EUROCONTROL’s Aviation Learning Centre is building a multi-channel training strategy

EUROCONTROL’s Aviation Learning Centre

EUROCONTROL Aviation Learning Centre (ALC)’s main focus is Europe and European aviation. However, ALC provides training services for clients as far away as the Americas, Asia Pacific, Africa and the Middle East.

In addition to supporting air navigation service providers (ANSPs), it runs courses for regulators (both civil and military), airport operators and airlines. Its broad subject base and geographical reach reflects significant change over the past five years that accelerated dramatically during COVID-19, reports Hendrik Dermont, Acting Head of the ALC.

Within a space of just three weeks in March 2020, the centre transitioned from face-to-face teaching to entirely online course delivery, fast-tracking instructors and delegates to a new way of working. The shift demanded instructors rapidly assimilate new presentation skills, and course material adjusted to fit shorter, more flexible webinar delivery. At the same time, management turned to social media to reach out to customers to update the industry using LinkedIn and Facebook, acquiring new clients along the way.

Hendrik (Rik) Dermont, Acting Head of the ALC, says a lot happened in a short space of time. “We had to re-invent ourselves and we did all this while working from home. We were very quick off the mark.” The previous business model, designed to bring people together from many different locations, was turned on its head when travel ground to a halt. “We learned as we went along, for example by organising webinars to train the trainers, most of whom are between 55 and 60 years old and unfamiliar with this environment.”

Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority was among the recent clients to take advantage of online teaching and has since increased the number of safety-related training contracts it places with the Aviation Learning Centre. ALC also reports a doubling of e-learning activity during the pandemic as attendees found more time to access these services. Prior to COVID-19, the centre delivered more than two thirds of teaching face-to-face in Luxembourg, and one third at customer premises. By the start of 2022, face-to-face teaching had recovered to about one third, while two thirds still remained online. Rik Dermont anticipates a 50/50 split by mid-year and expects face-to-face classes to exceed online teaching in the second half of the year; however, he predicts clients will continue to rely on both delivery methods in the future.

Digital ecosystem

The ALC is now putting in place a multi-channel strategy to cater for a wider range of clients and increased product range. It includes a mix of classroom teaching, online training, webinars on specific topics and e-learning. The aim is to replicate face-to-face instruction as far as possible while continuing to offer in-person training where necessary, for example for practical simulation exercises. Part of the 2022-2026 business plan, multi-channel learning will help to deliver sustainable services while also reducing costs and aims to grow the revenue without interfering with customer business models.

“We are still refining the model,” says Rik Dermont. “We are re-visiting our portfolio over the next two years to optimise the training modules and adapt them to multi-channel delivery.”

A significant factor behind the success of the transition strategy is ALC’s digitisation programme which began several years earlier. The centre had already started to digitise administrative activities including connections with customers, compilation of course feedback and course documentation. Hosting this digital platform in the cloud guarantees access to these services, a resource that ALC renamed as Learning Zone in January 2022. The automated platform supports the back office and provides teaching and e-learning resources in one secure “ecosystem”. Among new developments, Rik Dermont expects to add “webinars on-demand” in the future for delegates who missed a session or who want to revisit a topic.

The new direction reflects a shift in priorities that culminated with a change of name at the start of 2022 (see separate panel story). Renaming EUROCONTROL’s Institute of Air Navigation Services (IANS) to the Aviation Learning Centre (ALC) encapsulates the centre’s ambition to widen its horizons outside Europe and beyond air traffic services. The Learning Zone is part of this remodelling.

Big ambitions

Europe’s increasingly competitive ATC training environment contributed to the decision by EUROCONTROL to move away from Basic ATCO training in 2012 and focus more on continuation training and new industry requirements. This coincided with separation by the European Commission of service provision from regulatory oversight, which led to the formation of National Supervisory Authorities by individual States. ALC was unique in offering training to these new entities, launching a completely new training programme for National Supervisory Authorities – the so-called NSA Training Initiative, and cementing the move away from providing services in direct competition with national training centres. ALC has continued to expand its portfolio, adding safety management, airport operations and drone pilot certification among other content in response to market change.

