As a child, Chris always had a special interest in new technologies and dreamt of becoming an airline pilot. After passing all due exams and being ready to start flying, he found himself in an accident which ended his flying career prematurely, leading him to other adventures in the aircraft industry.
Starting his career at Air France-KLM Group in 2007 as a mechanic on the wide-body fleet in the Engineering & Maintenance domain, Chris Koomen is now a VR specialist and consultant for KLM XR Center of Excellence. In his current role, he is in charge of guiding and implementing VR in different fields, such as cabin crew training, social media, marketing, and ground operations.
Prior to this role, he has always been a technology enthusiast curious to experiment different tech: his interest in VR took off when he successfully built a flight simulator on glasses back in 1996. In 2015, he picked up his experimentation and development in VR again with an interactive VR evacuation training for KLM. It turned out to be a success, which was the turning point of his transition from a ground engineer to a VR-expert. In the last three years, he has joined the Digital Transformation team at KLM where he’s brought together a VR team which validates concepts with a thin slice approach.
1. What is so unique about working at Air France-KLM?
One of the things I like the most at KLM is the possibility to do everything here. I started as a mechanic for a digital studio in 2007, but now I am in the IT department. I also have colleagues who have worked everywhere at the company. Of course, some of them stayed at the same positions for more than 40 years. KLM is really like one big family. You can even say it is a huge family but you just feel close to your colleagues all over the company!
2. What’s Air France-KLM’s vision in VR/AR?
For the moment, we have some VR cases live, the advantages of which are remarkable and surprising. Take the KLC as an example, one instructor says that he is glad not to have to travel with 12 students to a hangar, which really saves him a lot of energy.
3. What is your biggest achievement so far as a VR specialist?
Nice question! I guess it’s to implement VR in KLM. It took my team and me 4 years to convince the right people of the benefits of VR. Now we have the oculus quest for business managed like a laptop or table, which is quite unique. The crew can pick one device from a dedicated station and then do the training at home. When they feel ready, they bring the headset back and it starts over for the next trainee/student who wishes to train.
Another achievement is the implementation of the fire safety training. Conducting the fire drill when multiple crews on the plane isn’t easy. It is challenging to work together and pass objects from one hand to another, while an instructor panel is connected to review the situation in real-time from all over the world.
4. How do you see Air France-KLM and the overall airline industry in XR in 10 years?
Well, let us survive this crisis first… The airline industry is hardly hit by covid. Due to the travel restrictions, I guess we may travel less in the future. It sounds strange but if we focus more on VR equipment, we can be better prepared for holidays.
5. What are you like as a VR specialist?
What I like the most is the exploration of new technologies and the solutions to improve them. Last time when I was on the road driving to my old workplace with a new camera, I saw a 777 waiting for a test run, so I asked the engineer if it was ok to shoot some movies. He recognised me and offered me to stay for the run. Because these instant ideas are really interesting, I never plan anything ahead. This flexibility brings me to unique situations from which I’ve learned a lot.
6. How do you handle adversity and doubt?
I rarely doubt anything. Because even if it occurs, the doubts just remind me to solve it as soon as possible. I remember the first time when I started working at KLM, I was working on top of an engine of a 747 where we dropped a screw. We told this to the lead engineer and he asked us to search for it. After 1 hour’s search without any result, he sent us back to search for it even longer. After 7 hours of searching, we still didn’t find the screw and the engineer told us that if the screw was felt in the engine, we needed to replace the entire engine just because of one screw and a new guy who wasn’t sure about himself. It was at that moment that I learned to be aware of the consequences of our actions and the importance of the details and verifications.
7. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in VR/AR, what would it be?
JUST DO IT! Discussing about it won’t help. VR is an industry where you have to convince people by showing the results.
8. Which habit do you wish to break?
If I have to pick one, it is to stop my workaholic mode. The work just takes up so much time in my life..!
9. What does creativity mean to you?
Creativity is everything because the world stays still without creativity. Thinking out of the box has nothing wrong, because you can learn alot from it!
10. Which book has inspired you the most?
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Love it!
11. What do you do when you’re not at work?
Not sure because I have never tried to stop working..! When I was training for my pilot license and flying in the sky, I already thought about how I could convert things to VR. Every time when I have a new hobby, I always unconsciously associate it with my work.
The only thing I can do without thinking about the work is scuba diving.
12. Who do you see as an inspiration in the industry? (Please name up to 3 people from the XR industry)
The top of my list is Amy Peck. She has been a mentor for me since the very beginning.
Antony Vittilo has also inspired me tremendously. He is not only good at creating tools, but also writing related reviews and blogs.
The teams which I’ve been working with. Without this wonderful team, we wouldn’t have had as many achievements as we have now!