November 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 7 
Commercial Airplanes

Teach your customers well

Teach your customers well

Alteon builds a global network to provide training for customers


When ANA (All Nippon Airways) became the launch customer for the 787 Dreamliner, it signed up for a revolutionary airplane that will change the way we experience flight. And as it prepares to bring the Dreamliner into service, it's signing up for a revolutionary partnership that will change the way pilots experience training.

ANA will host the world's first 787 full-flight-training simulator at its Pilot Training Facility at Tokyo's Haneda Airport. But Boeing subsidiary Alteon will own the Dreamliner simulator, develop the training courses and train ANA pilots to fly the 787.

That's a change of pace from how crews were trained when Boeing has previously introduced new airplanes. Customers would send a small number of flight crews to Seattle for training. These would then head back to their airlines and train their own flight crews. "But airlines began to decide that they didn't want to be in the business of training pilots any more," said Alteon President Pat Gaines. "They wanted to be in the business of flying passengers and cargo."

Alteon handles the role of training personnel such as pilots—a role that's important to Commercial Airplanes. Although Boeing may be known publicly as a company that designs and integrates complex products, the company knows how important it is to train customers to get the best performance from their Boeing products. "Training is essential to safe and efficient airline operations. Boeing determined that training was core to the business of selling aircraft; Boeing needs to be able to offer training solutions as part of a total package of customer support," Gaines said.

Three objectives

In 1997, Boeing settled on a new strategy for training that would give customers a wide range of training choices—from the level of training they acquired to the location in the world where they could be trained. Gaines said the company had a three-pronged strategic approach:

  • To establish a global network of facilities.
  • To add simulator capacity to support airlines that need extra training capacity.
  • To develop training solutions to meet varying airline requirements.

Air Sahara captains Burgese R. Pithawalla and Ratul de Sharma go through a training sessionSince Boeing at the time had just one training facility in Seattle, it made a bold move to acquire capacity, joining with flight-training stalwart FlightSafety International to create the joint venture FlightSafety Boeing Training International. The joint venture had 11 facilities at the start but rapidly grew, acquiring nine more facilities. A facility in Long Beach, Calif., came as part of the 1998 merger with McDonnell Douglas. Along the way, FSB added a new facility in Miami, established partnerships in South Africa and Spain, and acquired some facilities.

In 2002, Boeing bought out the joint venture and created Alteon Training LLC as a wholly owned subsidiary. Since then, Boeing has built the company into a network of 21 training facilities staffed by 400 personnel with more than 70 full-flight simulators around the world. That global network became more important as the U.S. State Department tightened rules for training international flight crews at U.S. facilities after Sept. 11, 2001. With the opening of a new site in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in August, Alteon has facilities on every continent except Antarctica.

He can take the heat

For Alteon trainer Paul Niles, customer interaction is a big part of the job—even if it's cold outside

Here's more evidence that Boeing is a global company: Paul Niles has visited nearly every country in Europe. He's also been to China—not just Beijing, but also Urumqi, in the far west, about 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) as the crow flies.

And if you're looking for Niles, you'll find that this U.S. native recently moved to Manchester, United Kingdom—but is currently on a 10-week assignment in New Delhi.

It's part of the job for the affable Niles, a maintenance instructor with Alteon. Like his fellow maintenance instructors, he goes to where Alteon's customers are to conduct classes. During these sessions, he, like his colleagues, personifies Boeing to the customer and its employees—some of whom are in senior positions. It's a role he respects and appreciates.

"Think about anyone else at Boeing. How much time do they spend with a customer or a key decision-maker?" he said.

Niles has been in this role at Alteon and its predecessor companies for nine years. Although he has an airframe and power-plant background and has worked in airline maintenance, he found he enjoyed teaching people how things worked. Eventually he was introduced to some people at Boeing and decided "those are the kids I want to play with."

Niles spends a part of his day researching information--to prepare for class questions and to ensure Alteon's training materials are updated to the highest technical standards. His affinity for teaching and his interest in continually improving his presentation skills have served him well in his current position, he said.

"Many people who have a strong technical background will have a teaching or communications style that's more tactile. They'll have no problem explaining how [an object] works if it's right there in front of them," he said. "I don't have that advantage when I'm explaining what's in a line drawing. But to deliver technical content, make it a palatable learning experience and have a desire to continue to better one's presentation skills—that's where the rubber meets the road."

There's certainly value in that ability, especially when combined with Alteon's global operations network, which puts the training organization closer to its customers. "We go to where the customer is," said Niles, who currently offers training on 767s but is qualified to train on 757s and 737s as well. "It's difficult to pull out 16 people [and put them in an off-site class] and have them still support aircraft."

Many of Niles' first trips seemed to be to colder climates. He joked that after going to several places where it's minus 26 degrees Celsius (-15F), "I thought Boeing was trying to kill me."

And then there was Brisbane, Australia, where he spent three months and wouldn't mind another assignment.

"I'm going to try reverse psychology," he quipped: "I hope they never send me there again."

—Junu Kim

As Alteon has grown, it's tailored its growth to match its customers' needs.

"The airlines we serve have different needs," Gaines said. "We have a number of different partnerships and business arrangements at our facilities. We started out owning and managing our own centers and simulators. Now we have centers where an airline owns the building, but we own the simulators and conduct the training; where the airline owns the simulators and our staff conduct the training; and even arrangements where the airline owns the building and simulators and conducts its own training, but has us market and sell excess capacity on the open market."

In the past two years, Alteon has opened facilities in Atlanta (in partnership with AirTran); Brisbane, Australia (with Virgin Blue); Casablanca, Morocco (with Royal Air Maroc); and Buenos Aires (with Aerolineas Argentinas). In addition, it's building a new facility in Singapore. Gaines said that as Alteon continues to grow, it will continue to establish multiple partnerships, which he said will create "a network of Alteon facilities and relationships."

In addition to the new partnership in Tokyo, Alteon has selected three other sites to host 787 simulators: Seattle, its facility at London's Gatwick Airport, and in China. That means for the first time, Alteon customers will be able to train on a new aircraft type within their regions.

"We're not just talking about a simulator network. We intend to provide full training support at each 787 training center," Gaines said. For example, at the Haneda Training Center, Alteon will have a full complement of 787 training tools as well as Japanese instructors who are Alteon employees. Those instructors will receive their 787 instructor training in Seattle, then return to Japan to train the airlines' crews.

Expanded programs

Alteon isn't just growing in physical and global scope. It's also expanding the variety of training programs it offers to meet expanding needs.

Gaines noted that most of the demand for pilots is coming from parts of the world such as China and India that don't have the training infrastructure to support that demand. So Alteon, working in concert with fellow Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen, is developing a First Officer training program. The two companies will designate existing flight schools to train new pilots in the basics of flight, then take the newly licensed pilots immediately into type-rating training. The difference in the program is that, from the start, the flight schools will focus on training pilots on airline principles and procedures, rather than those of a general-aviation pilot. It's a model similar to how military organizations train their flight crews.

Ultimately, the program will cut the two- to three-year period it traditionally takes to develop a commercial pilot to approximately 13 months. "We're working on shortening the time it takes a new pilot to become type rated on a commercial jet without compromising safety," Gaines said.

The company's focus on serving the customer has led it into some interesting areas. Alteon has four Airbus-model simulators around the world, as well as two Fokker F100 units. That might be unusual for a Boeing company, but it puts Alteon perfectly in line with its customers. "Our customers are looking for complete training solutions from a single provider," Gaines said. "And the fact is, airlines have mixed fleets."


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