Case Studies

Eye in the sky

Jordan’s Ayla Aviation Academy has taken huge strides to benefit its students. The institute has pioneered video capture for its training flights, and implemented a cloud-based training management system to track cadet progress. Ammar Yousef, President and CTO, shares the impact  of the technology on the cadets, instructors and the academy’s data centre.AAA

Tucked between the ocean and the mountains on the southernmost point of Jordan is the city of Aqaba, home to Ayla Aviation Academy. Founded in 2006, Ayla Aviation Academy has, in its ten years, already graduated hundreds of pilots who now fly aircraft for commercial airlines throughout the region, including Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad and, of course, Royal Jordanian. With nearly 100 aspiring pilots enrolled at any given time, Ammar Yousef, President and CTO, Ayla Aviation Academy is dedicated to leveraging technology to keep his fleet, cadets and flight instructors in line and safe.

In early 2014, Yousef and the team at Ayla began to develop a plan to create a unique, streamlined and well-rounded experience for their cadets through the use of technology. “We began in the cockpit,” says Yousef. “The cockpit is our training ground – you could say the most important classroom for a cadet.” Ayla’s fleet includes the modern all-glass cockpit Diamond DA40, Diamond DA42, Cessna 172 aircraft that seat two – the cadet and the flight instructor.

Yousef went searching for a way to enhance the learning experience, knowing that technology would be the key. “It was at an aviation expo in the United States that I found inspiration,” recalls Yousef. “There was a display of mounted cameras for recreational pilots. These cameras were used to capture the in-flight experience of aviation hobbyists.” Though his cadets are far from recreational flyers out on a weekend jaunt, Yousef saw the potential to use the same infrastructure as a teaching tool.

“We took the idea back to Ayla, and created compact camera mounts for each aeroplane in our fleet,” explains Yousef. “We installed a video filter that removes the aeroplane propellers from the video stream, giving us a clean feed.” In addition, Yousef’s team routed the audio feed through the pilot’s mouth piece, to pick up uninterrupted dialogue between the cadet and the flight instructor.

Those outside the field of aviation may not realise that cameras in the cockpits can be controversial these days. “Installing cameras in the cockpits of commercial airplanes is one subject that generates heated debate between proponents and opponents. Having knowledge of what has transpired inside a cockpit seconds or minutes before a catastrophic malfunction or mysterious crash is crucial in determining the root cause and any contributing factors,” explains Yousef. The controversy arises, he explains, in the case of commercial airlines as liability for incidents is a factor.

“At Ayla, however, we put safety and excellence in training first,” he says. “If there is an incident, we need to know how and why it occurred. This is both to correct and protect the cadet as well as the flight instructor.” Ayla’s goals were met almost immediately with the inclusion of the cameras. The videos are used as a debriefing tool, to provide evidence of instructional progress. In addition, cadets are able to watch their flight immediately after landing as a self-assessment.

There have been unintended benefits of the programme as well. “Even though cameras were not intended to police students and instructors, the presence of a third set of eyes in a training cockpit played a significant part in elevating the instructional atmosphere and established a new bar for the instructor-student relationship,” says Yousef.

Unexpectedly, the cameras have created an auditing system for the administration at Ayla. “In addition to the regular standardisation sessions conducted for instructors, the chief flight instructor now has the opportunity to conduct “unannounced” spot checks or audits of video-recorded missions with the aim to provide feedback to the instructor as part of continuous improvement. The same thing works during a solo flight where a flight instructor is able to monitor the student progress and provide feedback.”

However, as with all new technology, the cameras have put additional pressure on the IT department at the academy. “With so many hours of video, we ran into some data storage issues,” explains Yousef. “We considered storing the data in the cloud, but because of our location, upload speeds were simply too slow.”

The solution to the data volume issue was two-fold. “First, we implemented new policies. Videos older than six months would be deleted. With four courses of students each year, this gives the cadet ample time to view their videos and chart their progress,” explains Yousef. This policy, however, was not enough to stem the tide of video data. “We decided that the programme was valuable enough to invest in additional storage space for the newly created data.” With that, Ayla doubled its on-premises data storage capacity.

Taking a peek into the progress of the Ayla cadets is not limited to cameras in the cockpit. Each course of cadets goes through a rigorous schedule of training on the ground as well. Earlier this year, Yousef and the team at Ayla worked to implement a tool that would keep students on course, and give their instructors and sponsors a glimpse into their progress.

“In 2015 we implemented school-wide software called FlightLogger,” says Yousef. FlightLogger is a cloud-based solution, designed by pilots to reduce paper-based records and keep aviation training on track. The solution includes document management, certificate management, scheduling and more.

“We use FlightLogger to manage and monitor our cadet’s theoretical knowledge instruction and flight training,” says Yousef. Students are able to access their class schedule, documents and coursework on any mobile device or computer, as well as receive immediate updates to their schedules via the FlightLogger app.

In addition, FlightLogger gives insights into a cadet’s academic performance – information that is particularly important to the cadet’s sponsor. “Many of our cadets’ attendance at Ayla is sponsored by commercial aviation outfits that intend to employ them after graduation,” explains Yousef. “They have a great deal invested in the success of their sponsored cadets.” As FlightLogger also records scheduling, attendance and monthly reports, a sponsor can see clearly and immediately if their investment is paying off.

“Transferring to a cloud-based system has been hugely beneficial to the Academy. While we still retain hard copies of critical documents, it has allowed us to maintain a tight schedule – something that as professional pilots, our cadets will need to learn to rely on,” says Yousef.

The cadets at Ayla Aviation Academy are the future pilots of the region. Before they are ready to transport passengers all over the world, the instructors, sponsors and administration of Ayla are committed to giving them the most comprehensive training experience possible. For Yousef and his team at Ayla, technology is the answer when it comes producing top-tier pilots. “As far as I know, we are the only aviation academy that provides technology such as in-flight cameras,” says Yousef. “I would absolutely recommend it. It has worked for us, and it can certainly work for us if deployed correctly.”

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