Alaska Airlines’ pilots probably have to face the most diverse flying challenges of any pilots worldwide. From remote communities within the Arctic Circle to some of the US’s busiest airports, blizzard conditions to congested airspace, rigorous pilot training is essential. Consequently, Alaska Air (Alaska) and its fully owned regional partner Horizon Air (Horizon) are currently investing heavily in new technology to grow the current training department.
At the forefront of innovation, the carriers have chosen to embrace virtual reality (VR) to aid in cutting-edge training through a new partnership with VRPilot, a Danish technology company. Part of that partnership has involved the virtual reconstruction of its 737 flight deck, which is used as a training aid for rookie 737 pilots. Initially, pilots will learn the layout of the flight deck and the purpose of every switch and button. The deck presents new pilots with the opportunity to put themselves “inside” the flight deck. Consequently, where they may need to crane their neck or lean to reach a switch, the deck is a more realistic teaching tool when compared to video tutorials or photographs in a book.
According to Alaska, “Virtual reality will augment existing traditional training techniques where we expect it will result in better-prepared pilots, higher success rates through training and more time for complex instructor-led training activities. With this technology, pilots can familiarise themselves with the location of switches before they step into a simulator.”
The carrier has also ordered two new fixed-base simulators and three new full-motion simulators. These will be installed throughout 2023 and will be operational by the end of 2024. Alaska will then have 18 fixed-base and full-motion simulators. Horizon Air has ordered an additional simulator to train pilots in its single fleet of Embraer E-175 aircraft. This will give Horizon two owned simulators and priority access to a third simulator in Seattle.