Virtual reality has just hit the consumer world with a bang, and the aerospace industry is starting to see it, and its ‘relation’ augmented reality, in action – Japan Airlines recently deployed a virtual reality headset for engine mechanics and flight crew trainees. The market for VR and AR is growing as more businesses realise the potential benefits of the technologies - one report from Digi-Capital predicts the VR/AR market to be worth $£95bn by 2020.
The technologies have been used in both civil aviation and the military for simulated training for several years, but only now are we seeing them implemented to fulfil a key requirement in MRO – the shortage of skilled engineers.
Expansion too quick for training to keep pace
The rising passenger demand for air travel has resulted in a global expansion for airlines, but maintenance expertise is struggling to keep up. The Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions in particular are witnessing huge growth in aircraft procurement. Both regions saw year-on-year growth of over 10 percent in air passenger demand in 2016, eclipsing the growth in demand of North American and European carriers. According to Boeing, the ME and APAC regions also took the most deliveries of large and medium wide-body aircraft in 2015, an indicator of the serious fleet expansion and modernisation of airlines. In addition, as western military air forces have reduced warfighter numbers in support areas, the traditional pool and outflow of mid-career engineers into more stable civil careers is rapidly reducing.
Training not easy in a highly-regulated industry
There is a lag of some 5 years to get a B1 or B2 EASA licence as a qualified aircraft engineer and in many countries there is simply not yet the training infrastructure to drive this. Even in the US, it can take up to eight elapsed years for a maintenance professional to become fully licensed. Most of this time needs to be spent doing on-the-job training and classes, which can further be delayed by difficulties in providing access to the practical EASA Part-145 training. With a highly-regulated industry such as aviation MRO, tasks are qualifications oriented. Specific training enables engineers to do specific jobs, on specific aircraft and no more.
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