Two years after its purchase of CHC Helicopter’s pilot training operation, flight and maintenance training provider CAE said that the model of partnerships between operators and training companies is gaining momentum in the industry. “We’re seeing more interest in a CHC-type level of partnership,” said Rob Lewis, CAE’s recently named v-p and general manager for business aviation, helicopter and maintenance training. “We are in the middle of training outsourcing discussions with three of the large helicopter operators around the world right now.”
According to Lewis, helicopter operators have significant incentive to divest their training operations. “A simulator for a helicopter can cost about as much as a helicopter, so it’s expensive to own and operate,” he said, “and they may be able to better utilize the capital for their core business, which is operating the helicopters.” Another factor is in keeping up with regulation changes and updates for the various helicopter models they operate and incorporating those changes to in-house training materials. “Is that something that they want to be in the business of, versus do you outsource that to someone who, that’s what they do?” asked Lewis.
He added that while an operator might have one simulator for a helicopter type, a large training provider would likely have several, making it more efficient to keep track of updates. Those several simulators would also be deployed around the world, making it easier for large operators with global fleets to send pilots for training rather than at one simulator in a central location. Since it purchased CHC’s training operation, CAE has found that the operator only accounts for about 25 percent of the capacity at its former training centers in Scotland, Norway and Vancouver. CAE has been able to provide another 3,000 hours a year of training for other companies, increasing the utilization of the simulators. “An operator could try to market that excess time, but that’s not their business,” said CAE spokesman Rick Adams. “It’s something that we do very well.”
Over the next five years, CAE (Booth No. C1516) said the helicopter training market should grow at a rate of approximately 8 percent a year. One trend that the company has noted is an increase in demand for more pilot training in the simulator as opposed to the aircraft. The Canadian company said it sees its rotorcraft training market slanting heavily toward medium and larger helicopters in the future. “We believe there is going to be an increase in those kinds of aircraft that the oil and gas companies use for [oil platform] transfers,” said Lewis. Those larger helicopters will drive up the amount of training needed due to their increased crew requirements. “Your typical business aviation aircraft probably averages three- to three and a half pilots per aircraft,” said Lewis. “In the oil and gas helicopter world it averages around seven. These things operate 12 hours a day out to the oil platform and back.” The largest increase in training demand is in Southeast Asia and Brazil. “To be honest, you can look at where the oil companies are going and it’s going to correspond,” Lewis told AIN.
To meet that demand, CAE has just deployed a pair of new Sikorsky S-76C++ simulators, one to Zhuhai, China and one to São Paulo, Brazil, where it has agreements with anchor customers that have signed contracts for a large chunk of simulator time. “In a typical situation, that may fill that simulator up 25 to 30 percent,” said Lewis, “but if we like the market it’s a lower risk way of getting into the market.” In both cases, the new simulators are the first Level-D full-motion helicopter simulators in the region. CAE is currently working on Sikorsky S-92 and Eurocopter EC225 simulators, which are expected to be completed in the next six months. CAE has yet to determine where they will be situated.
On the helicopter maintenance training side, the company is expecting the same level of growth as its flight training division. While not presently a requirement, according to Lewis, large operators are facing increasing pressure from customers to send their maintenance technicians for recurrent maintenance type training on a yearly or semi-yearly basis, a development that could provide increased opportunities for maintenance training providers. CAE has recently developed two other service initiatives that are gaining traction. The first, an advanced troubleshooting program, was rolled out last year and is aimed at experienced mechanics. The program is intended as a cross-type course on teaching the process and techniques for diagnosing problems in today’s sophisticated equipment. The second recently introduced initiative is what CAE calls its mobile classroom. An operator or MRO provider will contract with CAE to come to its location and conduct a training class for a group of technicians. Given enough advance notice, CAE can contact other nearby operators who might wish to take advantage of the close-proximity training. “When you couple those two things together, the growth rate on advanced troubleshooting, particularly when you can go to the customer site, it’s been 20 percent-plus growth in an industry that is flat to declining,” said Lewis.
Lewis, most recently president and CEO of Michigan-based aviation services provider Pentastar Aviation, was brought in last November to head up CAE’s realigned business aviation and maintenance training division. He had previously served as president of Everest Fuel Management and senior v-p of field operations and supply programs at Sentient Flight Group.