Your descent into Chicago is flawless with unlimited visibility; your co-pilot glances up from approach procedures to observe the clear skies. Gentle winds blow out of the southwest as your A320 descends through thirteen-thousand feet. The Willis Tower stands out in the skyline, reflecting the sunlight behind you from the east. No worries; both you and your copilot relax noticeably, yet cautiously, because you know it’s coming. This flight has been too perfect.
Without warning visibility drops to ten yards; the cockpit goes dark. As you break through the clouds, you look down and notice Lake Michigan has now been worked up into a froth. Alarms and warnings begin a disorganized orchestration of emergency alerts just before all hydraulics are lost and the number one engine catches fire. It is imperative that you get on the ground safely right away.
Ain’t technology wonderful?
The Inflight Full-Motion Simulator you’re ‘flying’ in is a work of genius. It’s not a toy or a video game; believe me, I cartwheeled a wide body while attempting Hong Kong (HKG) airport’s western approach and it scared me silly. In the old days, a simulator was a crate the size of an air conditioner where the pilot sat while others ‘simulated’ motion by rocking the box. Today, the inflight full-motion simulator represents the path proper training has been evolving to for decades. Variations of high technology simulators exist to test emergency procedures for many industries, e.g. air traffic control and nuclear power plants.
Why the training works is because it puts workgroups into the mix … RIGHT NOW! The ability to immerse a team of pilots, engineers or controllers into a life or death situation tests, not only the students’ mettle as a team, but the procedures in place to confront the situation.
Teamwork is not something you can teach; it has to be experienced, faced and acted upon. Each person must know their place in an emergency, either giving or following orders. For instance, the success of US Air 1549, the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’, was not due to one man’s actions; Captain Chesley Sullenberger gave the orders; together he and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles landed the plane safely … as a team, whose faith in the other’s abilities was unquestionable.
With aviation, when an accident aircraft’s flight data recorder is ‘read’, the investigators ‘fly’ the simulator to find out what could have been accomplished differently. The ability to study the conditions leading up to the accident and programming what the accident crew worked through prior to impact. The benefits to training flight crews, who may face similar conditions, are priceless.
Technology should be designed to continue increasing communications, providing workgroups with the skills to rely on each other’s strengths to succeed. This need transcends the cockpit or control tower; it is how successful groups of all types are taught – to draw from each other’s experience and strength to teach, even in a classroom setting.
In this case, why is training moving backwards?
The trend these days is to cut costs, no matter what the damage to success. Universities, government agencies and private industry are sacrificing quality in how they train their people, preferring to save money, getting rid of the brick and mortar facilities. On the way out are the stand-up instructors who engaged the classroom with experience, who prompted other students to share their experiences during lessons, cultivated discussions that enabled a clearer understanding of the lesson’s material. This support can not be underestimated; students need community. The classroom is a place not only for sharing experiences, but a chance to network, find and build communities that can be tapped in the future.
The training appears to be headed toward a virtual classroom, one where a button pushed replaces a raised hand. It is impossible to spark conversation or discussion when the rest of the class is accessible only by a lighted panel, them being hundreds of miles away. The stand-up instructors no longer engage the students in dialogue, but are just talking heads reading from a script.
It is nearly impossible to put a dollar value on what happens when a way of training disappears forever. The path training is taking may end up costing more than the monetary savings; it may cost us in broken or lost lives. Either way, we will continue to erode whatever social fabric we have, as yet, retained, completing the cycle to make us a socially inept society. Just like social media has replaced family conversation, virtual instruction will further isolate us from each other, just when we need to rely on each other the most.