World Aviation Training Symposium 2014: post-event thoughts

I have recently attended the World Aviation Training Symposium (WATS), held in Orlando, Florida. This event is one of the largest aviation industry gatherings devoted primarily to training and safety-related issues.

I have been advised for several years now to attend WATS (mainly by the brilliant Lori Brown at Western Michigan University) but this was the first year I was able to fit it into my schedule. I can now understand why Lori was so adamant I should attend, as there was a terrific mix of industry, academic, and regulator attendees and presentations. Of the five conference streams (pilot, regional airline, cabin crew, mechanic, en EspaƱol), I opted to attend the cabin crew presentations as the majority of my academic research has focused on cabin crew. Also, the way that the different streams were set up, it was impractical to jump between different stream presentations, which was a little disappointing as I would have liked to had the option to dip in and out.

Staying with one stream, however, did have its advantages. Firstly, I was able to concentrate on presentations without having to worry where I would go next (a common distraction at large academic conferences). Secondly, I was able to pick a good seat and stay in it, ‘unpack’ my bag, and settle in for the day. Thirdly, and perhaps most satisfying was the feeling of being a member of the large community of aviation safety professionals and researchers.

Being the premiere international aviation safety and training conference, every presentation was interesting and offered something unique and insightful. However, there were a few talks which stood out for me:

  • Stephen Howell (American Airlines), discussing the challenges of merging airlines and maintaining consistency and quality in cabin crew training.
  • Andreas Bekiris (Novair) and Magnus Lindroth (Swedavia Stockholm-Arlanda Airport), on coordinating airport fire and rescue operations with cabin and flight crew. Magnus is a working rescue officer, and his insights and experiences were especially welcome.
  • Lori Brown (Western Michigan University), presenting on her ongoing and long-term research on the effect of light on alertness and combating crew fatigue.
  • Kris Hutchings (West Jet), who always gives lively and engaging presentations. This time he discussed WestJet’s development of a fatigue risk management system for cabin crew.
  • Colette Hilliary (Flight Safety International) and Dr Shari Frisinger (CornerStone Strategies), discussing the influence of emotion on crew relations. I very much appreciated their acknowledgement that emotions can cloud judgments and affect reactions – something which seems obvious but is in my experience rarely addressed in training.

In addition to the intellectually satisfying knowledge exchange of the event, professionally and personally it was brilliant to see so many old friends and meet new contacts. WATS (and its European version EATS, at which I was a speaker in 2013) is produced by Halldale Media, who are exceptionally good at creating and enhancing networking opportunities at their events. I returned home to the UK with expanded knowledge, my brain buzzing, and of course a bulging bag of conference souvenirs. It wouldn’t be a successful conference without a handful of pens!