By Captain Nadhem, the General Manager of Alpha Aviation UAE
The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered one of the most disruptive periods on record for air travel and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has estimated that airlines will lose at least $314 billion due to the outbreak.
As the industry looks to adapt to this new Covid-era, not only will airlines need to take a serious look at their overheads, but the standard of safety will need to remain the number one priority. With pilots and their training accounting for one of the biggest costs, airlines will need to re-think their pilot training strategy which is likely to include a need to outsource and decentralise to maximize efficiency.
This resultant strain highlights the need for regulators to make changes to the training process. For example, there will need to be more reliance on e-learning in the initial cadet training and the acceptance of integrated technology in simulator training will also be important.
The aviation industry is undoubtedly equipped to make these changes, however, dynamism from the regulators will be essential. This is where embracing the tech transition can offer a vital competitive advantage.
E-learning programmes can play a pivotal role in revolutionising the aviation industry and Alpha Aviation Group is already working closely with both regulators and airlines to develop its potential in supporting future pilot pools.
Among other benefits, the adoption of e-learning solutions has helped to ensure that cadet classes have stayed on track and that they have been able to train and progress remotely. With social distancing measures and restrictions on physical travel set to remain in place for the foreseeable future, pilot training facilities don’t know when they will be able to have all students back in the classroom to resume their syllabus. Therefore, it has been crucial to adapt the training programmes in place to provide continuity for the students and to ensure that when the pandemic starts to ease, there is a new cohort of cadets.
Undoubtedly, the current crisis has propelled forward this digital transformation. However, already airlines have found that online programmes are proving equally beneficial to traditional training methods, with teaching sessions and remote testing running seamlessly.
The adoption of e-learning programmes has also enabled airlines to expand cadet class sizes. No longer restricted by the physical capacity of training centres, e-learning programmes have the potential to significantly open up access to becoming an aviator. This is particularly important for supporting a strong employee base and ensuring airlines can recruit the best talent, irrespective of locality.
Despite the current circumstances, pilots still need to clock up over 1,500 flying hours to receive their ATP certificate. Therefore, investing in simulator training facilities is now pivotal in supporting future pilot pools as airlines continue to restrict the number of flights.
This will also be crucial for existing pilots who have been put on furlough or made redundant. Despite not being able to fly, they still need to be clocking up hours in the cockpit and completing the relevant annual assessments in order to keep their licenses valid. By adapting to a simulator model, pilots will be able to keep on top of the legal requirements and be ready to return to the sky as soon as the opportunity arises.
Unlike conventional classrooms, simulators can also help deliver effective e-learning solutions that cater to customised needs. For example, simulator training enables pilots to practice any inflight scenario, whilst also reducing the actual number of flying hours required.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI technologies have already been widely adopted across the aviation industry. From facial recognition at airport passport security to baggage check-in and remote aircraft monitoring, for years these innovations have been streamlining processes, both for operators and customers. However, AI has a much greater potential beyond these applications, particularly when combined with flight simulators.
AI and machine learning algorithms excel at recognising patterns and are extremely efficient at collating data from the process of training cadets. As most flight simulators are already equipped with sensors that generate considerable amounts of data, this resource can now be used to assess pilot competency from the onset of training.
Powerful AI and machine learning systems can analyse hundreds of flight parameters and sort through thousands of hours of simulator data to produce findings that a human coach wouldn’t have been able to determine. For example, AI programmes can evaluate a pilot’s ability as they execute key manoeuvres and create a comprehensive assessment of a cadet’s strengths and weaknesses based on real-time data.
The data collected from these training sessions can also be analysed by AI programmes to evaluate how the cadets fly certain training routes, for example, taking into account their angle of descent and acceleration periods. From this, airlines can gather enough data to build a picture of each pilots unique flying style and determine the optimum routes for them to fly.
A crucial part of this assessment centres around the rate each pilot burns fuel. Real-time decisions about the throttle settings during take-off and the climb can have a significant impact on the amount of fuel burned during a flight. With airlines spending around 33 percent of their operational costs on fuel, reducing the rate that fuel is burned can have a considerable effect on the finances of an airline.
Airlines can already use AI systems to collect flight data regarding route distance, altitudes and aircraft weight to determine the amount of fuel needed for a flight. However, now the data collected from simulators can also be used to pair pilots to specific routes, based on optimum fuel usage. This will result in cost savings for the airline by optimising the potential of their pilot crew to reduce excess overheads.
Whilst 2020 has left the travel industry in dire straits, Alpha Aviation believe that it has significantly accelerated the tech transition – achieving in 8 months what could have taken over 15 years.
Now, with airlines even more concerned about reducing overheads, key industry players will need to adapt and innovate in order to find better ways to optimise resources and out last the pandemic.
Data is undoubtedly the key to revolutionising the future of aviation and, as the sector re-builds, the importance of investing in AI and machine learning along with the adoption of e-learning and simulator training will only gain momentum.