VR IN THE WORKPLACE
From inflight entertainment to training solutions, airlines are using augmented and virtual reality to enhance operations. Aviation Business learns how AR and VR solutions are transforming the aviation sector
Airlines are using augmented and virtual reality to enhance operations
According to a recent report by research company Markets and Markets, the global virtual reality market is expected to grow from US $7.9billion in 2018 to $44.7 billion by 2024. The proliferation of VR technology in the aviation sector has been particularly noteworthy over the last two years. The use of virtual reality and augmented reality technologies has had a fundamental impact on the development and creation of operational processes, new products, services and the overall customer experience within the sector.
Lufthansa Group senior director sales, Gulf, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Heinrich Lange says: “Virtual reality technology offers the opportunity to develop and implement new methods in order to design and create seamless, connected and highly customised travel experiences for our customers.”
For example, last year, passengers flying from Frankfurt to Dubai on Lufthansa flight LH630 were the first to experience the airline’s new prototype ‘VR Moving Map’, while on board the Airbus A330. Passengers wearing special VR goggles were able to view the moving landscape below them as a 3D map and take part in 360° virtual excursions at places of interest, such as the Prater Ferris Wheel in Vienna.
While most airlines are yet to offer VR options as part of inflight entertainment, several are integrating VR in different ways to target customers.
In May, Saudia launched a virtual reality experience for passengers, allowing them to explore the aircraft prior to purchasing tickets.
Similarly, Lufthansa has used VR to sell upgrades for a few years now, according to Lange. He says: “In the past, at certain airports, Lufthansa has given passengers the chance to virtually see what it is like to be seated in premium economy or business class. By checking the 360° view of the cabin interior, they could decide if
they wanted to purchase a seat upgrade on the spot.”
Last year, Emirates trialled VR headsets in its business class and first class lounges to provide immersive cinematic experiences. At the time, Emirates said in a statement that a mix of content would be made available, including 3D & 2D movies, box sets, documentaries and 360-degree videos.
However, while airlines are keen to offer more VR-based entertainment for passengers, safety remains an issue.
VR training is the closest thing to the real environment, and it can even be better than reality as some things just can’t be trained safely in a real-world scenario” Thomas Hoger, 3spin
3spin co-owner Thomas Hoger says: “Safety and service concerns need to be addressed such as giving passengers notifications once meal service starts or turbulence occurs – however, all these problems can be addressed through software, which is what 3spin has already tried together with Lufthansa and Lufthansa Systems.”
While airlines still have some way to go before integrating VR more fully in customer and entertainment experiences, the technology has changed the way airlines train staff across all functions, from MRO to cabin crew.
IFS director, MRO product line, aerospace & defence business unit,
When compared with training on a real aircraft or in a cabin simulator, VR training is the most efficient and cost-effective solution; Lufthansa Aviation Training saves around 75% of costs compared to real aircraft-based training” Heinrich Lange, Lufthansa Group
James Elliott notes: “We have seen a steep rise in the adoption of AR and VR for training in the airline industry since one of the early adopters, Japan Airlines a couple of years ago, deployed a virtual reality headset for engine mechanics and flight crew trainees.
“Virtual reality can greatly simplify and speed up the airline staff training in conducting an external aircraft inspection. Employees wearing a head-mounted display (HMD) can virtually walk around an aircraft, detect existing issues, and check whether all necessary safety equipment is correctly placed.
In April 2019, Lufthansa Aviation Training introduced VR-based training modules, which will be used to train nearly 20,000 Lufthansa flight attendants each year in Frankfurt and Munich.
“In our modern VR hubs, these flight attendants are undergoing relevant safety and security trainings as part of their recurrent training in a virtual way. For the training itself, VR goggles are handed out to the participants – then they are taken to one of the 18 VR cabins at the training locations in Frankfurt and Munich. As soon as the trainees put on their VR goggles, they are immediately in a virtual cabin and receive a short introduction from the digital assistant virtual interactive assistant (VIA). During the entire exercise, a panel operator in the VR hub has a constant view of the action via several monitors. They transmit live videos from each cabin as well as what the participants are seeing through their VR goggles. The trainee and operator can also contact each other directly at any time – whether it be for questions or assistance,” Lange explains.
