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Will Virtual Reality Shape The Future Of MRO Training?

Every few years, a new technology with the potential to transform parts of the aviation maintenance industry comes along to fan the flames of excitement. In recent years, the spotlight has fallen on tech such as wearable devices, drones for inspections, and increasingly so in the past year, virtual reality (VR) applications.

One area identified as ripe for a disruptive technology like VR is maintenance training. According to ICF International vice-president Jonathan Berger, who spoke on MRO market trends at MRO Europe in Amsterdam last week, VR tech could prove particularly influential in reshaping existing training processes, with Berger likening its potential for disruption to that of 3D printing's impact on parts manufacturing.

“Tools like these [VR] need to be incorporated now - the technology is available and it will really disrupt the whole training industry,” he said, specifically pinpointing an opportunity for VR to help reduce technician training times through replicating an aircraft in a virtual setting.

Through his work with MROs for the consultancy firm, Berger specifically pinpointed a period of five to six years for how long it takes for a technician to reach the peak of their productivity - accumulated through on-the-job training and attending classes. 

With VR technologies increasingly available in greater options, Berger’s call for them to be implemented could prove particularly lucrative to MROs – with some predicting that it could shave one or perhaps even two years off these typical maintenance technician cycles. While accumulating points for efficiency, this would surely also bring about cost savings. 

Of course, this column has touched on the possibilities associated with VR before. And following MRO Americas last April, Houston-based Optech4D spoke to Aviation Week about their focus on aviation applications, having previously specialized on VR and augmented reality platforms for the oil & gas industry.

Vincent Higgins, Optech4D’s CEO and founder, previously echoed similar thoughts to those espoused by Berger last week. “What once was seen as “something of the future” is now here to stay,” he stated in a guest post for MRO-Network.com in June. “AR and VR technology adoption has increased significantly over the past five years, and exponentially so following the advent of Google Glass and virtual reality gaming technologies.”

[CHARTBEAT:3]

At MRO Europe, AFI KLM E&M demonstrated its web-based virtual aircraft system for a KLM-operated 787 aircraft, able to reproduce the entire aircraft and its systems in a 3D setting. According to the MRO, this includes access to the aircraft, its cockpit, technical compartments and capabilities to open the engine and APU.

With elements of the industry such as aircraft hangars becoming increasingly digitalized, training processes look a safe bet to follow suit. And this will be in the not-too distant future, based on the views of Berger, Optech4D’s Higgins and developments such as the one showcased by AFI KLM E&M. 

And based purely on my perspective from last week’s Amsterdam event, VR is certainly becoming more ubiquitous, featuring more prominently on the radars of some of the MROs I spoke with. It appears solid investment cases for VR could soon be forming.

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