Emerging Technologies and the Future of Aviation Training Post COVID-19

By Triant Flouris, 11 August 2020.


The air transportation industry is expected to double in the next twenty years with forecasts projecting more than 8,2 billion passenger transactions by 2037. This continuous growth inevitably creates unprecedented systemic challenges in terms of equipment (ex. aircraft), infrastructure (ex. airports) and processes (ex. ground service activities). Because of the projected growth, the aviation industry must invest in emerging technologies (ex. Artificial Intelligence-AI, Data Analytics, and Process Automation) creating a seamless journey for passengers, and cargo, while concurrently reducing its environmental footprint.


Given the organic interplay of systems and humans that characterize an aviation ecosystem, further pressure will be exerted on aviation professionals to be effective in their roles and appropriate training policies and educational reforms will be required to address the various knowledge, competencies, and skills required for aviation employees’ adaptation in a digitally – enabled work environment. So, in light of this, what are the implications set by emerging technologies for aviation jobs in the future?


Air transportation is in a period of significant disruption because of the impact of COVID-19 as well as due to the rising costs and increased competition that force industry stakeholders to identify new revenue streams and change the way they interact with their customers. By embracing new and emerging technologies in Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and Robotization, aviation stakeholders drive new value and intelligence throughout the customer journey while increasing the industry’s efficiency, safety, security and environmental sustainability. Given the tight interplay of human and machine for an aviation ecosystem’s operation the nature of human work is also disrupted leading to the following considerations:  What are the particular skill patterns required from aviation professionals to harness the potential of these emerging technologies currently and in the future? How can the education and learning strategies be adapted to correspond to the technological disruption of the industry?


In addition, how could the synergies between academia, industry and policy makers may improve the sustainability of a digitally enabled aviation ecosystem?   Emerging technologies have the potential to increase the industry’s efficiency, safety, security and environmental sustainability while also providing a level of personalization to the passenger experience. It is true that because of digital transformation, some low skilled and repetitive tasks will continue to being replaced. On the other hand, new types of work will grow and jobs that do not even exist today will become the norm. What is certain however is that, the future workforce will need to align its training to keep pace with emerging technologies. Employees will have a more proactive role in an aviation work environment, one that is less focused on repetitive tasks and more focused on solving problems with intelligent machines. To deliver opportunities and security to everyone, everywhere at a time of widespread technological disruption, besides the appropriate regulatory and data governance frameworks, policy makers, the academe, and industry stakeholders must work together to advance innovative solutions that meet the urgent and evolving training needs of workers. The best way to do this is by taking advantage of the very technologies that are causing the upheaval.


The COVID-19 pandemic pointed out the paramount importance of repositioning the human factor at the aviation workplace along with innovative ways to keep people engaged and involved when human interaction is restricted and they must work with intelligent machines. From a neuroscience perspective the more people interact with intelligent machines the higher the need emerges for the acquisition of the soft skills required for maintaining human capabilities (i.e. adaptability, resilience, decision making, team management, etc.) to ensure safe and secure management and decision making at safety and/or security critical events. For the purpose of maintaining these human capabilities the usage of realistic cases as training scenarios from the aviation industry is highly recommended.


From a micro learning perspective, we cannot educate train and (re/up) skilling human capital for the post-digital era, using pre-digital means (ex. popping in training videos). A blended learning journey is required that mix in-class lecturing, digital courses and on-the job training, with adaptive learning, simulations and Situational Judgement Tests (i.e. Time restricted tests based on real scenarios to simulate decision making under uncertainty).


Aviation business leaders understand that the only way for digital transformation to work, is to place people at the center and create the necessary people transformation strategies that will lead to a brighter business future. These people transformational strategies can be leveraged from blended learning journeys for training and (re/up) skilling, as noted before. The recent downturn of the industry has idled thousands of aviation employees. Now is the best time to engage in training, (re/up) skilling and learning for the future needs of the industry. However, a warning needs to be placed here: the acquisition of these skills needs to be adapted in a manner that corresponds to the technological disruption of the industry. The best way to do this is to use the same technologies that are causing the upheaval.


Human actions will always influence the possibility of aviation accidents, incidents and security breaches. Therefore, ensuring that aviation people remain well educated can be foundational for risk management resulting in aviation safety excellence.


Professor Triant Flouris, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Center of Excellence in Logistics Shipping and Transportation, at The American College of Greece.