Last year, Virgin Atlantic also announced it was testing an augmented reality training app for cabin crew. The airline tapped SITA to create an AR solution allowing flight attendants to walk through the aircraft and acquaint themselves with the layout of the airline’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.
Lufthansa and 3spin also partnered to develop the world’s first mobile VR pilot training solution, and 500 pilots a year are expected to use it in the future.
Hoger reveals: “The first trainings have been evaluated scientifically in Phoenix, USA and led to a 15% increase in overall performance. Furthermore, Lufthansa and 3spin are using Augmented Reality for cargo training – this allows to bring 3D cargo into a regular office training session which makes the training much more authentic compared to textbook learning.”
Similarly, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) now uses VR to train ground crew and flight attendants.
The move from classroom-based and practical training to VR-aided lessons is a no-brainer in most cases, according to airlines and training providers.
Hoger states: “Studies have shown it is the most effective learning method compared to textbook and video training. VR training is the closest thing to the real environment, and it can even be better than reality as some things just can’t be trained safely in a real-world scenario.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Elliott, who notes: “VR is a no-risk way of learning new skills without risk of damage to actual components. An immersive experience can give new technicians a multidimensional look at a complex problem that would be hard to duplicate in a typical training environment. They can perform a virtual repair and gain the experience needed for work in the field.”
More experienced technicians can also use a VR simulation for recurring training before tackling a procedure they may not have performed recently, or at all.
Elliott explains: “An instructor can be in one place and the technicians can be distributed across a wide geography. Yet both can gather together in the same virtual workspace to review a specific training scenario. This reduces an airline’s need to pull mechanics off the line and send them to a training classroom in another city or country.”
He adds: “The same approach can be applied to other staff too. Flight attendants can learn how to operate new equipment and deliver redesigned onboard service. Ground staff too could benefit from VR, learning the proper way to manoeuver ground service equipment and sequence the complex array of servicing tasks during an aircraft turn. Immersive VR training can save hundreds of millions of dollars of annual damage repairs and delay costs.”
Lange agrees, saying: “When compared with training on a real aircraft or in a cabin simulator, VR training is the most efficient and cost-effective solution; Lufthansa Aviation Training saves around 75% of costs compared to real aircraft-based training. Furthermore, the training can be carried out on a much more individual basis than in an airplane.”
Some companies, however, are taking a more pragmatic view. Pratt & Whitney director, customer training Zonda Feulner says: “One of the biggest limitations we have come across is the maturity of the available VR technology. We have been purchasing and evaluating hardware to determine long-term feasibility to meet our needs. We have noticed some societal preferences to using VR as well. Some are eager to try the technology while others strongly prefer not to wear a headset.
“Augmented and mixed reality tools are under development to support immersion training, providing
a more effective customer training experience that can be accessed even from remote locations. In order to be adopted for mainstream maintenance in the future, an integrated, mature, wireless solution needs to become readily available.”
Feulner notes that while some limitations currently exist, the company is hoping to add more VR-based components to its training modules. She explains: “Currently, Pratt & Whitney customer training is done through classroom time and with real engines. Our vision is to have a virtual reality component that supplements what we currently have. It’s possible that we could take this technology to the point where a mechanic can get credit for learning what they need to know by picking up a virtual wrench from a virtual toolbox to work on one of our virtual engines.
Ultimately, Hoger notes, the adoption of VR across all functions of aviation is an inevitability. He says: “With pressure points currently impacting airlines with newer and more complex aircraft entering the supply chain and a shortage of engineers, we are only going to see further proliferation of augmented and virtual reality.
An immersive experience can give new technicians a multidimensional look at a complex problem that would be hard to duplicate in a typical training environment. They can perform a virtual repair and gain the experience needed for work in the field” James Elliott, IFS