In March 2020, with a strategy built around growing trusted partnerships and sustainable customer relationships, Airways International’s business and industry was heavily reliant on connecting face-to-face with customers and students.
Enter Covid-19 which caused rapid and unprecedented disruption to global aviation. With lockdowns and travel restrictions in place, students could no longer travel to Airways’ New Zealand facilities for ATC training, and the global travel of staff to meet with customers and conduct ATC training and simulator installations ground to a halt.
Our team needed to innovate and were up for the challenge. We pivoted and reimagined our business from a predominantly face-to-face delivery model to fully remote, to deliver contracted work and keep our people employed.
How did we respond?
As Covid-19 began to wreak havoc across the globe, with no certainty as to when travel and border restrictions would lift, we challenged ourselves to transform our training business so we could deliver our courses remotely and meet the changing needs of our customers during this time of turmoil for the aviation sector.
In December 2020 we launched the Airways Knowledge Online (AKO) Virtual Academy to enable aviation students across the globe to engage and learn remotely in a virtual classroom environment. This included building a virtual learning studio to deliver instructor-led classes, and transitioning all courseware into a format suitable for online delivery.
Since AKO’s launch we have developed a range of aviation courses accessible via AKO, utilising the latest cloud-based digital learning and engagement technologies – courses that can be delivered virtually by an instructor, can be accessed via students in their own time and at their own pace. From our previous research, we knew it was important for our students to have access to on-demand interactive content, and this is what we have delivered via AKO.
Our library of AirBooks interactive resources is an integral part of AKO – we have boosted the volume our AirBooks libraries from 24 to 54 books to support our range of AKO courses, and we’ve developed an e-commerce storefront via Shopify to enable our customers to quickly and easily purchase these resources online. Now, more than 18 months on, AKO is in use by air navigation service providers (ANSPs) globally as they embrace the new normal for training in this post Covid-19 environment, and our AKO course offerings are expanding to meet demand.
What have we learned?
There have been many challenges along the way as we have transformed our training business to deliver courses remotely. Instructors and students, often working across different time zones have needed to adjust to this new method of teaching and learning. While the concept of remote learning is not new for Airways, with the introduction of AirBooks e-learning resources seven years ago, our industry has taken more time to adapt to virtual training.
The Covid-19 pandemic fast-tracked the air traffic management industry’s need to embrace digital learning over traditional classroom based face-to-face learning. Our instructors have learned to transition their teaching style and resources for virtual delivery – they’ve learned to use interactive learning tools such as a digital whiteboard, AirBooks, virtual quizzes and video across multiple screens, to deliver training virtually in an engaging way.
Students have also needed to adjust to this new way of learning. Strong internet connection is critical for virtual learning, and students have learned that more self-motivation and discipline is required in a virtual classroom environment as they may be required to complete some tasks on their own without the physical presence of instructor and fellow students.
Online examinations and assessments have been another significant change for students undertaking virtual training with Airways – proctoring software is a critical element to virtually assessing students, confirming their identity and monitoring their activity as they undertake assessments online.
We are grateful to have worked alongside regulators such as the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) in the UAE, who have supported the certification of Airways’ virtual training. Students from GCAA have embraced virtual training – A GCAA cohort was the first group of students through our virtual AKO doors, studying 051 Licensing Subjects in the last quarter of 2020. All students passed their exams with excellent results, despite the challenges and disruptions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
We’re pleased to have taught students who couldn’t have otherwise participated in training due to global travel and border restrictions. Many have successfully completed courses that have enabled them to advance their ATC careers in areas such as incident investigation, and our virtual English rater training has meant that controllers were able to continue to undertake regular compulsory English testing throughout the pandemic.
The beginning of a new way of teaching and learning
Our industry research and insights told us that ANSPs globally were searching for more cost-effective and flexible ways of providing ATC training, with increased spending constraints, decreasing revenues and social distancing requirements all being a factor. AKO has delivered on this, however this is just the beginning.
We have learned that great things can be achieved by tackling challenges head-on and believing in our people and processes. Physical distance from our customers is no longer a barrier and the AIL team is embracing this new way of working.