Improving Aviation Safety and Reducing Costs with Immersive Technology

February 03 2020

aviationsafetytrainingvirtual realityvr

A plane that breaks down just before takeoff is an expensive problem. Whenever a technical malfunction grounds an airplane, this is known as Aircraft on Ground, or AOG. This dilemma can cost the airline an eye-watering $150,000 an hour.  

Of course, the only thing that trumps saving money in this industry is aviation safety. According to a recent report by Forbes, the number of accidents have increased from the typical five-year average. Despite all the advances in the industry, aviation safety and soaring costs remain perennial concerns for airlines all over the planet. However, a solution may be on the horizon.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are rapidly evolving into genuine game-changers. Many industries have been experimenting with these immersive technologies, testing their capabilities in everything from manufacturing, medicine, and marketing. Business Wire reports that the market for augmented and virtual reality in aviation is set to grow from $78 million in 2019 to $1.37 billion by 2025.

In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of AR/VR technologies for aviation to see how they can reduce costs and improve aviation safety in the future.

The State of Aviation Safety in 2020

Before we dive into the world of extended reality (XR), let’s get real by taking a hard look at the figures that matter most when it comes to aviation safety today:

  • 2017 - 59 deaths

  • 2018 - 561 deaths

  • 2019 - 287 deaths

As you can see, 2017 was the best year -- not just here, but on record. While 2019 reversed a staggering rise in fatalities, last year's death toll is almost 500% higher than in 2017.

It must be noted that in 2019, a single accident claimed more than half of the 287 souls. The Boeing 737 MAX that belongs to Ethiopian Airlines had already been in one crash before its second disaster killed 156 people. With that, many people lost faith in the world’s largest aerospace company. Interestingly, the experts believed that the reduction in fatalities in 2019 was a direct result of grounding the 737 MAX.

airline fatalities

Source: Statista

But while aviation safety is paramount, AOG is a major problem too. A single disruption causes a series of knock-on effects to the airline’s logistics, triggering the need for backup airplanes. More resources are allocated to maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO), not to mention compensation for passengers. Ultimately, these implications have a massive impact on flying revenue. With an AOG costing so much, airlines make avoiding such instances a top priority.

So, what can airlines do for costs and aviation safety in 2020 and beyond? How can they make air travel safer and make sure aircrafts aren't grounded from technical issues?

How XR Technology Can Improve Aviation Safety and Reduce Costs

Virtual Reality, or VR, offers us a way of immersing ourselves in a world that we can manipulate without the risks or fear we face in real life. 

In 2020, VR technology is long past the point of a gaming gimmick. The CES 2020 convention revealed that several brands had embraced the tech in the battle for supremacy in the automobile market. Whether it's Audi's smart car that uses augmented reality, letting you flag points of interest as you drive, Honda's VR driving simulator, or Hyundai's flying taxi, there certainly are exciting developments in the works right now.

So, with XR technology already established in automobiles, it’s no surprise that the aviation industry has swooped in to see what’s possible.

Hyundai flying taxi

Source: VentureBeat

In one case, Vantage Airport Group partnered with Circuit Stream. Circuit Stream worked with Vantage to understand their business and design a virtual reality (VR) training application to improve safety. Additionally, the solution was developed to be cost-effective. Download the free case study from Circuit Stream to find out what happened.

Check out the case study

Developing commercial aircrafts for long-haul, high-speed flights across the globe is an engineering feat. However, the smallest error in design or manufacturing can have catastrophic consequences. And then there’s the job of a pilot, which demands a level of skill and confidence that, historically, can only be learned in the air. 

But times are changing. Here are four key areas where VR and AR technology can improve aviation safety and reduce costs today.

Engineering & Mechanics

Reports from the MRO Network estimate that the number of passengers in civil aviation is going to double by the year 2036. To accommodate this growth, the aviation industry must train more engineers and mechanics to maintain and repair the world’s growing fleet of airplanes.

Traditionally, many aviation engineers don’t get a lot of practical learning on complex structures like jet engines and turboprops. It’s not always easy to get real parts of an aircraft to use for training. Many students only get the chance to see an aircraft up close when it needs repairs. Not to mention, as aircraft technology becomes more reliable, opportunities for new engineers to learn become increasingly rare.

