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Flying high: The human capability edge in a technological age

Paschal Somers – Industry Skills Specialist

The Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition 2019 took centre stage at Avalon airport in blistering late summer heat. In its fourteenth year, this event is now the largest, most comprehensive and loudest event of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. It transports aviation professionals, enthusiasts and the public to a world of winged wonder. The minute you arrive you are immersed in an action-packed spectacular with breathtaking flying displays and an amazing range of aircraft on show.

The event was a great opportunity for Australian Industry Standards to engage with Aviation and Defence industry stakeholders and to listen and learn about the latest trends and technologies. AIS was amongst the over 700 participating exhibitors in the relative tranquillity of the massive tents at the Airshow, where we showcased the work being done by the Aviation and Public Safety Industry Reference Committees (IRCs) we support. Conversations with visitors usually started with ‘So tell us, what do you do?’ and thus began the sharing of information and ideas plus, of course, the swapping of business cards! As a first timer to the event I was initially overwhelmed by the expanse of the event and wondered how to process it all.

I explained to all sorts of people from students to company executives that AIS develops skills standards, including those for the Aviation industry. We believe that the development of skills is essential to industries to set them apart from their international competitors and to transform the lives of individuals. At the Airshow the web of industries and skills development was underscored by the range of companies involved in research and development, the sale of new products and technological advancements, regulation and training provision.

Amongst the many interesting people at the Avalon Airshow I was especially struck by those demonstrating their work in security and asset protection. I saw some amazing advancements in technology in unmanned ground surveillance as well as a more familiar form of guarding by Australian Airforce dogs. Military working dogs and their handlers provide security, crime prevention patrols, emergency response, and intruder detection on RAAF bases and in locations around the world.

The two main breeds of military working dogs used by the Air Force are the German Shepherd and Belgian Shepherd Malinois. The dogs are often from Air Force’s own breeding program, in which members of the public can volunteer by fostering Air Force puppies and adopting dogs when they retire.

I was impressed at how devoted and responsive the dogs were to their handlers. Commands and signals delivered immediate responses displaying extraordinary teamwork – each dependent on the other to succeed in their mission. The demonstration was dramatic, made possible by a relationship forged over a great many hours of practice. At the post-session question and answer we were told the first 12 months of training focus on bonding with the dog, as well as developing both dog and handler as a team to reach the operational standard expected by the Air Force.

In another part of the grounds, in the cargo hold of the enormous Boeing C 17 aircraft, I came across iWatchdog, a system which uses an electrically powered autonomous ground vehicle called Kelpie to protect Airforce assets; As aviation assets can be spread over a wide area or where there is limited CCTV coverage, the use of this vehicle and software makes the job a great deal easier. This unmanned ground vehicle’s (UGV) sensors and cameras can stream live video information and analytics of any area and of people.  Ian Mathieson, a Senior Software Engineer at Agent Oriented Software (AOS), explained to me that the Kelpie can operate in hostile and complex conditions and provide a range of real time data to commanders which means more tactical knowledge for operators in surveillance situations. Ian further explained that “Kelpie can also act as a trustworthy autonomous utility transport vehicle in a number of roles: fetching supplies for aircraft maintenance, medical support, or even munitions transport, just like the clever and helpful breed of dog it is named after”. Engineers and technicians together with security personnel are named in our Skills Forecast 2019 as two of the top five skills that the Aviation Industry will need in the next three to five years. This in turn means that vocational qualifications will need to be developed to ensure that training is responsive to industry trends and expectations.

I was pleased to present the role of AIS in supporting the Aviation and Public Safety IRCs to teachers and year 8 to 11 students at the show’s Careers and Skills Student Information Forum on Friday 1 March. The forum was hosted by Aerospace Australia Limited and provided a range of speakers on the remarkable use of drones in the army, aviation career pathways, the importance of manufacturing and associated skills in aviation and the RAAF. My presentation explained our involvement in skills forecasting analysis, in addition to the industry engagement process involved in training package development.

That engagement was what it was all about at the Avalon Airshow, where I met many people performing in a wide range of roles and demonstrating the exciting future that technology can offer. I was also struck by how the Aviation and Defence industries in Australia are underpinned by a wealth of knowledge and skills, reminding me that the human interface remains central to skills development.