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How one Company is Solving the Pilot Shortage

CAE creates and deploys software-based simulation training for civil and defence aviation in over 40 countries around the world. The modules CAE produces makes training more efficient, effective, and engaging, and it empowers pilots to perform when the stakes are highest. 

Philippe Perey is Head of Technology for CAE’s Defense and Security Group. He sat down with Vanguard Radio’s J. Richard Jones to discuss how military training needs to be updated, the major challenges of committing to such an update and why CAE’s newest technology — CA Rise — will be a game-changer for pilot training moving forward. 

Q: What are some of the indicators that military training technology needs to be updated?  

Technology is subservient to the problem we’re trying to solve. So, I think we have to take a step back and ask, ‘What are the problems we’re trying to address?’ Foundationally, the issue is delivering the quantity and quality of pilots needed to assure military sovereignty and support all the mission readiness that defense forces need.  

Connected to this issue is the idea that, you want to scale up, you also need more instructors. But because instructors are pilots themselves, you have to reduce your mission readiness by taking those instructor-level off the front line to train more pilots. It’s a circular problem without an easy solution path. 

And we must appreciate that the needs of the learner are very different today. They’re not about passively absorbing what the instructor is teaching up on the stage. They want to interact and collaborate with peers in an experiential learning environment. So, it’s about shifting to what we call a more student-centric learning, where students take charge of their learning journey and can use their peers, the instructor, and the tools to progress faster.  

And of course, with the right data sets to track how students are performing, we can glean insights to how that student is progressing and hopefully identify specific areas of difficulty to meet with early remedial action. So, adjusting and tailoring the training plan to an individual student ultimately helps them achieve more proficiency by the time they graduate, and hopefully reduces the washout rate. 

Q: What is driving the need for the updated training? 

You talk to the leadership and the US Air Force leadership — and similar leadership in other countries — and they’ll say training hasn’t changed in over 60 years. So outdated training methodologies is a clear indicator that we need to adjust and embrace new modes of learning. Fortunately, I think we have an opportunity here, with the advances of data analytics and immersive tools to help transform that.  

We couldn’t do this years ago because a lot of that capability wasn’t at our fingertips. Now, embrace virtual reality, extended reality, or AI and data analytics to really get a better pulse of how those students are progressing. 

Q: Do you think AI helps with the retention rates and absorption? 

Yes. And I think AI can be used in different facets.  

One is to act as a virtual coach to the student. Think of it as a virtual instructor coaching students through the maneuvers. So as a student is flying a simulator, the system is guiding and coaching them through the maneuver. And based on how they perform, the AI can say, ‘Hey, watch out for this, and that was well done.” And the technology can adapt based on the student’s prior trials. For example, the student continuously lands a bit too fast, the sim will remind them to check their airspeed. So, you’re basically tailoring the coaching that goes on to help that student through to success, not only to a level of minimum skills proficiency, but hopefully to a level of maximum proficiency that can be attained on that particular training device. 

This decoupling between the instructor and student becomes a force multiplier for both: the student can fly a lot more and be coached a lot more, and the instructor can spend more focused time with the student, providing help where the student clearly needs it the most.  

And there’s a backbone of data analytics that, over time, is building out a fingerprint of every student. Instructors have clear and early indications of where individual students’ failure potentials lie so instructors can take early action. Tailoring that training to address areas of underachievement and skip over areas of overachievement makes the whole experience far more engaging. 

Q: Can you provide examples of specific measures that defense organizations are looking at right now to update training? 

Using data analytics, I can monitor far more parameters in the simulator than any given instructor could ever monitor by themselves. And I can use that data to provide metrics-based insights as to how that student is performing. We’ve done this a lot on the civil side and now we’re bringing it to the defense market with a product called CA Rise. But we’re going one step further and we’re saying, ‘Hey, are there other parameters that we can use?’  

One is emotional state by looking at biometrics like heart rate, skin response and body temperature. If a simple maneuver pushes a student’s heart rate to 150, maybe that’s an indication that the student hasn’t mastered the technique, regardless of the result. 

Another thing we track is gaze. Those who haven’t mastered the triangular scan pattern will display poor eye movement, an indication that they haven’t assimilated all the knowledge or proficiency they need to be successful. So, I think there’s tremendous potential track students from early learning exercises in undergraduate pilot training, all the way up to where they get their wings and then off into their operational units. 

Q: Tell us more about CAE Rise. 

Absolutely. So, CAE Rise is the analytics tool that captures all these new data points. We’ve started this development about five years ago and its now deployed on over a hundred simulators across our civil training network. It has captured well over 300,000 training events across a whole fleet of different platforms, which is where its power comes from. We can now cross that power over into the defense market and use that to improve the training delivery. 

Q: What kind of hurdles are you experiencing as you move forward with this training transformation? 

The most important factor is definitely adoption rate. 

As I said, training’s been delivered the same way for 60 years. So, there’s inherently a bit of conservatism that comes in, saying, ‘Oh, wait a second, how is this going to affect my crews? How are they going to embrace this? Where has this been done before?’ 

And I want to tip my hat to what the US Air Force has done under Pilot Training Next and Pilot Training Transformation. Because those two programs were sort of watershed programs that demonstrated just how different training can be and just how incredibly more effective and efficient it can be. And many will say (and have said), ’if it’s good enough for the US Air Force, it’s probably good enough for me.’ And that is a great example of some of the hurdles we face. So, let’s embrace this. Let’s look at how we can move it even beyond what Pilot Training Transformation is doing and bring those tool sets to solve the problems that our customers face. 

Q: What’s more important in the delivery of training transformation, experience, or innovation? Or are both equally important? 

I think it’s both. Experience is important to understand current challenges, and innovation is important as a solution to help solve those problems.  

Younger generations want to be engaged, they want to be excited, they want to use these new technologies. And I think there’s potential there to increase the retention of those younger students that are coming through the program. And that, in itself, will help address some of the pilot challenges that we face. 

Q: Where do you see the training transformation experience in 12 to 24 months? 

If we’re successful in getting the word out, I think training is going to look very different. We’re doing some trial work right now with the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force, and the feedback has been phenomenal. The students were excited and, with the data analytics, they were able to improve a full grade within one hour. And this happened whether the students had low experience, high experience, high performance, low performance. It was systematic, across the board: every student improved just flying this device for an hour. 

So, I think in 12 to 24 months, what I would hope to accomplish is to onboard more customers, do more of these trials and prototyping, and ultimately get CA Rise to a point where it is an integral element of training large classrooms of students, getting them their wings and making them ready for tomorrow. 

Would you like to listen to this interview in audio form? Be sure to check out our complete podcast catalogue at https://vanguardcanada.com/category/podcast/ or search for us on Spotify.  

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