Teaching Pilots “TASKS” is not enough; FlightSafety International’s FlightSmart can do more for Pilots[1]

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FlightSafety International adds Artificial Intelligence to its Teaching Simulators

FlightSmart uses IBM Watson’s Artificial Intelligence

Press Release mentions repeatedly “TASKS” when “competency-based” is recommended


FlightSafety International (FSI) is widely regarded as the PREMIER aviation training organization. It recently issued a press release about its FlightSmart which uses a number of computer systems to enhance pilot training; that, in and of itself, is newsworthy.

What is unusual is that the FSI simulators are now loaded with IBM Watson’s Artificial Intelligence to capture and analyze more specific data which helps focus the “lesson plan’ for each individual student’s needs. As an example, the release explains that a student may be putting more force on the column or adjusting the throttles more than necessary. FlightSmart captures those variances and flags the need for early remedial training.


It may be just a word choice which FSI uses and which has broader connotations in their lexicon, but the FlightSmart description mentions “TASK” as a central term in its new program.

The pedagogical term “TASK” has been subject to some criticism.  The New York Times Magazine article by William Langewiesche, What Really Brought Down The Boeing 737 Max?, finds that the Lion Air pilots were purely task trained (ability to take off and land proficiently, but not beyond the standard scenarios) and did not have a broad-based aviation education (i.e. “when this fails, try that”). Consequently, when faced with an unexpected condition, they did not have the tools to find a solution. The Langewiesche thesis is not confined to his report. His views are shared by

 ICAO (competency-based training)

Flight Safety Foundation (evidence-based training methods[2], another term)

Karolina Prokopovičs Pilot Training: Outdated Task-Based Method Not Enough for Aviation Today?








This reading of the FSI description may be too literal, but the number of times TASK in the article creates the impression that precisely the technical skills highlighted in the above three critiques is the focus of the training, while the need to educate the student how the particular aerodynamics, powerplants, avionics and systems function. When A fails, the pilot can employ B to respond to the problem—that is the primary lesson of these three sources.



FlightSafety Debuts a Smart New Way To Train

by Matt Thurber

 – November 11, 2019, 9:42 AM

FlightSafety International is evaluating how to implement its artificial intelligence (AI)-based FligthSmart effort into business aircraft simulator training. FlightSmart aims to help FlightSafety instructors and training centers improve a student’s experience via algorithms, machine learning, and AI. (Photo: FlightSafety International)

FlightSafety International has formally launched an effort called FlightSmart that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to elevate aviation training quality. What the FlightSmart team has done is figure out a way to use modern technology, including IBM’s Watson AI tool, to help its instructors and training centers improve a student’s experience.

“The product, through the collaboration with IBM, is utilizing advanced algorithms, machine learning, artificial intelligence—all of those cognitive technologies—to provide the objective evidence or objective evaluation of the student’s performance,” said Matt Littrell, FlightSafety product director of AI and adaptive learning.

Ultimately, FlightSafety sees FlightSmart as helping students learn faster by mastering TASKS more quickly, while at the same time giving instructors better information about the students’ performance so they can act as “learning managers” and provide better feedback to improve the training process. The goal of FlightSmart is to help pilots master their skills and become more proficient. An ancillary benefit is that the system also will increase training efficiency, thus bringing more pilots into the workforce and lowering the burden on instructors, for which there is also a shortage.

“The primary focus is to help the student pilots become better and faster and master TASKS that are challenging,” said senior product manager Chris Starr.

FlightSmart isn’t just for simulator training, but will also be helpful for TASKS training on avionics and operating flight management systems; use of automation; standard operating procedures; crew resource management; and other areas besides flying—such as maintenance and operating unmanned systems. “It has tremendous potential throughout many avenues and markets,” Littrell said.

When and Why

There are three use cases that FlightSafety customers have flagged and that FlightSmart is designed to satisfy, according to Littrell.