Virtual reality technology can bridge the gap, allowing aviation engineers an abundance of training time so they can become familiar with the intricate workings of an airplane's engine.

In one particular instance, Japan Airlines (JAL) ran a VR technology trial to discover if an immersive learning environment could enhance the skill set of aviation mechanics. The VR training simulation allows maintenance engineers to get acquainted with the engine run-up procedure in a realistic environment. Furthermore, experienced mechanics have a chance to test their knowledge and identify weak points for improvement.

Early feedback suggests the program is a viable learning tool that can improve proficiency in aviation maintenance. Therefore, it should lead to more confident, competent engineers, and ultimately, safer, more reliable airplanes.

Pilot Training

Flying an airplane is one of the most demanding and dangerous jobs in the world. So, learning to fly is bound to be nothing short of terrifying. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) released a Fatal Flight Training Accident Report for 2000-2015, revealing that 54% of fatal training accidents were down to a loss of control in flight, and another 10% were because of mid-air collisions.

fatal accidents graph

Source: AOPA

With these unfortunate casualties stacking up, it was only a matter of time before aviation safety experts looked for a better way to train pilots. Soon enough, people were asking, what if you could learn to fly without actually leaving the ground?

In April 2019, the U.S. Air Force launched a new VR training program called Pilot Training Next. A class of 30 students used VR headsets and advanced artificial intelligence (AI) biometrics equipment instead of exorbitantly-expensive flight simulators. 

Typically, a legacy simulator for traditional pilot training costs around $4.5 million. The VR flight training program was just $1,000 per unit. Standard pilot training takes about one year to complete. In the VR-complimented Air Force class, 13 pilots graduated from the class within four months, achieving certification to fly in less than half the normal time, at a fraction of the cost.

Normally, pilots have to complete extensive training in every aircraft model before they are allowed to fly. With older training methods, airlines invest a lot of time, money, and resources to build different styles of cockpits for each type of aircraft training. Now, with VR, it only takes some changes in programming code. Not only does this bonus give trainee pilots easy access to practice in a wide range of cockpits, but it could also save the aviation industry billions of dollars.

Ground Crew Training

Before a plane takes off, the pilots and ground crew need to inspect every part of the aircraft. Learning on-the-job is the most efficient way to train employees for these roles. As mentioned, on-the-job learning is often impractical because of the lack of access to working aircrafts and the plethora of different models that employees will encounter throughout their career. 

Once again, airlines find themselves in a tough spot. Considering the complications, the ground crew may not be adequately trained for the job, effectively putting the airplane and all its passengers in danger. 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is a leading training provider for the aviation industry and an advocate for the use of immersive technology in operational training. Determined to improve aviation safety, IATA has been working on a VR training system for airline ground crew since 2016.

RampVR is an innovative simulation where trainees can undertake immersive training scenarios, practicing on a range of different aircraft types, in various weather conditions. More than one hundred students from an array of companies have completed the VR-enabled courses, learning key aspects of ground control, such as marshaling, turnaround inspection, and common gestures. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with everyone seeing the benefit to trainees, aviation safety, and of course, the bottom line on airline financial statements.

Nick Careen, the IATA Senior VP for Airport, Passenger, Cargo, and Security, asserts that "VR in the learning context increases knowledge retention by as much as four times while improving motivation and engagement. VR is here to stay."

Circuit Stream and Vantage Group designed an interactive airside driving simulator using the Oculus Rift. This innovative training simulation could potentially save millions in repairs and lost revenue. Download the case study to learn more.

Check out the case study

Supply Chain Logistics

In addition to marked improvements to the aviation safety network, immersive technologies hold a lot of promise for streamlining manufacturing and production in the industry. We can already see the impact of XR technology in the automotive industry.

Volkswagen launched VR training programs for its production and logistics staff in 2016. Since then, the brand has noted remarkable advances in efficacy and efficiency. Spurred on by these results, Volkswagen has rolled out their XR training to over 10,000 employees in its state-of-the-art digital reality hub.

