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My compliments to SP Guide Publications for informative and credible reportage on contemporary aerospace issues over the past six decades.
The use of Virtual Reality (VR) in aviation can no longer be disregarded as it presents wider possibilities for an aviation career along with many other logistical benefits
Pilot shortage has been a rising concern across the aviation industry especially in the post pandemic world. Alongside the unmatched pilot demand is the lack of resources and financial stress to train new recruits that is further causing the delay in producing trained pilots timely. Boeing’s Pilot & Technician Outlook 2021-2040 had reported strong long-term demand for newly qualified aviation personnel. The report estimated 6,12,000 new pilots (including 45K+ business jet pilots), 6,26,000 new maintenance technicians and 8,86,000 new cabin crew members are needed to fly and maintain the global commercial fleet over the next 20 years.
Turning to technology could be the answer to cover up this demand. The advancement of technology often exposes us to far-fetched realities and allows us to experience them up-close. Virtual Reality (VR) is one of those rapidly growing areas which is finding use in many different markets. The aviation industry isn’t far from VR adoption either. In fact, it has already experimented with its usage and the applications are further expanding. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in aviation market are expected to grow to $4.6 billion by 2030, according to a research report released by global market research organisation, Vision gain in its aviation report, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in Aviation Market Report 2020-2030. Consulting firm Price Waterhouse Cooper had also released a study in June 2021 that showed VR learners mastered content four times faster than in a classroom setting, were 275 per cent more confident to apply skills learned after training, and were more emotionally connected and focused than classroom or e-learners.
VR FLIGHT SIMULATOR
It is established that pilot training is a costly, risky and timetaking procedure. Today, simulating the pilot experience using VR and AR is providing pilots with “in-flight” training where they don’t need to leave the ground. This makes the process safer, faster and more cost-effective. These simulators allow the trainees to be in touch with a real cockpit by using advanced technology with respect to visuals, motions, communication, etc. Simulators also replicate risky conditions without putting any lives in danger. They help in saving fuel and avoiding any wear-and-tear on aircraft and engines. However, flight simulators are huge, heavy and expensive which makes pilot training a costly affair. Flight simulators had been in use to train pilots for many years and decades now but as aviation technology kept advancing, VR is now expected to notch up an entirely new era of professional pilot training.
The US Air Force had launched an experimental training programme called ‘Pilot Training Next’ class with 30 students, using VR headsets and advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) biometrics instead of traditional multimillion-dollar flight simulators. In a span of mere four months, 13 pilots were certified as opposed to the usual pilot-training system that takes about one year. This VR flight training came in at a cost of $1,000 per unit, instead of the usual $4.5 million for a legacy simulator, highlighted Air Charter Service (ACS).
Students were able to fully engage with the cockpit; the technology allowed the flexibility to change one cockpit for another in a few seconds and also let students analyse a flight that had been captured and uploaded into the VR simulator.
The future of VR flight training will also depend on technology’s ability to achieve what is being called ‘fused reality’ i.e. the ability to convince the brain that it is in a real-life situation
In another example, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) also added VR into its private pilot training curriculum. This allowed students an immersive training experience and reduced the amount of time for a student to solo by 30 per cent.
The Brazilian airline Azul also hopped on to the VR train by signing a partnership with Plan XP, a company specialised in innovation and technology, to employ virtual reality glasses and hand movement sensors for the training of new pilots.
THE FUTURE OF VR PILOT TRAINING
Even though VR application is emerging, the aviation industry is split up about the effectiveness of using a VR pilot training system in pilot training schools. Air Charter Service underlines a 2021 study that conducted two experiments to test students’ and pilots’ views on VR versus a traditional flight simulator. The study found that when comparing VR to traditional mechanical flight simulators, the only downside was how pilots interacted with cockpit systems using VR, but this improved organically with practice. Apart from this, all the subjects involved found that VR offered a better learning experience, and that the 360-degree visibility was a major benefit.
The immersive experience which ensures efficient, less costly and competent training to pilots is the strength of VR. While VR holds high chances of adoption within the industry to cater to the market scenario of pilots, there is also a possibility that VR might get integrated instead of live wire scenarios.
The ACS report mentions that current technology uses a VR headset or multi-projected environment that simulates a user’s physical presence in a virtual environment. But the device that’s advancing VR pilot training most significantly is known as a haptic system (also called ‘force feedback’ in video gaming and military-training applications), which has the ability to transmit vibrations and other sensations to the user.
The future of VR flight training will also depend on technology’s ability to achieve what is being called ‘fused reality’ i.e. the ability to convince the brain that it is in a real-life or critical situation, even when it knows it’s in a world of virtual reality.
There can be doubts & differences of opinions as is with any new technology but the use of VR in aviation can no longer be disregarded as it presents wider possibilities for an aviation career along with many other logistical benefits. Technology breakthroughs in the future will witness VR applications and devices becoming more powerful and better at creating higher-quality visuals.
Benefits of Virtual Reality (VR)
Even with these exciting possibilities, VR pilot training has some way to go before establishing its ground in the mainstream pilot training. For now, it is emanating in leaps and bounds.