CAE and FlightSafety International Seize Opportunity In China

 - April 14, 2013, 9:15 PM
FlightSafety International’s graphical flight deck provides real-time simulation.

With the number of business jets in China steadily increasing, the country is facing a shortage of qualified pilots, with virtually all of those attending its flight academies and training schools destined for the commercial aviation sector. Operators in China use a ratio of five pilots for every business jet in operation, according to Christopher Jackson, co-founder and executive director of China-based aviation consultancy Jackson Rosenberg, who sees a need for hundreds of additional business jet pilots in the short to medium term.

That situation–coupled with regulations governing the number of foreign pilots permitted to work in the country–is spurring a response for specialized local flight training from the major training providers. Among those eyeing the market are the world’s two biggest aviation training providers: FlightSafety International of the U.S. and Canada’s CAE.

FlightSafety International (FSI, Booth P1304) launched the region’s first business aviation training program in February 2012, when it received FAA and CAAC certification for its Gulfstream G450/G550 simulator, which is installed at its training facility in space leased from Cathay Pacific Airways at Hong Kong International Airport. “It’s been a good learning experience,” said David Davenport, the international training provider’s senior vice president. “We’ve seen every month get better and better as we become established. Customers who have trained with us recognize that it’s the same level of quality that they were receiving when they came to the United States to do their training.” Over the past year, the training provider has seen use of simulator rivaling that of its U.S.-based equipment, drawing customers from local-based operators such as Hongkong Jet, Metrojet, Deer Jet, Big White Bear and others, in addition to customers from Malaysia and Singapore.

Among the challenges faced by the company when dealing with a facility on the other side of the world was communication. “With a new start-up, you think you are going to understand and solve problems before they occur, but they continue to pop up. And the time difference is probably the biggest challenge,” Davenport told AIN. The program is staffed mainly by veteran U.S. FSI instructors on an initial two-year posting to Hong Kong. “The language barrier was basically the same as it would be whether the trainers are working in the United States or in Hong Kong,” noted Davenport, who said that, in either case, interpreters are required.

Last summer, FSI hired its first two native Chinese instructors for the program and, while some of the current expatriate instructors have expressed interested in remaining in Hong Kong for another tour of duty, Davenport said the trend is to continue to recruit and hire local instructors in China. According to the company, it is considering adding more simulators at the Hong Kong facility and possibly expanding to mainland China. “At this point we are still in the exploratory phase,” said Davenport. “We certainly recognize the growing demand for pilots in mainland China and we’re working on business cases right now to address that.”

Meanwhile, maintenance training accounts for approximately one third of FSI’s business in the region. Through an agreement with Pratt & Whitney Canada it provides engine maintenance training in Beijing, Singapore and Brisbane, Australia. Later this year, the company expects to announce an agreement whereby it will provide Gulfstream maintenance training in Beijing as well.

Translated Instruction Material

CAE, also making its initial foray into the Asian business aviation training market, has set up a facility in Shanghai at the Shanghai Eastern Flight Training Centre. The device recently received CAAC certification of its G450/G550 simulator, which earlier earned FAA approval. “Sometimes you hear it can be challenging to do business in China and to get things approved, but we’re not experiencing anything that we don’t come across in other places,” said Rob Lewis, CAE’s recently appointed vice president and general manager for business aviation, helicopter and maintenance training. “If I look at the timeline of how things have progressed, they are moving at about the same pace as if it was an FAA- or EASA-approved facility.”

As it prepares to start up this first business aviation training program in mainland China, CAE (Booth P1012), which currently operates business aviation training facilities in eight countries, translated its course materials into Mandarin, which is mandated. “Everywhere else the training materials are in English,” Lewis told AIN, “but to be CAAC approved in China, your materials have to be in Chinese.” He noted, “We may, from time to time, upon customer request arrange for an interpreter in the classroom, but China is the first place where we have developed our course materials in a local language.” Given the highly precise and technical nature of the material, the translation process–which took several months–proved challenging, according to Lewis. “You need somebody not only to do the translation, but you need a Mandarin-speaking, highly-experienced Gulfstream pilot to look at these things and say, “OK, this is right.”

CAE’s Gulfstream G450/G550 simulators at its locations outside China are also CAAC approved even though the training materials are presented there in English.

Finding qualified instructors was another difficulty for the Canadian company. “In China an instructor must have 100 hours on type to qualify to teach, so it can be difficult finding people who have 100 hours in type, who want to instruct and not fly anymore, and who know Chinese.”

CAE clearly has plans for Asian expansion. Currently under construction are full flight simulators for the Bombardier Global Express and the Dassault Falcon 7X trijet, to be deployed at a yet-to-be-determined location. The company recently set up a Sikorsky S-76C++ helicopter simulator in Zhuhai, making it the first level-D full motion helicopter flight simulator in the region.

For both manufacturers, the installation of their simulators in China means convenience for Asian operators who previously had to send pilots to Dubai, Europe or the U.S. for training.

Looking ahead, based on preferences among Asian customers for new, large-cabin aircraft, Lewis predicts his company will eventually have a business aviation training hub in the region similar to its facilities in Dubai or in Morristown, New Jersey, and equipped with simulators covering just those types. “If you look at the fleet that will be in China ten years from now, eight to ten simulators will cover it, so Asian-based customers will be able to get their type ratings and recurrent training done in Asia,” Lewis said. o