4.16.2007

Boeing Makes Pilot Training Lean

A division of Boeing is adopting a new system for training pilots that embodies some lean principles.


            Boeing, of course, has a long history of pursuing a lean strategy. Its wholly owned subsidiary, Alteon Training, is launching something called the Multi-Crew Pilot Licensing (MPL) program.


            The intent is to train pilots in less time and at less cost than has traditionally been the case.


            According to Marsha Bell, vice president of First Officer Program at Alteon, traditional pilot training has included a requirement that a pilot acquire a certain number of hours of training and flight time.


            Instead, “we encouraged an examination of what needed to be trained, rather than an arbitrary hour figure,” Bell says.


            In another example, training traditionally has focused on a student first becoming proficient as a single pilot in a plane, then as part of a crew. But “that’s not how airlines crew their airplanes,” Bell comments. “This allows a training environment that replicates the flight environment.”


            High demand for pilots is what prompted creation of the MPL program. Boeing projects 35,000 total commercial aircraft worldwide by 2024, meaning airlines will need to employ more than 17,000 jet-ready pilots each year. In China alone, Boeing projects a 264 percent fleet growth over the next 20 years.


            Initially, six students are being trained under an MPL beta program at facilities in Australia, with another six planned soon. The first batch of qualified pilots – actually, they are being trained as first officers – is expected by next January.


            Bell says the new program eliminates much of the “learning and unlearning” of traditional methods.


            While lean is apparently not part of the MPL vocabulary, the streamlining of the process certainly sounds a lot like a lean approach, as does the willingness to go beyond traditional methods – which Bell says have been in place for more than 60 years.


            By the way, technology is also a key part of the new approach. Simulators have become so realistic, according to Bell, that training now includes about 75 percent less time in actual airplanes than in the past, and a graduate’s first flight will actually be on an airplane with passengers.

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