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Alaska Airlines one of first US Airlines to use virtual reality in pilot training

As airlines try to combat the countrywide pilot shortage, Alaska Airlines is unrolling new technology to help train pilots on their Boeing 737's.

Author: Kristin Goodwillie

Published: 5:55 PM PST November 14, 2022

Updated: 5:55 PM PST November 14, 2022

SEATTLE — New technology has been implemented at Alaska Airlines' Flight Operations Training Center. A pilot's basic training typically goes from learning in a classroom to half simulations, then graduating to a full simulation before getting into a real plane. Now, virtual reality (VR) is being introduced in the first part of textbook training.

"It's helping give them exposure to things we typically wouldn't see early in training which makes them more successful in the latter stages of training," said Jeff Severns who is the Managing Director of Flight Operations Training for Alaska Airlines.

Students like Scott Wathey who is a new hire First Officer for Alaska Airlines used the virtual reality goggles for the first time today.

"It's like your alarm clock in the morning, you know exactly where the snooze button is and this helps our muscle memory to know exactly where that switch is," said Wathey.

Prior to the VR technology, pilots would study using flat posters that they'd tape to their walls. It would be an adjustment getting used to the lights and levers in a simulator.

"When you start your first simulator sessions, we don't need to spend four hours trying to figure out where the switches are. You can step in on day one, minute one and know exactly where things are," said First Officer for Alaska Airlines, Shawn Thumma.

Alaska Airlines has had the technology for about a year and they've implemented it in the last six months. Thumma helped design the program.

"We spent a lot of time customizing this to Alaska's actual airplanes. So every switch and every light is our aircraft," Thumma said.

This comes at a time when the airline is increasing their hiring process. Now producing 600 new pilots a year while another 300 Airbus pilots learn how to fly a Boeing-737.

"I really see a bright future for virtual reality and just helping enhance our training program and what we do," said Steverns.

An important step to help staff planes and increase capacity for the consumer.

Alaska Airlines is one of the first US airlines to use this VR technology. They believe it's so successful, it will soon be standard use.



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