Only five years ago, 50 full flight simulators (FFSs) represented the historic total annual output for all producers. The simulator industry is now approaching a combined 100 new FFSs a year.
Market-dominating CAE (Chalet A30), which reported 35 FFSs sold in its Fiscal Year 2013, has delivered 50 trainers in each of the past two cycles after its all-time high of 53 in 2016. What’s different now is there are two strong competitors in L3 Commercial Aviation (Chalet A15) and Textron Aviation-owned TRU Simulation + Training (Chalet L2), each pushing the 20-FFSs-per-year mark. L3 incorporates remnants of Thales Training and Simulation, as well as Singer-Link’s former commercial division. TRU is an amalgam of Opinicus Corporation and Mechtronix, formed in 2014.
Of the approximately 1,600 simulators in service worldwide, more than 700 were produced by Montréal-headquartered CAE, including more than 250 FFSs in the company’s 50-plus training centers. The company recently announced three new devices to be deployed in Spain: a Boeing 787 and an Airbus A350 for the Madrid center and a Boeing 737NG in Barcelona. It also unveiled a joint venture with Avianca in Colombia (three new simulators) and an Airbus A320 for Haneda Airport as part of a training agreement with Jetstar Japan.
“The airline market is certainly looking for more capacity to deal with their training needs,” said Nick Leontidis, CAE’s group president, civil aviation training solutions.
“The business has been growing at a high pace,” acknowledged George Karam, vice president and general manager for air transport simulation at TRU. “The order books are full for the aircraft OEMs, and the fundamentals of the business remain very good.” Karam attributes TRU’s market growth to relationships with Boeing (Chalet B6) on the 737 Max and 777-9 platforms and its status as an approved supplier with Airbus (Hall 1, Stand 1105). TRU’s most recent sales are ATR 72-600 simulators to Japan Air Commuter and Ansett in Australia.
Flight simulation “has gone from a duopoly to now having three main players, including two of them backed by major multinational corporations,” Karam added.
Basic flight simulation technologies such as visual and motion systems have changed little in recent years, and with multiple viable competitors, it’s a highly price-competitive buyer’s market. Karam said manufacturers are focusing on ancillary enhancements such as brief-debrief capabilities, competency-based lesson plans “to make training sessions as efficient as possible for airlines,” and environmental simulation elements such as air traffic control audio.
Mitesh Patel, L3 Commercial Aviation vice president, training systems, said more attention is being paid to the instructor station, including “how information is presented and adding more repeat displays for the instructor so you can actually see what’s going on in the cockpit.” One example: replicating the pilot’s view of the head-up display (HUD).
Earlier this year, CAE debuted a data analytics-driven system, branded RISE, which Leontidis expects will “give insights into potential areas for improvement. It helps the instructor in objective assessments of all the critical maneuvers the pilots have to demonstrate proficiency on.” Launch customer AirAsia has conducted about 200 RISE-oriented training sessions since the system’s introduction in February. Jetstar Japan will be the second early adopter.
Karam indicated TRU is offering a similar capability, though not yet branded, using evidence-based training data “with the mindset of not overwhelming the instructor with raw data,” but rather highlighting overall airline trends, not on an individual crew basis.
“One of the things we’re seeing is customers requesting more capability on low-level devices to be able to offload training from the full flight,” said L3’s Patel. They have recently qualified two devices to European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) FNPT Level II which feature visual systems but no motion and “flow down a lot of the software from the full-flight for fidelity and use simulated hardware to keep the cost down.”
In April, CAE announced the 600XR Series flight training device (US FAA Level 6), which features a “representative flight deck” and “fully tactile cockpit with exact panel positioning.”
Hamme, Belgium-based Euramec NV (Hall 1, 1395) plans to launch FNPT II-level training devices for the Boeing 737NG and Airbus A320 with partner Wright Brothers Flight Technologies (Harbin, China), according to Bert Buyle, Euramec president and CEO. They are also producing six FNPT II/CAAC Level 5 trainers for the Civil Aviation Flight University of China (CAFUC).
CAE and L3 also deliver ab initio training services, including the ICAO-developed Multi-crew Pilot Licence (MPL) and the more traditional Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL). Training performance of cadets between the two curricula is “very similar, with slight benefits on the MPL side,” said Colin Rydon, vice president training, safety and compliance for L3. He thinks MPL “wasn’t sold correctly in the first place, and it made many people cautious and nervous because it was perceived as a cheaper product. In reality, it is an evidence-/competency-based product about delivering a more suitable, better-prepared pilot for the modern flight deck. What we’re finding, as we communicate more clearly what the MPL does, is that more airlines are becoming interested in it.”
Of the estimated 25,000 new pilots needed worldwide each year, L3 has about 1,000 students starting training annually, with plans to expand that capacity to 3,000 by 2022. CAE produces 1,000 graduates per year, and its current infrastructure would support an additional 200 to 250.
See also FlightSafety International, which has a training center at TAG Farnbrough Airport opposite the Farnborough Airshow site.