The first is to identify problems and address them much earlier in the training process, which improves efficiency because this can eliminate the need for additional remedial training. An extra day of full-flight simulator training adds thousands of dollars to the training cost, takes more valuable time, and adds complexity to the logistics of running an extremely complex training process.

To address this first use case, FlightSmart can automatically identify training TASKS, instead of the instructor having to look away from observing the student and selecting the TASKS. An example might be a steep turn, and FlightSmart is programmed with start-stop times, maneuver criteria, and other elements that identify and record the TASKS so the instructor doesn’t have to make notes or try to remember the TASKS and the student’s performance.

This automation helps the instructor give the student a more comprehensive evaluation because now the simulator is recording everything the student does and, more importantly, records parameters that the instructor cannot perceive.

“The problem is the instructor can’t see everything the pilot is doing,” said Starr. “He doesn’t know how much force [the student] is putting on the column or how much he’s moving the throttles. FlightSmart takes the data out of the simulator, all the forces that are being applied, all the movements that are happening, how soon a student is selecting a switch or pushing a button.”

How FlightSmart Works

The goal of the FlightSmart program, which got underway two years ago but was formally launched a year ago, was to figure out how to provide a more objective evaluation of student performance. As Littrell put it, “We consider FlightSmart a revolutionary tool that is designed to turn the aviation professional training experience on its head. It’s focusing on the individual themselves, but it also can focus on the population as a whole or a subset of a population. We’re tailoring the training to the specific needs, strengths, weaknesses, and focus areas through objective evidence and machine learning.”

The collaboration with IBM’s Watson service, he added, “is utilizing advanced algorithms, machine learning, artificial intelligence, all of those cognitive technologies to provide the objective evidence or objective evaluation of the student’s performance as they’re in the entire training ecosystem. Our initial development started focusing solely on the simulator side, capturing the data out of the simulators and applying the algorithms to first automatically identify what training TASKS s were accomplished during that training session.”

The important factor here, however, is what standards apply for measuring the student’s performance. Should it be the FAA Airman Certification Standards, as flown perfectly by the simulator?

According to Littrell, “We go more granular than that rather than just an A/B-, pass/fail-type evaluation.” There is scoring against the overt regulator-derived standard, but FlightSmart also uses a “gold-standard baseline,” which is based on captured human performance.

With skilled pilots at the controls, FlightSmart “captured their sessions flying that particular training TASKS and then worked up a baseline based on all that data,” he said. “We could have the simulator fly a perfect steep turn or whatever the case was. But, but that’s not realistic, that doesn’t take into account the human element. So we opted to use actual humans to create that baseline. The way machine learning and analytics work, the more data you have, the smarter it gets. So over time, the baseline will continue to improve and be more reflective of the pilot population and that gold standard.”

Students will be able to see their scores by TASKS; the top three reasons for failure; next suggested training TASKS; the top three recommended next actions; master percentage; and progression trend graph.

The dashboard for instructors (training managers) will show ranking of students by scores, mastery level, and training TASK score; the likelihood of additional training required; and the likelihood of washout.

As mentioned multiple times above, it is possible, if not likely, that FlightSafety International’s FlightSmart teaches more than just tasks. The IBM Watson AI, if problem-solving is not part of its pedagogical program, can easily add out-of-the-box problems to the students’ course. The variances which the AI software allows is most conducive to creating scenarios which go beyond the expected.

Safety will be served!!!

[1] If it does not already include such lessons!!!

[2] FlightSmart may better fit this term


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2 Comments on "Teaching Pilots “TASKS” is not enough; FlightSafety International’s FlightSmart can do more for Pilots[1]"

  1. MUFTAH BZEAK 1975 FROM FLIGHT | April 28, 2020 at 4:58 am | Reply


  2. The facility depicted in the picture looks like the FSI Tucson center. Yep. Thorough, no-punches-pulled simulator training.

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