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Innovation, Return On Investment, Safety, VR

How Delta Air Lines Established an XR Training Program

November 04, 2021 / by Dave Beck, Kevin Marcum

Dave Beck

Founder and Manager Partner, Foundry 45

Kevin Marcum

Program Manager, Delta Airlines

Understand the key steps — developing a budget, determining ROI, finding vendors, and integrating your XR program into your LMS.

Transcript

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-Dave: Okay, well, hi. Welcome to our fireside chat with Delta Airlines and Foundry 45. I’m Dave Beck, managing partner at Foundry 45. We put VR to work by creating powerful VR training experiences. Today I am very excited to be joined by Kevin Marcum. He’s the progra

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-Dave: Okay, well, hi. Welcome to our fireside chat with Delta Airlines and Foundry 45. I’m Dave Beck, managing partner at Foundry 45. We put VR to work by creating powerful VR training experiences. Today I am very excited to be joined by Kevin Marcum. He’s the program manager for L&D at Delta where I’ve had the pleasure to work with him for a few years. He’s a man who has actually worked in the airplane industry for a while now, and I think you could probably… We could say you’ve traveled around the world more than a few times couldn’t we, Kevin?

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-Kevin: Yeah, quite a bit, more than 50 times probably, I don’t know. I’ve been around the world quite a bit.

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-Dave: To the moon and back.

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-Kevin: Yes.

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-Dave: Well, thank you very much for joining us today. Thanks very much to X-Ray for hosting this awesome event. Had a great time listening you know, inspirational start to the event and really excited to get down to it with Kevin here. So to start off, Kevin, how about if you give us a high level overview of some of the training work that you’re actually doing at Delta, and if you could specifically share, you know, what kind of training you’re doing in VR, that would be awesome, and if technology permits, I’ll try and show a video of this as well.

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-Kevin: All right. Absolutely, so currently we are using what we call the aircraft walk-around. I know a lot of you when you fly on airplanes you’ll see the airplane come in and park, and there’s a lot going on down there for our agents to do their walk-around the airplane when it arrives, and as Dave is showing you there.
So this is just the virtual reality that we are using right now, just helps the agents, kind of helps train them, show them the techniques of walking around the airplane, searching for fodder on the ground, like that. It’s, you know, picking up items. So we have a lot of things that fall off suitcases out there, zippers and locks and different things and even wrenches laying out there. So just you can pick them up and that’s one of their jobs on the ramp when they’re doing their walk-around of the airplane. It also will take you to the aircraft nose gear and start doing some inspecting of looking for damage on the side of the airplane.
So we’ll look for any damage on the airplane. We will ensure the tow bar that we use to push the airplane out of the gate or bring it into the gate is connected properly, and if it’s not connected properly, they have to reach down and actually connect it. You’ll see right there on the screen there’s some damage, and they have to identify the damage that they’ve found on the airplane. Damage can happen while it’s in flight, bird strikes or anything, or, you know, previous station could have done something that wasn’t caught. So we’ll continue walking around, and as you can see some safety precautions are in place. If you walk under the wing of the airplane, it’s actually a safety hazard, because it’s… Those wings are kind of low on a lot of those airplanes, so they can bump their heads.
So we don’t want them to walk underneath the wing and bump their head, but we’ll continue walking around the airplane. It asks for cone placement on the wing tips.
We put cones on each wing tip to keep people from driving under the wings, and it will ask to make sure they’re in the right place, and then all the way around the airplane to the other side inspecting it, and then right out… And then you’ll get your score at the end to see if you missed anything. As you can see there, Dave got a 47 percent. So we need to train him a little bit better, so that’s just kind of an overview –

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Dave: [Indistinct]

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Kevin: No, it’s not. I know we don’t have a lot of time, but when we first started kind of testing this, the POC, a lot of our senior executives were doing it, and it became a battle one day in the office. I think Dave remember we were testing it, some of our senior vice presidents were failing, and they wanted to go back and retake it to get it done right. So you can see, it can be fun training.

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-Dave: Especially when you get to actually give a score to your bosses’ bosses’ boss.

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-Kevin: Yes.

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-Dave: All right. Awesome. Yeah, I mean, one of the things that you guys talked about a lot was, you know, safety, and how hard it is to actually get somebody down onto the ramp and the tarmac, you know, get them badged and whatnot, and so I think, you know, that was one of the things that we were kind of talking about, but basically where, you know, do you actually see training organizations getting the most value out of using VR? You know, like, why does Delta care?

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-Kevin: Yeah, and just like you said, safety because right now or before VR, we were training on… You know, we don’t have airplanes just sitting around because, you know, as you must know, if an airplane is not flying it’s not making money. So when they come into the gate, they’re there for a short period of time, you know, 30, 40 minutes, and we were using that time to train agents on the airplane, and you had to realize, it’s an active flight. So you have things going on, and people working the flight to get it out on time, and, you know, to satisfy our customers, and we’re out there with new people trying to train them.
So you tell a gate crew, “Hey, we’re going to, you know, train some people on their flight.” They’re like, “No, get out of the way. We got a job to do.” So it was very unsafe out there to do that, and it was very quick, and it really was confusing to new employees, you know, coming right… We call them right off the street coming out there. It was very intimidating to them, all that noise going on, things driving around. So with the virtual reality, we could use it and put them in the environment and let them look at it and practice. We have the noise in the background, the engines running, you know, different things going on, but they could, you know, get the environment and actually, you know, not have to worry, and we could spend… And repetitive and go back over it again and again and not be rushed.
We always felt we were rushing our employees, our new hires through the training because we only had a certain amount of time with the airplanes out there.

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-Dave: Right, so being able to actually have enough time to do it, to be able to make it repeatable and, you know, safety, and I think overall one of the things I’ve heard from you is just confidence, right?

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-Kevin: Yeah.

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-Dave: It gives your team members confidence.

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-Kevin: Yes, yes, yeah it gives them confidence that they know how to do the job, and if they don’t do it right, it’s like the walk-around, if they do it, and it comes back and says, “Hey you scored a 70 percent, you missed these items,” they want to go do it again, and, you know, so they can go over it again and look at it, and with the program that Foundry 45 put together it’s never the same program. It’s different. So I forget how many different variations is in there off the top of my head, eight on the first one, but it would move the damage around on the airplane. It would move things, so they couldn’t go back and say, “Well, there was a damage here last time I did it.” Well it’s not here now. It’s somewhere else on the airplane, so you can’t remember where everything was. So it would have them do it again and really give them the confidence that they knew what they were doing when they finished.

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-Dave: Yeah, I think that’s a super important piece, and I think I’ve heard some other folks talk about it earlier today during the event as well.
So yeah, so I guess the bottom line for you guys is that you need to actually measure it, you need to determine what the ROI is for doing it.
I think that’s one of the big questions that people have right now. So, I guess, what are some of the best metrics that you use to track and, you know, to measure the success of your VR training implementation?

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-Kevin: Yeah I get this asked a lot by different people, and they’re kind of always surprised with it because you would expect I have all these, you know, graphs
and everything we did, but when we put this together and we started testing it, the senior vice president that I was working for at the time, she was like, “Well, how are we going to test this?” It was interesting because there was no easy way to test it. So what we did, and we really thought about doing this, and, you know, safety is the number one thing, but we… There was only one way to test and see if it works. So what we did is we actually chose a smaller station. We sent in kind of like an undercover facilitator that sat in the concourse for the day, and he just sit up in the concourse and watched out the windows like passengers do, nobody knew he was there, and he watched them work flights, and he took notes. What were they doing? What were they missing? Were they doing the walk-around? Were they picking up the fodder? Were they walking underneath the wings? Were they walking underneath the fuselage door and all the safety hazards, and then I came in the next day with the virtual reality and said, “Hey, we’re going to set this up and let you all go through it and see what you think. Just get your feedback.” So we set up the virtual reality, and I think we in that station we had, like, 32 Delta employees on the ramp. I put all the employees through it over, like, a 2-day period, and I got their feedback, and, you know, what they felt about it, and then the next day I sent another person in to watch the flights again with the same employees. They took notes, and the improvement was amazing of how they just improved just by doing it, and they didn’t know they were being watched. So that was the whole test. We couldn’t say, “Hey, we’re going to come in and give you this virtual reality and watch and see how you do.”
Because then they’re going to do everything perfect. It’s like when we’re going to audit a station, if we tell them ahead of time we’re coming in to audit, they’re going to do everything right. So, you know, that’s why they’re secretized, but it was like a secret, we came in, and then we could really see the improvement of this, and another example, I always throw out, and it’s very interesting and Dave has heard this a lot of times. We had one employee I brought in to Atlanta that had 41 years I think with the company, on the ramp. He was from Tampa, and we brought him in. We put him through the virtual reality, and there was one piece where if you step over the air hose that’s connected to the airplane it’s a safety hazard because you could trip and fall. So he stepped over it, and it popped up and said, “That’s a safety hazard.” Well when we took his headset off, he said, “I didn’t know that was a safety hazard. I step over that air hose every day.” Well, he went back to his station, a couple weeks later he called me and said, “I just want you to know I did that every day for 40 years, and I haven’t done it since 2 weeks ago when I did your virtual reality because now I remember not to do it because the virtual reality told me it was a safety hazard.” So I can only imagine how many times he’s been told not to do that in other type of training, and he just didn’t get it until he did the virtual reality.

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-Dave: Yeah, it really makes it sticky. One of my favorite stories that you’ve also told about one of the early implementations was how when you were kind of, you know, undercover, you were sitting in the break room I believe and some of the ramp employees came in and were asking each other when they got to do the VR game.

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-Kevin: Yeah, yeah, and that’s yeah…

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-Dave: It’s not a game.

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-Kevin: That was one of the stations we set it up, and I had it set it up in the break room, and they could come do it, and I was sitting there, and I heard a guy tell another guy, “Hey, you need to go play that virtual reality game for the ramp. It’s really a lot of fun.” And I was like, if they want to think of it as a game, and they’re learning, I’ll let them do that. So as long as they… They were really anxious to do it. I mean, if I went in there and set up and said we’re going to do a CBT, they would be all, like, running out the door on me, but they were standing in line to do the virtual reality.

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-Dave: Awesome. Well switching gears a little bit, I think one of the main purposes of today’s event and just one of the things that people always ask us about at Foundry 45 is, you know, what are the best practices for getting up and going with a VR training program, right? Like how do you develop a budget? Do you have any…Overall, just do you have any tips for finding the right team or really just what your best practices are at this point?

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-Kevin: You know, I get that asked a lot too, and it’s, you know, start small. You know, you want to dive in. It’s kind of scary, and like I said when I was tasked with this,
what’s it’s been, 3 years ago, now 4 years ago, tasked with the virtual reality, I had never had a virtual reality headset on in my life. I had never seen one, and I was like, “Okay I can figure this out.” And, you know, I found Foundry 45 and Dave and was lucky to connect with them. They were very helpful.
You know, you want to find, you know, a company that’s going to work with you with what you need at the time, you know, and do a small kind of proof of concept, to prove to your leadership that this is a value to the company, and, you know, and that’s what we talked about. We weren’t going to spend millions of dollars, you know, to see if it worked. We wanted to spend a little bit to see if it worked, and then once that worked out, then we got to buy out of the executive leadership to move on forward with the next phases and that’s what we’ve done, and that’s what we’re doing now. We’re continuing now to expand in a lot of different places.
Now the argument that I get from our leadership, and I just had it this morning, is what are we going to do next? You know, there’s so many ideas out there they want to do, but we can’t do it all at one time, but we’re going to try to do a lot of it, but yeah, just start small, you know, and kind of see what fits for you and what’s the biggest bang for your buck on if you’re looking at safety, or, you know, customer service or whatever it is. Ours was the safety piece.

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-Dave: Yeah, and it’s interesting. I participated in a focus group actually with X-Ray a few months ago and mostly it was people from the training community, a lot of people from ATD for example, and, you know, you mentioned the fact that you had never even put on a VR headset when you first got started with this, and I think that’s… There’s just a lot of, and fear might be a strong word, but, you know, you don’t want to actually.. People…Work is an important place, right.
You don’t want to look bad in front of your boss, your coworkers or whatever, and so when something is new and new technology is oftentimes scary.
So yeah, the point really resonates that you have to take it small.

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-Kevin: Mm-hmm.

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-Dave: And you need to work with folks that are experienced and that, you know, can walk with you every step of the way, and I think that that typically is kind of the most common path, right? People do a proof of concept, and then they get it out there, and they try it out, and they see what they like and what they don’t like, but as a part of that whole process they actually learn, you know, what the terms even are, like, what the nomenclature is for the training because it’s, you know, it’s not that different from creating, like, a 2-D training, a computer-based training, in that you would storyboard it out, and you have your goals and your training objectives, but what is different is that when you get in headset it’s a very different experience. So if you haven’t developed in that medium, you want to take, you know, take it slow.

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-Kevin: Yes, yes, I agree.

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-Dave: And speaking of that, one of the things I guess you learned, right, you crawl before you walk or run because you want to avoid any pitfalls at scale, but, you know, was there anything you learned along the way that… Are there specifics types of training that you don’t think work as well, like some of the things that maybe you originally were thinking you might want to do, but now or after having been in headset a lot you decided
maybe that’s not the best use case for VR?

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-Kevin: You know what, I haven’t run across anything I don’t think it’ll work for. I’m kind of the opposite. When I first started this off, I was like, you know, we were talking about different things and different things… And I was like, I don’t know if we could do that, but then after we started and did the proof of concept and started moving, I was like, I think the sky is the limit with this. I don’t think there’s much we can’t do in the training industry.
I mean, we’re even talking or looking at, you know, doing a customer-facing, you know, so when the customers come up to check in, how do new hire agents deal with different situations? I mean, we have some, you know, if it’s a weather situation outside because we get that. You guys fly, you know because when you walk up to a counter, and say, “My flight is delayed for 3 hours because there’s snow.” And they look outside in Atlanta, it’s 80 degrees and sunny, they don’t understand. Well, on the way where you’re going or where you’re going it’s snowing so it’s causing a problem. So we want to be able to…
How do we deal with that? How does a new hire gate agent or ticket agent deal with that? And we can use virtual reality to help train them on that instead of just throwing them out there into live public and having them learn this on the fly like we say, throw them to the wolves. So there’s so many different ways and all kinds of different things to do. I mean, you guys seen the deice trucks we use to deice airplanes we’ve talked about and we’re looking at doing deice training, and I really… We talk about gaming. I would like to see it be connected because, you know, we have stations all over the world. I’d like to see it connected where I’m sitting in Atlanta doing deice training and there’s a guy in Detroit and he’s online and I can see him. We can connect together like a gaming and do it together. He can be the driver of the truck. I can be in the bucket. We can work together and learn our methods in the different stations and kind of get to know each other and so on and learn together. I don’t have to be doing it just by myself. So I’m kind of the opposite. I don’t see any limits to it.

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-Dave: Well, it’s interesting. You know, you mentioned the customer service aspect of it. I feel like just about every day in the news I see another story of somebody, you know, having a fit, you know, either in the airport or on the plane, and, you know, you guys are hiring so many people right now it’s got to be a challenge to get them on board and used to actually working in that type of environment, right?

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-Kevin: Oh yeah, yeah, and again they don’t know what kind of environment they’re working in until they get there. So this could get them prepared for it a little bit.
You know, I mean, we have an angry passenger, you know, that, you know, lost their bag. We’ve all…You get angry, things happen, but you could, how to deal with it, and, you know, the processes and make sure they’re following the right processes. We have, you know, processes in place of what they need to do. You know, the virtual reality could come up and say, know the process not, well, we’ll find your bag when we find it. No, the process is, we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that, we’re going to follow these steps, and we’re going to do this for you and do this for you. So it kind of will guide them through the proper procedures of doing, you know, of certain situations.

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-Dave: Yeah, so earlier Laura Chadwick put in the chat that if you do have questions, please feel free to throw any of them in there. You know, Kevin has been working on this for a while so he can probably answer a lot of them. I mean, one that’s in here that Molly actually asked was, does the VR simulate the noise and weather and other distractions? So kind of can you talk a little bit about that?

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-Kevin: I can. On our virtual reality, we actually have noise, like I mentioned earlier in the headset, when it was on you. You could hear the jet engines in the background running, and it was funny because sometimes when I had the people on the headsets, they would, you know, we had a different type than we do now, but they would flip the earpieces up so they couldn’t hear it, and I would tell them, “No, put the earpieces back down because that’s part of the job, hearing the noises out there.” With weather, we don’t have it, but Dave and I have discussed that. I want to be able to put in if it’s raining outside or dark outside or snowing outside, and, you know, you can even put ice on the ramp because when these guys are out there working around the airplane there’s snow on the ground and there’s ice patches, and we could throw an ice patch down and make them fall down and stuff, but I don’t know if we go that far with it, but yeah, but I want to see weather, but I think, Dave, you can… I believe you can do that because we’ve talked about it some.

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-Dave: Oh yeah, we’ve done it for several different experiences. It’s definitely doable. I thought it was interesting too when you were talking about the noise.
I’ve seen a lot of folks, you know, that want to use their training experience also as kind of a, as part of the recruiting process, where, you know, honestly they’re giving a realistic job preview, I guess, because if you work in a… If you want to get somebody on an assembly line that is going to be, you know, a loud, maybe kind of chaotic environment with things moving quickly around you, it’s hard to kind of, you know, in a job fair, it’s kind of hard to give that experience.

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-Kevin: Yeah, yeah. And you mentioned that because, again something else we’ve talked about which I know is coming is kind of a new hire on boarding virtual reality
because as we know and I have learned from traveling around is I work in Atlanta. I work at the general office, the headquarters which is the Delta headquarters.
It’s a big operation here. This is where everything happens. This is the heart of the airline, and we have employees that work for us, that have been with the company,
5, 10, 20, 25 years that have never been to world headquarters, the Delta headquarters. They’ve never seen the operation here. You know, they work in Bismarck, North Dakota, and that’s where they go, and when they get on airplanes to fly somewhere, they’re not coming here for vacation, you know, they’re going somewhere else.
So we want an on boarding so that they can see and it would take them for a tour of the headquarters, and this is the operations control center, and this is where everything happens, the heartbeat of the airline. It would swing by the Delta CEO office, Ed Bastian, and he could say hi to them and welcome to Delta, you know, and then say, “Hey, go on down and see the chief financial officer, he’s waiting for you.” I mean, and really just do something like it’s really walking them through, and then like Dave said it would take them, now let’s show you what your job is, you know, and your job is to work the ramp, and they could see the whole operation.
You know, at that point, they might say, “Hey, this isn’t for me.” I mean, I don’t know, or they may say, this is for me. I mean, but that’s what we want, and they could see the operation and see what their job is going to be. You know, the airplane comes in. It parks. We park it. We unload it. We, you know, and it’s a very busy schedule. You know, we could throw in there, hey, watch if it’s raining outside and you’re still working the flights. We don’t just stop.
We stop if it’s lightning. We don’t want anybody to get hurt, but if it’s cold, we work. If it’s hot, we work. So they could see the operation like Dave said, or if it’s a customer service, you know, we call above wing, Dave could take them to that operation. Cargo, same thing, whatever their job might be it could take them to it and show them. So that’s, yeah.

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-Dave: There’s another question here about whether or not the training platform incorporates haptics, so, you know, force feedback or other things that you would feel beyond justkind of what you see in headset?

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-Kevin: Yeah, I mean, I might let you take this because the one we’re working on right now. Is that kind of where we’re going with this the learn practice or learn, train, practice mode? That gives you feedback, if you’re doing the job not properly, it will tell you,
hey, you need to do… This is the proper procedure, but…

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-Dave: Yeah, I mean, and also from the standpoint of getting a feel to what you’re doing or something, you know, like if you do the wrong thing, the hand controller can buzz or something or what’s really some interesting stuff that’s on the horizon are things like, you know, there’s all sorts of… There’s another group that’s actually speaking today from OVR that literally does smell. They have… It’s VR smell-o-vision. They were kind enough to send us a demo kit recently, and it’s pretty interesting. I mean, I guess you could smell, you know, the jet fuel on the tarmac or something.

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-Kevin: Yeah, and I will tell, and I go off because in the middle of when I was working with Dave and Foundry 45 with the virtual reality, I was in the virtual reality, and I went on vacation with my family to Disney, and I did the Avatar ride, and it’s all virtual reality, and there is smells, and it all smells and I couldn’t hardly enjoy the ride because I’m thinking the whole time how can I incorporate this stuff, like, into our virtual reality. So I was really running through going, okay, how can we… But the smell, that was awesome. I mean, like…

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-Dave: Yeah, there’s a suit. There’s a Tesla suit that actually allows… You know, that you can feel heat and cold, and it’s pretty amazing.

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-Kevin: Yeah, and, I mean, and, you know, as you guys know we work around live running jet engines. That’s a big danger of somebody walking in front of the engine
and actually getting sucked into an engine. It’s scary, and we don’t want them to do it, and when with as first talking to Dave and Foundry 45 and the team, I actually jokingly said, “So to prevent from doing that, could they get sucked into the engine?” And Dave was like, “Absolutely!” And I was like, “No, I was just kidding. I don’t think we want to do that to them.” But we was like, “But we could do it if we want to.”

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-Dave: We don’t want to scare people.
-Kevin: No.

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-Dave: Unless you want to, unless you need to. All right. I think hopefully we have time… Well hopefully we have time for… Or we have one… Laura is coming in. I think we’re at the end of our session here.

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-Laura: Yeah, so I just… Hi, guys, thanks so much for sharing, and I just wanted to put one more call out for if there are any questions, other questions.
We’ve got a really great crew of people here listening in. Thank you, Kevin and Dave for sharing all of your great insights. I wondered, you know, just a quick question knowing that commercial pilots have to do ongoing continuing education, I wondered if rampers have… How often do you put rampers through the goggles or through the training and have you done an analysis of retention of information? And do you believe that this is showing up in your safety rating scores over time?

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00:26:33,067 –> 00:28:00,834
-Kevin: Yeah, now our ramp agents they go through all their initial training obviously, and then they do training throughout the yearon different pieces, and then they have an annual qualification training that goes over it. Now right now with COVID happening last year, we keep put the virtual reality on hold during that period because of everything happening, and we’re just starting it back up and changing some things around and actually doing a training center that we’re going to be looking at where we bring them in for virtual reality training. So we’re not using the virtual reality as an annual training piece. There’s a lot of different things that we’re going to be using it for. They’ll be on the virtual reality, you know, quite a bit, you know, door operation training, what we call aircraft general familiarization training, how to open doors properly, and, you know, sometimes we send an aircraft into a station that hasn’t been in that station for 6 months or a year. Now they were trained on it a year ago but, you know, we could, you know,
flight control could say, “Hey, we’re sending the airbus 330 to you today instead of the airbus, you know, 220 because of a mechanical issue.” And they’re like, “Well, we haven’t seen that airplane in a year.” They could put the virtual reality headset on and in 10 minutes be briefed on how to operate that airplane properly, you know, how do the doors open properly, and, you know, so we could use it that way.

673
00:28:00,834 –> 00:28:03,968
-Laura: Right, just as Dan was saying, the just in time training.

674
00:28:03,968 –> 00:28:05,801
-Kevin: Yes.
-Dave: Yeah, there’s nothing more efficient in that sort of situation.

675
00:28:05,801 –> 00:28:26,434
-Kevin: An example, you know, door operation, how to open the door, I mean, the doors are very technical, and we have slides that could pop out and so on.
You know, I joked to Dave, I told him when I was a facilitator years ago they sent me to Mumbai, India to actually teach two guys how to open a door.
It’s a 10-minute training.

682
00:28:26,434 –> 00:28:28,601
-Laura: Wow.
-Kevin: I mean, I flew what 18 hours.

683
00:28:28,601 –> 00:28:29,601
-Laura: Yeah.

684
00:28:29,601 –> 00:28:38,300
-Kevin: You know, got off the airplane, walked down stairs, 10 minutes, I showed the two guys this is the proper way to open a door. They were like, “Okay, you want to go out to eat?” Sure. Okay. We went to eat, and I flew home the next day.

690
00:28:38,300 –> 00:28:39,734
-Laura: What an ROI, what an ROI…

691
00:28:39,734 –> 00:28:45,767
-Kevin: Yeah exactly.
-Laura: …for VR. Well with that, we have to end. Dave and Kevin, thanks so much for joining us.

694
00:28:45,767 –> 00:28:47,100
-Kevin: How much did that cost the company?

695
00:28:47,100 –> 00:28:48,767
-Laura: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.

696
00:28:48,767 –> 00:28:58,434
-Dave: Thanks for having us, Laura
-Laura: So we will see you in the… Thanks so much for joining us. Everyone else, go and head over to the breakouts and pick out your next session. We’ll see you then. Thanks so much.

701
00:28:58,434 –> 00:28:59,501
-Dave: Thank you.
-Laura: All right. Bye-bye.

702
00:28:59,501 –> 00:29:01,901
-Kevin: Bye.


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