All Nippon Airways, the 787 launch customer, accomplishes lots of training via Boeing's Digital Turning Tool. The DTT, operating in concert with laptop PCs linked to the 787 Tool Box, allows technician “trainees to simulate troubleshooting and repairs using the [digital] training manuals,” says Akihiro Terada of ANA's engineering and maintenance's training department. He says the combination gives trainees a real edge, enabling them “to experience those practices which were [once] only available using the actual aircraft or a full-flight simulator.”
Then there's the on-airplane component. Initial training starts on the flight line at Boeing Field, just south of Seattle. The practical training program's next stop is the customer's facility and their own airplane. The hands-on component dovetails nicely with the classroom instruction, so much so that Pennington says, “the combined program reduces the on-airplane training time by approximately 30 percent.” That equates to immediate cost-savings for customer carriers as well as “reducing the potential for training-related incidents on or around the airplane.”
Traditionally, as aircraft become more complex the time spent learning about them increases. Pennington contends the 787 training regimen breaks that mold. In terms of time and cost, he says, “We've actually gone down in overall footprint compared to a similar course on the Triple-Seven.” What once took as many as 45 days now can be accomplished in as few as 35.
Cutting training costs isn't confined anymore to curtailing direct costs. Lufthansa Technical Training (LTT) is focusing on Total Cost of Qualification, says Beck, or TCQ. “Direct training costs are only about one-third of the TCQ,” he says. “We are looking at finding ways to significantly reduce the remaining two-thirds . . . and at the same time increase the efficiency of our competence-oriented training.”
One way Lufthansa is doing that is encouraging student-paced distance-learning. Central to that effort is making courseware available via an iPad LTT Viewer. Classroom simulation and easy accessibility are key components of the emerging template across the MRO spectrum.
ST Aerospace just upgraded its training systems, employing computer-based training and simulation, spurred by the belief that both knowledge and competency skills are “acquired more readily through [their] effective use,” says Stephen Chung, vice president of ST Aerospace's training center.
Elsewhere in Asia, Korean Air just implemented a new enterprise resource planning system that encompasses maintenance and engineering. The division is experimenting with the use of mobile devices, such as Galaxy Notes and iPads to distribute data and put it where technicians can get at it fast.
Technology begets access, and access engenders efficiency. Stephen Chung thinks the maxim is particularly applicable to next-generation aircraft. The sheer portability of data can boost competence. For instance, says Chung, “a trainee may copy pertinent maintenance information [from] the aircraft into storage devices like thumb drives or applications upon the completion of the training courses.”
Digital diagnosis and digital dispersal of information are integral to maintaining aircraft just beginning to enter the fleet. Beck believes training syllabi are beginning to reflect the fact that the emerging fleet of integrated aircraft “make it impossible to train on a single system . . . . You have to see the aircraft as a whole.”
For all the fascination, all the focus on cutting-edge tools and techniques, the irreducible element in the education equation remains the instructor. “Despite all the great advances we see in technology,” says Pennington, “a good instructor is really at the heart of a great maintenance training program.” In some MRO shops you're more likely to find one out on the floor, mentoring a trainee than shackled to a lectern with a pointer in hand. That's the case at AAR's Oklahoma City facility, where structures trainees undergo 18 months of mentoring from an experienced mechanic, a de facto instructor.