New Training Methods, Virtual Reality Make Their Marks On MRO

MRO providers turn to virtual reality and simulation to improve maintenance training and efficiency.

Commercial aircraft are massive and expensive, making them difficult to support just for training. The mechanisms and programs controlling the aircraft are intricate and complex. While advancements in the aerospace industry move forward, the training devices and infrastructure can be just as cutting-edge. In 2014, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced a notice of proposed amendment to evaluate the new training methods and technologies and amend Regulation (EC) No. 2042/2003 to address the regulatory discrepancies. It is becoming commonly accepted that these innovations provide more capabilities for the mechanics as well as improved efficiency and more effective training, thus making the industry more safe.


1. Platform for Success

Company:  Flatirons Solutions

Specifications: In the way programs are only as good as their training, training may only be as good as its host. Flatirons, a consulting, software and outsourcing company, works with the aviation industry to repurpose and create content. Its Corena Managed Content Services offers technical authoring and illustration for flight and training manuals, allowing required updates such as engineering changes or the accumulation of versions to run seamlessly. As part of an extended publishing and training team, Flatirons helped Honeywell reuse information and leverage its existing assets. Flatirons is pursuing industrial Internet of Things and virtual/augmented reality support, which will also directly affect capabilities for training and task performance.

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2. Good-bye to the Old Days

Company: FlightSafety International

Specifications: FlightSafety International runs commercial and defense training, customer training for Honeywell Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney, as well as maintenance training and flight simulation. Paul Kutcha, director of training operations for maintenance and cabin safety training, says trainees previously used a highlighter to trace the flow of fuel through an aircraft on a paper manual; they now can complete the exercise digitally. In May, the company implemented the device-agnostic FlightBag courseware app with the digital training manuals, cockpit posters and flashcards on iPads and other tablets. 

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3. Online for Anywhere

Company: FL Technics

Specifications: FL Technics is an MRO provider that launched an online EASA Part 147-compliant courses platform in August 2014. Anton Tisov, head of communication projects, says, “The online platform was designed to simulate the in-class training to the max, including the instructor up-front, software to track students’ attention to the subject and other features which are necessary for aviation technical training process.” Moving coursework online will allow students to conveniently review and stop courses and reduce costly trips to training facilities, maximizing accessibility to the programs, says Kestuitis Volungevicius, the head of training.

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4. Horse Before the Cart

Company:  National Aviation Academy

Specifications: Robert Ryerson, an auditor for courses at the National Aviation Academy (NAA), believes in the benefits of virtual reality, saying that software programs or computer-based mock-ups are much more cost-effective than using actual aircraft. Ryerson reviews the curriculum for the NAA campuses, advocating enhancement of the courses and bringing the training closer to the specifications of current aircraft and industry needs. Although the technology is more cost-effective in the long term, it can be difficult to incur the initial cost without knowing exactly how it could be used. “We know what [regulations and certifications] will be coming out, but we don’t know which road they’ll go down or how in-depth they’d like us to get. It does make it difficult to purchase anything that may be needed in the future,” says Ryerson. The NAA uses flight simulators to train in instrument operations and instill faults for students to troubleshoot. The program also uses a wire and circuit building software program that allows students to build circuits to meet load requirements and also troubleshoot possible faults.

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I wouldn’t say I was skeptical of virtual reality-enabled training, but rather oblivious to some of its benefits besides the obvious cost-reduction potential. But in 30 min. at Rockwell Collins, I experienced replacing a faulty line replaceable unit—while understanding the King aircraft’s software and learning to remember to avoid the propeller behind me. Virtual reality allows technicians and mechanics (or curious reporters) to experience what it feels like to maintain an aircraft in its entirety, visualizing parts and working in the hangar environment. This speeds training and provides comfort for the trainee that is not typically obtained from 30 min. at Rockwell Collins.

5. VR Applications for Customer Use

Company: Rockwell Collins

Specifications: In 2014, Rockwell Collins began to create a virtual reality (VR) application with WorldViz Virtual Reality Software for maintenance training. In December 2015, the application debuted at CANSEC 2016; it is still in the development phase. The team is evolving the product to address specific training issues such as physical risks and asset damage costs. “As [the application] evolves, so will the customer base,” says Kirk Thorson, program manager at Rockwell Collins, who says specific customers have not been identified yet. The application is intended for easy setup, consisting of four sensors that can be mounted or held on tripods in a 12-ft.2 space. Through Oculus Rift DK2 3-D goggles, any part and environment can be viewed and interacted with using a one-handed controller.

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6. Rockwell Collins’ VR Support

Company:  WorldViz Virtual Reality Software

Specifications: WorldViz offers custom application development, and on-site installation and training for its virtual reality software, Vizard, and for its projection, walking, standing and seated VR systems. WorldViz connected with Rockwell Collins in 2014 at a tradeshow and became the vendor of choice for Rockwell Collins’ virtual reality application. The Vizard software can be connected to all helmet-mounted displays, 3-D displays, motion trackers and input devices. The sensors used can track up to 10 people or objects simultaneously and work across spaces up to 164 ft.2 with sub-millimeter accuracy.

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7. More In-Depth Understanding

Company: Monarch Aircraft Engineering

Specifications: Monarch Aircraft Engineering provides base-maintenance repair and overhaul capabilities for Airbus, Boeing, Embraer and Bombardier. The program offers Airbus and Boeing training, using a fully electronic classroom for the Boeing 787. Jeff Brewer, engineering training manager, says the success rates for passing the courses has remained the same since implementation of the technology, but students gain a more in-depth and lasting understanding without risking damage or defects on a serviceable aircraft.

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8. The Cost/Benefit Balance

Company: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Specifications: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University uses Aerosim’s B747 Virtual Flight Deck to teach students about system operations from the flight deck and to make them more familiar with engine-indicating and crew-alerting system and electronic flight-instrument system displays. Chuck Horning, department chairman for aviation maintenance science, and other department faculty review proposals to introduce new training devices within Embry-Riddle’s program. Horning says most of the new devices are built in-house by the students, which creates a learning opportunity. The ideas for the devices sometimes come at a cost, he says. “The decision to build a training device is not a light one, as it is often a large time and monetary commitment,” he notes. “It is not uncommon that the time from concept to use in the classroom will be greater than a year.”

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9.  Embry-Riddle’s VR Support

Company: Aerosim

Specifications: Aerosim offers simulation-based training products used by commercial air carriers and general training organizations, including pilot and technician tools for distance learning, ground school and flight training. Aerosim worked with LATAM Airines, formerly TAM, in 2012 to implement the Aerosim Virtual Maintenance Trainer for the Airbus A320 and A330 component locations, fault-isolation procedures and return-to-service tests.

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Gallery See more customized training virtual reality and digital programs for MRO: 

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