“We train in areas that are difficult to find elsewhere and with the support of EUROCONTROL expertise from other parts of the Agency, we can develop and maintain a unique offer. Whenever revenue is created, this is redistributed across EUROCONTROL Member States which enables us to reduce our overall cost base and therefore to increase our efficiency,” explains Rik Dermont.

Course instructors are responsible for specific subject areas and each trainer is encouraged to identify new subject areas in the training portfolio. “As part of EUROCONTROL, we are constantly in contact with our Network Manager colleagues in Brussels, but also the Innovation Hub in Brétigny. This helps us to recognise market opportunities and to be among the first to deliver relevant training.”

Commercial revenue grew further in 2016 when ALC began offering courses for non-Member States. “Providing this service supports harmonisation between Europe and the rest of the world,” adds Rik Dermont, where clients in Africa, the Middle East and Asia Pacific are keen to take advantage of European accredited courses and services. The centre is an ICAO TRAINAIRPLUS Corporate Partner and ISO 9001 certified – a qualification held by the rest of EUROCONTROL Network Manager Directorate.

Overseas activities include English language proficiency testing for air traffic controllers and flight crew. In the Middle East, ALC is the leading approved provider of English Language Proficiency testing for aviation. “Now our aim is to make this ELPAC service a standard for Europe. This would contribute to increased aviation safety and bring enormous efficiency gains for the aviation industry in Europe,” says Rik Dermont. The centre also provides the First European Air Traffic Controller Selection Tool (FEAST) service, a battery of online tests that help ANSPs to identify the most suitable candidates for the job of an air traffic controller. Both services, ELPAC and FEAST, have a very wide customer base, yield high customer satisfaction and are offered on a User Pays Principle basis at a global scale.

New initiatives in 2022 include a series of webinars on implementation of the Network Manager Strategy, starting in April. The aim is to support the activities of the Network Manager, explain what its objectives are and how these impact on network performance, safety, sustainability and resilience. It adds a new function to the training portfolio and represents a logical step following ALC’s integration into the NM Directorate in 2019. As NM evolves to deliver on its mandate, renewed by the Commission for the years 2020-2029, ensuring its roles and responsibilities are fully understood and supported is an important element of EUROCONTROL’s activity going forward.

ALC has succeeded in re-inventing itself in a very short space of time. It is firmly embedded in EUROCONTROL’s wider structure, and its activities in support of European aviation continue to grow. Optimistic for the future, Rik Dermont says: “We’ve done really well to reposition ourselves over the past five years,” he says. “But we need to start looking at what lies ahead and be ready for the next crisis.”

Aviation Learning Centre – what’s in a name?

EUROCONTROL renamed its Institute of Air Navigation Services (IANS) to the Aviation Learning Centre (ALC) in January 2022. The change underlines the centre’s ambition to play a central role in supporting European aviation as well as providing services to the aviation industry across the world. The new title contains several messages:

  • as an integral part of EUROCONTROL, the Learning Centre continues to support to the Agency's common vision for European aviation,
  • the focus on Aviation, rather than just air navigation services, reflects a broader focus than previously, with an expanded scope of activities that include training for airports, partnership with other bodies like the DAC, Luxembourg’s civil aviation directorate, to certify drone pilots, and a language proficiency test for pilots,
  • replacing ‘training’ with ‘learning’, the new identity reflects the centre’s ambition to deliver value beyond the pure provision of training courses and to give attendees a best-in-class learning experience, whether through face-to-face courses or via online events.

Overall, the ALC aims to provide key aviation learning insights that will help all network actors meet the challenges of the future.

EUROCONTROL Aviation Learning Centre

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