Metro’s Helicopter Flight Training Center Gaining Altitude

 - August 7, 2014, 2:10 AM

Making synthetic training affordable by allowing customers to tailor programs to their specific needs is the idea behind Metro Aviation’s Shreveport, La.-based Helicopter Flight Training Center (HFTC).

Based in a converted and remodeled 12,000-sq-ft Solo Cup factory across the street from Metro’s headquarters, the HFTC allows customers to dry lease helicopter simulators and flight training devices by the hour and either bring their own instructors or contract with independent instructors suggested by the HFTC. It also will assist customers in developing their training programs, as well as train their instructors to operate simulators and FTDs at no cost.

“Many of our customers have never used simulators before in their training,” said HFTC director Terry Palmer. “We can help them develop scenario-based training that is appropriate for their organization. The point is to get customers here as inexpensively as possible and get them the best training while they are here.” She said the dry lease rate is equivalent to hourly helicopter operating costs.

Classrooms and other facilities inside the HFTC are provided to customers free of charge and are also made available for technician and medical crew training. HFTC also is establishing a first and one-of-a-kind communications center lab to train dispatchers in a cooperative program with the National Association of Air Medical Communication Specialists (NAACS). While HFTC initially trained Metro pilots, it operates as an independent company and is open to the entire rotorcraft community, including Metro’s competitors.

The HFTC features an Airbus EC135 level-D full-motion simulator as well as a level 7 flight-training device for the Airbus AS350, both built and owned by FlightSafety International and both NVG certified. Simulators and devices for other makes and models of helicopter likely will be added in the future, said Palmer.

The HFTC customer roster to date includes Air Medical Group Holdings, parent company of Air Evac Lifeteam, Med-Trans and EagleMed; and the California Shock Trauma Air Rescue Ambulance (Calstar). Palmer said other customers include operators serving law enforcement, offshore oil-and-gas and electronic news gathering.

Demand for the simulator and FTD currently in place is strong, Palmer said, with the EC135 level-D simulator “pretty much” booked through the remainder of the year and the AS350 FTD two-thirds full. She said many customers are coming to the center to do non-aircraft-specific training for inadvertent IMC or NVGs.

The NTSB’s recent recommendation for more helicopter simulator training is playing a big role in driving HFTC demand. “That was huge,” she noted.