It was probably the tuxedos. More than the awards ceremony, gold spray-painted cans of Cheez Whiz, or the giant simulator stage, the tuxedos signaled that this year’s Redbird Migration flight training conference was unique.
Now officially known as Redbird Flight, the simulator and technology company has held this three-day Migration gathering in San Marcos, Texas, for the past five years. And while no two events have been the same, each is a little bit customer meeting, flight training symposium, and creative workshop.
The tuxedos are a new addition. Although he calls himself the chief pilot, Redbird’s Jerry Gregoire is still very much the leader of the company. His video production contests have been a hit at some of his previous company’s retreats. So why not try it at Migration? The premise is simple: Split into teams, grab an iPad, take two hours, and produce a commercial. In this case it was selling someone on learning to fly. The fun is amped up with mandatory prop cameos (the Cheez Whiz) and some mandatory dialogue. What at first seems like an insane idea for a flight training conference turns to magic as flight school operators from different parts of the country work together to try and win nothing more than a can of Cheez Whiz bathed in gold spray paint—a Whizzie. So it was that the 200-plus attendees found themselves surrounded by Redbird staffers in black tie at the evening’s award ceremony, masterfully hosted by John and Martha King.
The conference wasn’t all work and no play. There were dozens of breakout sessions and learning opportunities. Much of the focus of previous conferences has been on primary training, and that was largely absent this year. Hartzell’s Joe Brown signaled the shift in his conference-opening comments on Nov. 2. Brown has a passion for regular proficiency training, which he says can be accomplished in simulators to both increase quality and decrease cost. Brown and other industry partners ran a successful pilot proficiency center at this year’s EAA AirVenture, and he says the extensive scenario-based training that occurred can be emulated at flight schools around the country.
FAA Administrator Michael Heurta’s remarks Nov. 4 followed a similar theme. Although we are in a period of phenomenal air carrier safety, he said, general aviation continues to be an area ripe for improvement. The FAA plans to push that agenda in a number of ways, including with its Part 23 rewrite and a new regulatory enforcement policy that seeks to provide pilots with training rather than punish them after a regulation bust.
It’s clear that this is a year of transition for Redbird. As the company shifts focus away from the flight school, it’s directing its attention to collecting flight training data on a broader scale. On the ground this will happen with its new operating platform called Redbird Navigator. Navigator is a single point of interaction for operators, enabling what Redbird says will be more seamless customer support and easier training operation. Simulators with Navigator installed can be driven with a laptop, phone, or tablet. In the air, data collection will happen with the previously announced Sidekick. Combined, Sidekick and Navigator will be able to track everything from student performance in simulators to how long it takes students to solo in the aircraft. What’s ultimately done with the data isn’t yet known.