Despite the economic downturn that has dampened the aircraft delivery schedules for most airframers over the past year, FlightSafety International’s two European training centers remain busy. “The overall trend we’ve seen is growth outside North America, and that is certainly the case in Europe,” Eric Hinson, FSI’s executive vice president told AIN. “We continue to see a larger percentage of our business coming from outside North America both as a result of the investment that we made in Farnborough and Le Bourget, but also with respect to the number of non-North American customers that we are seeing in the U.S.”
The New York-based company, which opened its Paris facility at Le Bourget in 1976, vastly augmented its capacity in 2005 with its Farnborough center. Since then FSI (Booth No. 1643) has seen its total European business aviation training grow by 50 percent based on the number of training courses it provides, according to Hinson. “Because we were already growing in the region and still adding some simulators, particularly at Farnborough, the net of our European businesses, even despite the recession, is actually up and was up in 2009 versus 2008,” he said.
Maintenance Training Takes Off
FlightSafety International (FSI) has seen growth in the maintenance training sector despite the recession. Based on the recent mandate from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for practical standards for maintenance training, FSI has seen an uptick in interest in its maintenance programs. “Not only do we do that over in Europe at our Le Bourget and Farnborough centers, but we’re seeing a significant amount of traffic for EASA customers coming to our U.S. centers,” said FSI executive vice president Eric Hinson.
In March, the company opened a new Hawker Beechcraft maintenance training center in Wichita to house a joint program between FSI and the airframer to provide maintenance training to the standards of both EASA and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Located on MidContinent Airport, Hawker Beechcraft will provide aircraft that will be brought into the maintenance hangar for training. “About half of the business we’re projecting for that facility in 2010 will be from outside the U.S., that’s how big this maintenance training has become, with most of it coming from Europe,” said Hinson.
FSI is planning a similar arrangement with Cessna and expects to break ground on another facility in Wichita this fall. Last month, the company also announced that it has been selected by engine maker Pratt & Whitney Canada to provide maintenance training for its complete line of products, both for its customers and employees.
The two centers rank among the top 10 in FlightSafety’s constellation of training facilities in terms of total revenue generated, and the newer Farnborough site was designed to complement its older European sibling. “We put different aircraft types into Farnborough than we have at Le Bourget, which is primarily a Dassault and regional airline training center,” said Hinson.
Among the simulators installed at Farnborough are several types that customers would otherwise have to visit the U.S. to use. The current training roster includes the Hawker Beechcraft Beechjet 400, Hawker 750, Hawker 850XP, King Air 200, Cessna Citation Excel, Citation Bravo, Mustang, Sovereign, CJ and the Sikorsky S-92, which sees high usage by offshore oil transport operators. “Ever since we’ve put those in place we’ve picked up a tremendous demand, not only from Western Europe but the Middle East as well as India and other parts of the world,” said Hinson. “Some of the issues customers have to deal with in coming to the U.S., such as the TSA [Transportation Security Administration], they don’t have to going to the UK.”
Farnborough’s newest simulator offering, which has been in operation for nearly a year, is the Gulfstream 450/550, and it is rapidly becoming one of the center’s busiest units. “We’ve seen a migration of Gulfstream aircraft into Europe and we see that continuing,” noted Hinson. “There’s a growing demand for Gulfstream aircraft training both for the European market and the Middle East market, and they like coming to the UK for their training.”
That observation ties into the growing European demand the company has observed for larger cabin aircraft not only Gulfstream’s and Bombardier’s but Dassault’s as well. FSI currently has a F7X simulator under construction, but has not decided where the unit will eventually be located due to high demand in Europe and in the U.S.
While the company’s European operations have held their own in the recent decline, the effects were still noticeable, according to Hinson. “Overall, with the decrease in aircraft deliveries, we’ve seen a fairly significant reduction in our entitlement training,” he noted. “I know that deliveries are forecast to be about 11 percent less this year than last, and that directly drives the amount of entitlement training we do.” FSI is currently an authorized training provider for Bombardier, Cessna, Dassault, Embraer, Gulfstream, Hawker Beechcraft, Piaggio, Sikorsky and Bell Helicopter.
In addition to the reduction in newly delivered aircraft, the downturn in used aircraft sales also caused a ripple effect. “The other factor for all companies in the training business is when an aircraft changes hands in the pre-owned market,” Hinson said. “That drives initial training requirements, and because of the reduced activity in the pre-owned market we saw a reduced demand for initial training.”
Yet despite those two factors, FSI saw a steady stream of business from recurrent training. “The good news from our perspective is that while the business is down, there is a minimum training requirement, and even though there are reduced hours, there’s still a minimum requirement with respect to the total training that is required,” explained Hinson. “So while we’re down, we’re not down as significantly as the OEM production levels are.”
The company’s largest customer base in Europe remains Dassault. “That should be relatively evident because we have a training center [Le Bourget] that is pretty much dedicated to them,” said Hinson. Despite that relationship, the simulator that gets the most demand in FSI’s European operation is the Hawker 800XP.