E-learning and simulators: training airline pilots after Covid-19

Ilaria Grasso Macola 28 October 2020 (Last Updated October 29th, 2020 09:52)

With social distancing measures in place for the foreseeable future, cadet pilots are likely to face disruptions in their training. Ilaria Grasso Macola speaks to Alpha Aviation Group executive director Bhanu Choudrie to find out how e-learning programmes could provide continuity and support future pilot pools.

E-learning and simulators: training airline pilots after Covid-19
E-learning programmes can provide continuity for cadets. Credit: Alpha Aviation.

Social distancing measures have dealt a hard blow to the aviation industry, not only in terms of passenger numbers but also when it comes to the training of future pilots.

Airlines have less time and resources to train their cadets in house and are likely to rely more on external training centres, such as the Alpha Aviation Group.

Born out of the necessity to provide continuity for its students during the pandemic, Alpha Aviation’s e-learning programme has the potential to take off in a post-Covid future. In the Q&A below, the company’s executive director Bhanu Choudrie explains why.

Ilaria Grasso Macola (IGM): When did Alpha Aviation start to develop its e-learning programme?

Bhanu Choudhrie (BC): When the Covid-19 pandemic started to spread in March, we realised that a lot of restrictions were coming into place. And, as the airline industry started to notice difficulties in flying – including the cancelling of flights and travel restrictions – we were very quick to adapt.

And we were very quick to see that e-learning was going to be a long-term solution for us in the training sector. So, we started to adapt [to this] very early on, both as a training centre and as a company.

IGM: What was the rationale behind the project?

BC: The objective was to provide continuity for our students. At any given point we have between 600 and 700 cadets across the UAE and the Philippines, with the bulk of them located in the Philippines.

It’s a massive blow to cadets, as they have paid for programmes which span from 20 to 30 months, that they have to stop or have a cold start on their training syllabus, not knowing when they’ll be back. That was a major factor for us because, in March, no one knew when the training was going to resume.

So we wanted to provide our students with the continuity of the programme and learning [so that] they could come back to the campuses and resume their normal classes.

IGM: How does the programme work?

BC: The programme is very similar to how universities and schools have continued to teach during the pandemic.

Our instructors work remotely as well as our students, who are either back in their home country if they are international or at home in the Philippines if they are from the country. All of them are connected through online platforms, where the instructor is able to teach students.

Cadets are also required to do homework as well as testing, which takes place remotely.

We are used to these methods because for the last two and a half years we have worked with the Philippines Aviation Authority to carry out testing for regulators.

It’s not something new for us: we had to pick up what we have actually been doing with regulators for the last two and a half years.

IGM: What are the benefits for pilots?

BC: The first benefit is that we provide continuity in the coursework so that students, who have paid expensive fees, don’t lose months of training. The second element is that we are able to expand our base of students.

Now we can offer e-learning for parts of the syllabus and not be restricted by facilities and plan to include additional classes, which will start with the e-learning programme and then come onto campus when the previous class has left.

Through e-learning, we can actually increase our student capacity.

IGM: You are investing in simulator facilities across the UAE and the Philippines. Can you tell us a bit more about them?

BC: The simulator is a very important aspect of flying. In the Philippines, we have the first Airbus A330/A340 simulator.

We have focused on the demands of the local area and region and we work with airlines to understand what the future requirements and demands of training will be.

Because of Covid-19, we are going to see changes in the way the airline sector will train pilots. Before, pilots were sent to other continents to do their training, but now I don’t think it will happen anymore. So companies are going to focus more regionally and will rely on local training providers because they meet the demand from local airlines.

IGM: Are there any safety risks for pilots that train using your e-learning programmes? Will there be more pilots with less experience?

BC: The aviation industry is so highly regulated by local aviation authorities that the e-learning aspect is only focused on the classroom element, not on flying hours.

Flying will continue to be done either through schools or through simulators.

IGM: Covid-19 hit the whole aviation industry hard. In what ways e-learning programmes will help it recover?

BC: E-learning is going to help a lot of training institutions like Alpha Aviation to continue the training, even when there are restrictions on social distancing and the number of students allowed on campus.

If there is a Covid-19 case in a facility, even though the building has to be shut down, learning can continue remotely. It also presents a big advantage when travelling is restricted between countries, as it can continue as long as you have basic internet and computers.

E-learning becomes a huge pro for students, as we are actually seeing large numbers of students wishing to sign up because of e-learning.

These programmes have become possible also thanks to regulators, which were very good and quick to adapt to this new reality. If the regulators had objected, we would have had a problem.

IGM: Do you see e-learning programmes becoming the norm in the future?

BC: I think it will have to. Just like in the education sector, we are seeing how e-learning is going to become a part of the regular syllabus.

Before, everyone wanted students to be on campus and in classrooms, and e-learning was sort of a second or third aspect of that.

Now e-learning is becoming much more important for some people, in the sense that it’s the main income generator and the main element they’re going to focus on.

For the aviation industry, e-learning will play a very important factor. In fact, it could be even at the top of the list of priorities.