Having acquired a Eurocopter full EC135 flight simulator from Thales, French helicopter operator SAF Hélicoptères inaugurated its “training academy” on June 15, bringing access to flight simulators to pilots of light helicopters. The €5 million ($6.3 million) training center, located near Albertville in the French Alps, will be available to pilots from other operators next year. SAF anticipates running the simulator 2,000 hours annually.
The French civil aviation authority (DGAC) is expected to certify the new installation in September. Thales provided the hardware. The flight control loops–a large element of the software–are the result of a collaborative effort by SAF and Thales. Because buying the flight-control loops from Eurocopter would have been prohibitively expensive (€1.5 million or $1.9 million), the two companies performed data collection flights, according to Louis Agnel, chief pilot and head of the training center. Data collection consisted of approximately 20 flight hours with an EC135 fitted with numerous sensors to build a representative software program with realistic aircraft reactions to control inputs.
SAF’s flight simulator has a field of view of 210 by 70 degrees, and it can accommodate various rotorcraft cockpits. An early addition could be an AS350 AStar/Ecureuil cockpit, and the academy’s building has the capacity for a second simulator.
The SAF group’s activities include maintenance and it now has a workforce of 120 people, 54 of them are pilots. It is part of a larger group–United Helicopter Services (UHS)–it founded with Heliportugal. UHS has 350 employees and operates 63 aircraft, 59 of them helicopters. The group has branches in France, Portugal, Brazil, Turkey and Liberia. Revenues were €72.6 million ($91 million) last year, UHS chairman Pedro Silveira told AIN.