Flying as a computer game

The RAeS called its conference this week “Simulation-based training for the digital generation”.

One of the premises is that a full flight simulator is just a particularly immersive computer game.

Well, isn’t it?

If so, the new generation of kids training to be pilots should be brilliant at playing it. And they’ll surely get high scores not just in the simulators, but also in today’s digital flightdecks.

According to Ryanair’s recruiting experience, however, the standards of new pilots today is no better than those in the past, and maybe they’re actually worse.

So perhaps there is something here to analyse and understand, as the RAeS has surmised.

Ah, but today’s 20 to 30-year-old new pilots are the transitionals, not “digital natives”. They did plenty of gaming as children and adolescents, and all their schooling involved digital interfacing at various levels, but they were not given their own iPad when they were two or three years old, as kids are now. Are the latter – the digital natives who have never known a non-digital world – going to be any different?

The industry already knows it has to develop pilot training to be more appropriate for today’s highly automated, ultra-complex smart flightdecks, but maybe at the same time training also has to change to cope with the differences in the learning styles and cerebral knowledge-banks of the digital natives.

Now, with smartphones, no digital native needs a cerebral knowledge bank: answers are available instantly at all times.

But they undoubtedly have a cerebral knowledge bank. What does it contain? They are multi-taskers. Is this good? They may have weaknesses, but what are their strengths, and can these be harnessed for the good of aviation?

These were the questions under examination at the RAeS this week.

Since iPads and other competing tablets were launched beginning in 2010, the first true digital natives will reach pilot training age in about 2027. Will they genuinely be any different from those presenting themselves for training today, whose entire formal educational experience has taken place with digital computers and Google-search an integral part of it?

Although the RAeS pressed its Young Person’s Workshop into service on this issue to good effect at the conference, the decision-makers overseeing the whole process are experienced aviators, engineers and academics with an average age of – probably – about 50. And mostly – although by no means all – male. How would they understand the needs of the next generation when their formative years and learning experiences have been so different?

This is just one of the elusive issues debated at the RAeS this week. The conference sub-heading was: “Attracting, selecting, recruiting and training digital natives for careers in simulation and training.”

But in keeping with the arrogant belief among my self-satisfied generation that the young don’t have an attention span that could cope with it all at once, stay tuned for more about the conclusions and revelations from the RAeS conference on this site shortly.

Meanwhile give us your thoughts – especially the younger brigade, please.