Employees of US companies have more than the soup of the day on their mind when they talk about cafeteria plans. The term has come to signify any benefit scheme where employees swap, say pension contributions for health insurance, based on a nominal value for each module.
This cafeteria plan model is one Alteon Training, Boeing’s training and simulation subsidiary, is keen to use as a model for its 787 pro forma airline training. At present each airline customer for a 777 receives a training entitlement of eight crewmembers per aircraft.
Alteon’s 787 scheme will instead award an allocation of credits, which the airline can spend on a variety of new training packages from cabin crew to maintenance workers. “It’s like swapping fries for boiled potatoes,” says Sherry Carbary, Alteon’s president.
Alteon says Boeing customers, if they spent their training credits wisely, could end up with much more than the eight crew trained pilots under the previous scheme. “It’s Boeing giving more,” says Carbary. But its motives are far from altruistic; Alteon hopes to get the recurrent training and, crucially, it aims to expand its presence in the non-pilot training areas.
At present Alteon’s non-pilot training is “minimal” says Carbary. But despite predictions of at least 17,000 new pilots being required annually to meet the demand of an increase in air transport around the world, Carbary “can see a day when pilots are not the problem, but rather there won’t be enough maintenance.” As Boeing’s maintenance provider, she adds, it is Alteon’s duty to train maintenance crews.
At present cabin crew and maintenance training accounts for less than 10% of Alteon’s revenues. Cabin crew training is harder to break into, with airlines’ flight attendant training linked closely to their brand. But with realistic computer training devices and computer programs for overhaul now becoming available, the leap seems obvious, says Carbary.
“We don’t know how big the market is right now, but we’ll figure it out,” she says. If meeting the demand requires additional training devices, then Alteon is not averse to acquiring an existing maintenance training provider, admits Carbary. “Organic growth is tough,” she says.
Moving into the maintenance training market is one of Carbary’s four major priorities for the next two years. The deadline in her head since her appointment in October last year has been the mid-2008 date by which the company needs to get its first 787 simulator, developed jointly with Thales, fully functioning at its Seattle headquarters.
Any new full-flight simulator is dependent on software and hardware all coming together on schedule, and all is running to plan, says Carbary. Certification is expected simultaneously by three aviation safety agencies towards the middle of next year.
However, trickier is the deployment of eight additional 787 simulators to Alteon’s network around the world. Dreamliner training centres, including more than the simulator, are planned for London, Singapore and Tokyo, for unspecified cities in India, China and Australia; and two additional unannounced centres, linked to customer orders. “It’s a huge shift, because we’ll no longer be doing all pro forma training in Seattle,” says Carbary.
This shift is Alteon’s priority number two: to get its global training market optimised. This means getting devices where they need to be. Alteon’s 23 locations in 13 countries are “good” says Carbary, but due to the company’s past link with Flight Safety International (Alteon was formerly FlightSafetyBoeing), some simulators are in the wrong place.
There are two simulators for the 737 Classic sitting underused in Seattle, for example, when there are pilots at low-cost airlines in Asia and elsewhere waiting in line for 737 Classic training.
Such ad hoc third party training currently accounts for 70% of Alteon’s business, and not only on Boeing types—Alteon has simulators for the A320 and A33/A340 family. But simulators are underutilised. So here is Alteon’s third priority; to sign airlines up for longer-term contracts.
The other growth programme for Alteon is the multi pilot licence (MPL) the controversial trimmed down ‘co-pilot’ licence, for commercial airliners. China has embraced it as a way to solve its looming pilot shortage problem, as the course is almost half as short as traditional commercial pilots licences.
Thus, six Chinese cadets are sitting the trial course at Alteon Brisbane and Carbary thinks the MPL will become accepted globally. “There is scepticicm over MPL. I was too when I joined, but now I feel that MPL certification is bound to happen. Fifteen to 18 months feels about right from left to righthand seats.”
Alteon’s early involvement with China also bodes well for future growth, says Carbary and she has a great deal of respect for the aviation agencies in the country, which has led to one of the safest regimes in the world. India, the traditional partner to China in company’s growth predictions is less optimistic, largely due to infrastructure constraints.
In the 787 model of training credits, the cafeteria plan could look a lot more interesting with Asia’s rich variation of cuisines.