flett

    John has always had a passion for aviation and through a career with Air New Zealand has gained a strong understanding of aviation operations and the strategic nature of the industry. During his career with the airline, John held multiple leadership roles and was involved in projects such as the introduction of both the 777-200 and -300 type aircraft and the development of the IFE for the 777-300. He was also part of a small team who created and published the internal communications magazines for Air New Zealand’s pilots, cabin crew and ground staff balancing a mix of corporate and social content. John is educated to postgraduate level achieving a masters degree with Distinction in Airline and Airport Management. John is currently the course director of an undergraduate commercial pilot training programme at a leading London university. In addition he is contracted as an external instructor for IATA (International Air Transport Association) and a member of the Heathrow Community Fund’s ‘Communities for Tomorrow’ panel.

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