MIAMI — In the outskirts of Orlando, Florida lies JetBlue University. For nearly every single one of the 1,500 annual new hires at the popular New York based airline, this is where it all begins. At the very least, everyone from cabin crew to pilots, ground agents to executives show up for a two day cultural orientation, something relatively unique in the airline industry, which we detailed extensively in another recent story. But where does everyone go afterward?
Naturally, that all depends on what they came to JetBlue to do. Some, like executives and mechanics, do not stay long. Both are quickly shuttled off after orientation to their new home base to begin on site training. But everyone else stays put in sunny Orlando anywhere from several days to several weeks.
The good folks who fly your airplane will spend a total of eight week living on sites at JetBlue U. If two months does not seem as though it is all that long for a pilot, fear not: You aren’t getting hired if you haven’t already been one. Like other carriers, JetBlue hires its pilots from other airlines, the corporate world, and of course the military. Thus new hire pilots are here to learn the specifics of a new airplane, and the policies behind their new company.
Training, the airline tells us, is split into four stages. The first involves systems, based in one of several dozen classrooms, taught via standard instruction and eLearning computer stations. This first module focusses exclusively on learning the systems of the company’s two aircraft: the Airbus A320 and Embraer 190. In short, the training verifies you know how to operate an airplane, and further covers the basics of how to operate these particular aircraft. By the end the pilots know everything about the airplanes, from how the flight management computer works to how to drop the landing gear manually.
The second is procedures. This module builds on the material learned in systems training, applying the knowledge to checklists and policies specific to JetBlue as well as the individual airplane. The pilots practice on a fixed training device, which provides a 100% replica of the flight deck. Though the devices are immobile, they help instill muscle memory and begin to acquaint the new hires to the environment they will end up working in.
Third comes maneuvers. This is where the pilots move from the immobile fixed trainer into full-fledged full motion simulators. The company’s seven simulators—three E190 and four A320—are all top of the line. The giant devices can recreate virtually any situation a pilot could ever encounter and then some. But at least in this round the pilots are generally subjected to anything unusual. Here the trainers are looking to confirm that pilots can in fact fly the airplane in accordance with manufacturer and company policies and procedures.
It is in the final stage that the pilots are tested to their limits. Called line oriented flight training, or LOFT for short, the training again takes place largely in the full motion simulators. The new hires are tested not only on their ability to fly the airplane but also on the ability to manage their environment and fill the leadership role their job requires.
Though once LOFT has concluded the pilots are done at JetBlue U, they still aren’t done training yet. Each new hire is required by law to complete 25 hours of inflight time under the supervision of a check pilot. JetBlue goes a step further, adding the requirement that new hires must complete 25 hours or seven take offs / landings, whichever comes last. Once complete, the pilots are ready to join the ranks!
The fine people who spend their hours presiding over the cabin, otherwise known as the cabin crew, will spend one month on site. New hires initially spend time in the classroom becoming familiar with company policies and procedures along with the aircraft in the fleet.
Once a basic foundation is laid, the new cabin crews dive into the meat of the intense training. The training is split into sessions that reflect the flight profile: boarding, taxi, takeoff, cruise, and landing. The bulk of the time is spent focusing on policies and procedures for normal, everyday experiences working on board the airplane.
Unlike pilots, who gradually work up from classroom to full simulators over the course of the eight weeks, cabin crew members condense the same classroom to simulator cycle into each mini module. While studying procedures for landing the new hires will cover their roles and responsibilities on board, applicable customer service, and then board a full cabin trainer to try it out.
The crew members have some pretty unusual training sets in which to apply their knowledge into action. The campus holds a full Embraer 190 cabin trainer, built from a real airplane, with fully operational doors, windows with screens to project simulated outside environments, and even full evacuation slides. It is the only one of its kind. The A320 has several sets, including a door trainer and a rare full motion cabin replica that runs on hydraulics (it weighs forty tons).
Once training for normal operations is complete the crew moves into emergencies. Trainees cover everything from inflight fires to heart attacks, passenger illness to crash landings. This is when the crew members would finally take advantage of the giant pool for water evacuation practice and survival at sea, along with a fire pit for firefighting and associated equipment training.
With training complete, the new hires are put through a final test in which they go through a simulated flight. They are judged not only individually but as a group too. If they passed, and most do, they receive their wings at a graduation ceremony in front of their family.
The final group is the ones who keep the show running on the ground: operations. Operations folks are split into two groups, those who work above the wing, and those below it. The ones who are off to work below the wing, known as rampers, don’t spend long at JetBlue U; about three and one half days. During that time they will learn ramp safety (something applied to every group), hand signals for directing airplanes, and how to properly load baggage compartments. The bulk of the training for them happens back at their home airport.
Above the wing new hires spend a bit lot longer on site, about eleven days. Training covers check-in, gate/boarding procedures, the PA system, and learning how to operate the company’s reservation. Trainees practice their skills, both technical and customer service, on mock-up ticketing and gate counters. Each features fully functional computers, scanners, kiosks, and printers for ticket and bag tags. Like their counterparts below the wing, each also spends five days in additional post JetBlueU training at their home airport.
New hires are not the only employees to pass through the walls of JetBlue U, however. Annual and recurrent trainings for existing staff also take place here. The campus will host an average of 2,600 pilots, 1,650 cabin crew, and 500 crewmembers from other departments per year.
The facility has come a long way from its roots in 1999. At the time, the programs were housed inside an Airbus facility in Miami. Ever since opening in its current location in 2006, the campus has been growing, spreading the JetBlue culture through its system and beyond. The campus is also set to grow even bigger as the carrier builds its own lodging facility. The dorm will enable new hires, existing employees, and visitors alike to stay on site, rather than having to commute in every day from a local hotel.