VR controllers enable people to use their hands to practice for tasks such as commissioning parts and using barcode scanners. These virtual workplace simulations are easy to access from anywhere, so employees can operate the real machines and materials around the clock. This integration improves the supply chain by saving travel and time.

BMW is another early adopter in the automotive industry. The company has generated excellent results with virtual prototyping and XR production line training. The consensus is that intelligent AI robots have a vital role in the new industrial revolution, and XR technologies can act as a bridge between human workers and robots.

Accenture reports that 67% of senior executives are anticipating that the combination of AI, XR, quantum computing, and distributed ledger technology will have a transformational impact on their organization within the next three years.

How to Implement an XR Training Scenario for Aviation

So, let’s take a look at the step-by-step process involved in implementing a VR or AR training scenario in the aviation industry. Here are the fundamental steps:

1. Identify the need

AOG costs aren’t easy to sweep under the carpet. Several days on the runway or garage can cost millions in lost revenue. And yet, airplanes in need of repair offer a rare chance for practical training, making them an undesirable necessity if companies are to reduce risks and dangerous situations in the future.

Before partnering with Circuit Stream, Vantage spent more than $200,000 on traditional training methods, investing some 10,000 man-hours in training employees across their entire organization properly. 

With VR training, airlines won't have to rely on AOG units. Airline employees will have unfettered access to advanced training environments that improve their retention, confidence, and skills. Ultimately, the addition of VR can reduce risks and save aerospace companies a fortune otherwise wasted on older, less efficient methods.

2. Pick a pilot project

Circuit Stream and Vantage devised a solution using the Oculus Rift. Their concept for an interactive and immersive airside driving simulator facilitates training scenarios that are challenging to recreate in reality. 

The airside driving simulator had scope for several goals:

  • Reduce accidents and risk to employees
  • Reduce the chances of repairs
  • Improve knowledge and skills in realistic scenarios

With one unique need in mind, you can define your goals easily and then move onto the scope of the project.

3. Create a scope for implementation

Together, Circuit Stream projected that the aviation safety benefits above would all contribute to cost savings for the Vantage Group. Circuit Stream developed the VR application and offered integrated training on it to Pascal Poudenx -- the manager of process design and sustainability at Vantage.

The scope of the VR simulator was to teach users by outlining strict airside driving rules so that it would ingrain new driving habits. Also, the simulation would simulate realistic interactions with passengers and airside traffic to prepare employees for the job.

4. Track core metrics

In our case study, Circuit Stream and Vantage could monitor Pascal’s progress as he learned how to use the application. When we look beyond that and consider performance metrics for XR applications in the aviation industry, the main barometers of success include:

  • Training time - hours logged, levels passed, number of cockpits trained in, etc. 
  • Expenses - Training expenses, technology, man-hours, etc.
  • Workplace accidents - these can be categorized as minor, major, severe, critical, etc.
  • Flight incidents - number of crashes, number of fatalities, AOG time/costs, etc.

Having clear goals from the start will help you determine the most relevant metrics to track so that you can chart progress over time.

5. When ROI is promising, be ready to scale

You must be prepared to scale at the right time so that you can capitalize on early momentum and promising potential. XR is still a new industry, and therefore, just because you think of a great idea, it doesn't mean someone else can't quickly release a better version of it. With the issues in the airline industry, companies will gravitate to the best solution available now.

XR Technology Will Transform the Aviation Safety Network for the Better

There is no denying that augmented reality and virtual reality are already worth focusing on now. Aerospace companies and professionals in the aviation industry must think about how they can improve their supply chain to prepare for a future driven by these innovative technologies. 

More importantly, airline companies can leverage XR technologies to provide cost-effective, immersive training simulations that enhance the skills of their workforce, reduce risks on the runway, and, ultimately, make sure aviation safety is less of a concern in the future.

After collaborating with Circuit Stream, Vantage made dramatic improvements in several key areas. You can learn the full details by downloading the case study from Circuit Stream now.Check out the case study

REVIEWED BY

Melanie Leon

Content Marketer

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