2015-04-21 By Robbin Laird
On April 8, 2015, I returned to Seville and visited both the Final Assembly Line and the training facility for the A400M.
This was the first time I had visited the training facility but the third time I have seen the FAL.
The program is ramping up and that was evident in terms of the pace of activity within the FAL and on the tarmac outside.
The training facility at Seville has now been joined by training facilities at the UK and French bases with a German training facility in the process of being established.
I visited the Bricy base in France on April 10, 2015 so had the chance to experience the approach being taken in Seville compared to that on the first operational base, a base where six A400Ms operate with a 7th coming later this year to that base.
The A400M is a multinational program delivering a multi-mission aircraft, and its multiple year life will undoubtedly see significant evolutions with regard to how it is used and what it will be used for.
The basic training at facility is for the three-man crew to learn to fly and operate the plane.
The pilot and co-pilots are joined by a single loadmaster, who manages the load and its disposition from a single work station.
The training is with regard to managing a digital cockpit, which is based on the A380 cockpit.
The difference for the French Air Force can be readily seen in comparing the A400M cockpit with the C-130H cockpit in the photos taken below during my visit to Bricy.
The loadmaster operates from a single station, which can be seen both at Bricy and at the simulator in Seville.
The first photo shows the loadmaster station and cargo bay in one of the six A400Ms at Bricy and the third and fourth shows the simulator in Seville.
Quite readily the similarities are evident.
There is a major difference between the training at the base and at Seville.
At Seville, the focus is upon the basics, and upon general training across various national air forces.
At Bricy, the training is focused on operations, tactics and integration with the French Air Force.
The challenge is to keep those aspects of commonality, which enhance interoperability across a multi-national fleet of A400Ms, and to integrate those aircraft within the national doctrines, tactics and approaches of the individual national forces.
At Seville, I was able to discuss the multi-national training approach with Ian Burrett, head of Airbus Defence and Space Military Aircraft Training & Aircrew Operations and with Juan Ignacio Castro Rodríguez, Head of Integrated Training and Ops Support with the A400M program.
I have met previously with Ian Burrett and have discussed the initial standup of the center two years ago when the French were first coming to Seville to prepare for the introduction of the A400M into the French Air Force.
Burrett: A huge amount has happened since you were last here.
When we last spoke, we were still getting the first full-flight simulator ready to enter service. That was achieved in June two years ago and by the way, this week we are in the process of up upgrading its qualification to level D which is equivalent to the civil certification for zero flight time training.
The simulator that you can see today has no substantial differences from the aircraft in terms of its training capability, so that’s the real meaning of level D certification.
Then there is the loadmaster workstation simulator and the cargo hold trainer.
These enable the loadmaster to operate everything both in logistics and in tactical roles. It’s very sophisticated console plus of course a state-of-the-art cargo hold. These devices enable us to train without risking damage to the aircraft.
This also saves one the necessity of using an operational aircraft for training as well, so that enhances the ability to use the operational fleet, for just that, operations.
Question: This is a software upgradeable aircraft, so you have to upgrade the software in the simulators after you have upgraded the planes, and what about the training for the maintainers via the software systems to train for maintenance?
Burrett: We deliver maintenance training to all of the technicians and engineers who are going to support the aircraft.
An example of the intersection of software and training would be the maintenance training system called CMOS, Cockpit Maintenance Operation System, which we’ve got in a classroom upstairs. It’s a virtual aircraft, in which the students learn how the systems work, where all the components are, how to troubleshoot, and so on.
When it first came into service, it had a limited set of maintenance capabilities. That limited set has been improved five times in the last two years and it will continue to grow in response to modifications to the aircraft or to proposals about how to improve procedures or improve the training.
As far as possible we keep the configuration of the training devices, the software in particular aligned with the operational aircraft.
Question: The training process really is about shaping the human capital to support the A400M operational enterprise.
How do tap into the “graduates” to improve the process and prepare for further evolutions?
Burrett: We have already had many graduates and with regards to maintainers, the numbers are now in the hundreds.
But it is a continuous learning process with regard to shaping the training approach and curriculum, and in part because of the changing software for the operation of the aircraft.
There are two parts to the dynamic.
One is to establish the customer’s capability to operate the aircraft safely and effectively, which is the number one priority.
But the second is for us to improve the training solution. For the latter, we get feedback from every student on every course, which we use in our continuous improvement process.
Question: What is the relationship between the center here in Seville and the national training centers?
Burrett: We’ve set the national training centers up with national people running the training center and as instructors. They have direct military experience in that air force.
But they first are fully integrated into the training center in Seville, into the reference-training center.
We want to make sure that what they’ve taken from Seville is fully transported and used in the national training center so that we’ve got that commonality as far as possible across the platform.
Clearly, each customer does have some differences in the way it operates its aircraft or in the history of its training approaches. So there will be some differences among the national training centers, but as far as possible we have teams going from the reference center to the national training centers to shape as common a solution as possible.
We’re fully connected among the training centers.
We interact on a virtually a daily basis and formally weekly and monthly to make sure we get the feedback from the reference center to the national training centers and vice versa.
Castro: Another aspect, which is important here, are the user groups. We have growing experience with user groups with regard to the tanker and their input on the evolution of that program and we see the same thing happening in the A400M program.
The users explore ways to evolve the aircraft going forward, and we sort out what is common across the program, or what is nationally specific and that will guide the future development approach as well.
So it is training plus user groups, which will provide an important channel for the evolution of the A400M program.
And obviously there are important cost savings going forward from leveraging commonality in training, and operational experience, especially as we look at modernization and software upgrades.
Burrett: There is another advantage to the commonality, which is shaping compliance with EU regulations whereby compliance for one nation is then common for all.
We minimize the need to go through costly national compliance processes to get the plane and training solutions certified for a variety of operating conditions in using European airspace.
This is also true for the simulators, which follow the three musketeer model: one for all and all for one.
Question: What about the possibility of developing over time what might be called “graduate level training,” whereby tactical experiences get shared and operating concepts shaped?
Burrett: We see that as an important step in the future, and the impact of user groups and training inputs will be significant in shaping the process of adapting the aircraft to evolving conditions and technologies.
I think we’re well placed to do that because we have the knowledge and expertise of the aircraft as the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).
And since we’re training and providing ops support across all of the customers, we’re able to see where the best solutions are, where the best opportunities are, and where the best practices are which can be migrated across the fleet’s operation.
We have a really important role to play across this network in helping the nations firstly understand the immense capability of this airplane.
And then to help them actually use all of that capability in operations by using all of the expertise that we’ve developed in the company and are still learning across the national training centers.
I would add as well the impact of learning from the in service support agreements we have in place to work with the individual air forces.
We’re inside, helping the individual air forces to maintain the airplane, to keep their fleet availability levels high, and that also feeds back to how we can improve training and how we can improve the airplane.
For some earlier pieces on the A400M roll out see the following:
For an Airbus Defence and Space overview on A400M training presented at the ILA airshow in 2014 see below: