With new line service course, NATA brings training online

 - January 27, 2010, 10:41 AM

In just under two years of operation, the National Air Transportation Association’s (NATA) online professional line service training (PLST) course has already seen widespread industry enrollment, certifying more than 4,000 line service workers at approximately 350 FBO locations nationwide.

Evolved from NATA’s Safety 1st PLST video series (first distributed during the 1960s), the program offers the most current information about line service in an interactive format. “The primary motive was to update the program,” said David Almy, NATA’s former vice president of membership marketing and communications and one of the program’s creators. “There was old footage and old thinking in the videos, and they had seen their day. It was time to modernize everything.”

Created over the course of two years, the program further continued the process
of providing an industry-wide standard of training, and was designed with the help
of industry members, including veteran line service workers who formed content committees. The curriculum was intended to be multi-faceted and flexible enough
to serve not only as a means of initial training, but also as a platform for the two-year recurrent training NATA requires for its Safety 1st certification.

“My challenge when I first started down this road to redo [the course] was not only to appeal to the brand-new person who really needed to know all about the nuances of general aviation but also to appeal to those who have some experience and a lot of knowledge out there on the ground,” said Amy Koranda, NATA’s director of safety management, who noted that one of the benefits of putting the course online is the ease with which it can be updated.

Focus on Professionalism

Along with detailing the duties of line service technicians and the challenges they face in the performance of their tasks, the course emphasizes the tremendous responsibility that they have in doing their job professionally and conscientiously.
Those taking the course are continually reminded of the consequences that inattentiveness or mistakes could have, not only for themselves but also for their customers. “That is something they need to hear consistently,” Koranda told AIN.

To drive home this point, the program continually repeats key themes across different topics, such as the need to verify the type, grade and amount of fuel required for an aircraft. In one memorable example, candidates are advised not to simply identify an aircraft’s fuel needs based on its appearance, as pictures of Cessna’s visually similar 421 and Conquest I are shown. The procedure of verifying the order form, matching it to the tail number of the airplane, confirming the order with the flight crew, and checking it again quickly becomes mantra, as trainees are warned they must be correct 100 percent of time in refueling operations.

The course is based on eight modules: introduction to ground servicing; safety; general fuel servicing; general towing; fuel farm management; customer service; fire safety; and general aviation security. Each module is divided into several topics, which are further subdivided into numerous concepts. “It’s kind of like eating an elephant,” quipped Koranda. “How do you eat it? One bite at a time, and [the PLST course] does that in a good educational sequence, in an entertaining and interactive way.”

Containing nearly 1,000 screens, more than 300 video clips and 4,000 images, the comprehensive self-paced course requires some 9 or 10 hours to complete, although NATA recommends spreading instruction out over days or even weeks depending on the pace of training required. To achieve certification, the entire program must be completed within six months. Navigation in the program is linear, and trainees cannot advance through a topic until they complete all of the required screens. “When you’ve had enough you finish the concept and if you close it correctly it will give you the credit,” said Koranda. “It’s kind of like finishing a chapter in a book.” When the trainee logs back in, he can continue at the next chapter.

The first module provides an overview of the industry and the role of line service technicians and proceeds into subjects such as industry jargon, identifying aircraft parts and the common tasks a line service worker is expected to perform, such as towing or lavatory servicing.

The program emphasizes that while some line service tasks may be considered common, line service technicians must remain ever vigilant, as the risk for potential hazard is always lurking.

Each screen contains a narration that provides information about video or interactive images. Trainees can repeat screens as many times as necessary, or simply move forward to the next. Some screens–such as the one that demonstrates aircraft marshalling hand signals–have many interactive items that must be reviewed before the user can proceed. At many junctures, downloadable supporting documents ranging from the aviation phonetic alphabet to Zulu time conversion charts are provided.

Easing the Record-keeping Burden

At intervals, pop quizzes–generally multiple-choice questions that further underline key points–appear. At the end of each module, a multiple-choice exam awaits.
Questions are selected randomly from a pool of dozens of choices. Once the exam is completed, the trainee’s score is recorded and can be reviewed by supervisors.

“The real benefit, particularly to those out there who are looking to see if these guys are doing [the program], is the record keeping because it is all online and you know that someone has definitely taken it from start to finish and that they have passed all the exams,” said Koranda. After each online exam, trainees must then take a practical hands-on exam, administered by their supervisor, proving real-life use of the equipment and understanding of the concepts and skills presented in the module.

Later modules deal with more complex subjects, such as fuel farm management, fuel quality testing, fire safety and even customer service. Once the trainee completes all the online and practical exams, he receives his certification and the right to wear the Safety 1st patch.

According to Koranda, for a company to receive Safety 1st certification it must have all of its line-service techs take the course. “If they are going to say that they are Safety 1st, their requirement is to train everybody out there on the line and have them go through the entire training and become certified every two years,” she added.

The price of the course varies depending on how many people each company enrolls and ranges from $299 down to less than half that amount for more than 500 participants.

Landmark Aviation has committed to the program for training its entire line staff. Since last January, approximately 550 of its line technicians have either completed the course or are currently in the process. “Operationally, we’re seeing that people have a much better comprehension of safety culture,” said Tim Lewis, Landmark’s director of training. “Most important, what we have found is the people who have been NATA Safety 1st certified in the past using the tapes, in doing the two year re-certification are being reminded of a lot more detail with the interactive nature of the online training.”

While companies such as Landmark and Atlantic Aviation have signed on, along with many individual locations from other chains, the program’s organizers expect even more FBOs to adopt the training. “I think there were some people who were waiting perhaps to see what the economy was doing, perhaps to see how the program was doing, but now they are coming on board,” said Koranda.