Chris Ranganathan

Chris Ranganathan, Chief Learning Officer, CAE

An experienced pilot, Chris has been involved in pilot training and training management for over 20 years, in an aviation career spanning more than 30 years.

During his career, he has been instrumental in the introduction of innovative training concepts and programs at several airlines. Immediately prior to joining CAE, Chris was Vice President Operations Training at Etihad Airways, where he was responsible for the introduction of EBT on all types and the implementation of MPL cadet pilot training that used the Embraer Phenom in the Basic phase of the program.

In his current role, he is responsible for leading CAE’s Civil Aviation Learning Strategy and Services team, including Regulatory Affairs, Training Standards, Aviation Safety and MPL training programs.

A CAT Magazine Pioneer award winner in 2018, Chris holds a Masters Degree in Aviation Management and is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Pilot Demand Outlook

Today, our industry is facing unprecedented challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic is profoundly impacting day to day life, slowing down the global economy, and causing widespread disruption. The sudden drop in air travel demand has hindered the industry’s record growth trajectory. The consensus is that the road to recovery will span over several years. As the global aviation community looks ahead, many of us have acknowledged that our industry will have to overcome several fundamental challenges. Airlines and operators around the world have adjusted their operations to align with lower demand. Thousands of pilots have been furloughed in recent months. Many of them have pivoted to other professions and might not want to resume their pilot careers. On the one hand, airlines and operators have reduced the pilot workforce to offset the financial impact of the pandemic. On the other hand, data indicates that the industry will face significant challenges in the upcoming years to meet the demand for pilots.

Despite the short-term decline in the number of active pilots, analysis shows that the civil aviation industry will require more than 260,000 new pilots over the next decade, with the APAC region alone needing more than 91,000 new pilots in this timeframe. As air travel resumes progressively over the next several years, the industry will experience upward mandatory retirement and attrition rates. In fact, these combined challenges are expected to drive a demand for about 27,000 new pilots as of the end of 2021.

The fundamental factors influencing pilot demand prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic remain unchanged. In recent years, the significant growth in passenger traffic translated into record demand for professional pilots worldwide. Age-based retirement combined with fleet growth were and remain the main drivers of pilot demand. Third-party analysis shows that commercial aviation and business aviation markets are forecast to continue growing over the next decade – over 11,000 additional business and commercial aircraft are expected to join the active world fleet during that period.

As an industry, we have weathered global storms before and have learned from those setbacks. Following 9/11, the aviation industry failed to anticipate the important need of building a strong and steady supply of pilots to support the last decade’s record growth.

With this 2020-2029 Pilot Demand Outlook, we hope to arm the industry with the insights that will help the global aviation community understand, rethink, and learn about how to build and grow the supply of highly qualified pilots.

The growing importance of data collection and usage for training

When we are called upon by operators to ensure the money they spend on training actually addresses their operational risk, we use the model of an Integrated Safety Management System to help them with design and quantify the effectiveness of training. In the last few months, there has been an increase in enquiries from operators for us to help them connect the “Outer-operational” and “Inner-training” loops, with many of them also interested in benchmarking against other operators in our customer base. We find it is now common for operators worldwide to use inputs of operational data from sources such as Flight Data Analysis, Safety Reports and sometimes Line Operations Safety (LOSA) Data to alter policy, procedures and training. It is less common in our experience to see this “outer loop” complemented by data from the training system, or even from the pilot selection process.

We find that training program design is primarily driven by the regulatory compliance, sometimes by a specific task analysis, or even in the case of operators with EBT programs, program design where the frequency of topics is only based around the type or generation of aircraft. We do note however that some operators (particularly those in a data driven training program such as AQP/ATQP/EBT) then build in some consideration of their operating environment from their safety management system data. But surely even in the same generation or type and crew position, the training needs of a 500 pilot are different to those of a 5000 hour pilot, and even in a group of 5000 hour pilots, not all have exactly the same training needs? We believe it is now possible to use data analytics and AI to refine the design of training programs.

However, all training data inputs (inner loop) to training design are only valid if we are confident the Instructor or Evaluator grading data is accurate. Mmost regulations around data driven training programs have a requirement for an operator to have a system (including procedures) to ensure the accuracy of the grading system, with this system providing a reasonable root cause analysis and sensible corrective actions, when there is a mismatch.

This need to have accurate data guide our decisions, led us to ask if technology could augment traditional processes that ensure instructor standardisation and inter-rater reliability (or concordance) – we developed the CAE Rise training system in response. The Rise system uses simulator telemetry data to highlight flight parameter exceedances and SOP errors to the instructor in real time, allowing her to focus on crew behaviour. Post the training event; for the training manager the Rise system allows a comparison of Instructor grade sheet data with simulator telemetry data of exceedances, and deviations from SOP. This comparison of data from independent sources can provide an increase in the confidence of grading data quality.

In our experience, LOSA data provides the best opportunity to measure training effectiveness (Outer loop), and is also an excellent input in the training design cycle.

Increasingly we are approached by operators interested in us performing this translation of operational safety data into training program design.

LOSA data normally contains sufficient detail to analyse operational risk at the level of a fleet and even segmented by pilot experience in total, in seat and on type – allowing the development of Training Areas of Special Emphasis for a particular pilot demographic on a particular aeroplane type.

Despite COVID, improving training design and delivery remain important. Correlation of performance data gathered in Training and Line operations by relevant demographic segments, can lead to the development of tailored Learning content.

The mindset of a data driven approach to training, lends itself to meaningful comparisons and benchmarking. We acknowledge however that there are challenges to address around data protection, privacy and security – all of which we have successfully addressed in several parts of the world.

In conclusion, the CAE view of the way forward includes a continued focus on Learner-centric, data-driven training program design, with a strong AOC-ATO partnership being a key enabler to ensure a sustainable recovery.