Chris Long profiles some new players in the European training market.
New providers are emerging now in response to the booming market for flight training. One case in point is Axis Flight Training Systems of Lebring, Austria. Martin Rossmann is CEO and founder of the company, and has long experience in the software industry as a developer and manager. During his 18 year tenure as CEO of APUS Software GmbH, the company expanded into the fields of Flight Data Processing, Aeronautical Data Networks, and Radar Tracking, with the software development focus on complex, failure-proof control and monitoring systems, including ATC voice communications. His enthusiasm for aviation led to his becoming a private pilot, soon progressed to a CPL/ IFR and business jet type ratings. In 2004 he looked for further challenges and it was this which led him to start AXIS Flight Training Systems.
Right from the start Rossmann wanted to shoot for the highest level of FTD – the full flight simulator (FFS). Not satisfied just with that task, he also believed that form should follow function, and that the final product should reflect the clean look of modern lightweight design to create an environmentally friendly, effective and attractive training environment. Four years of development with a young team (average age 31) culminated in 2008 with the first device, a Fokker 100 FFS, which was certified and installed at Neusiedl am See – a town carefully identified as being well positioned between two capital cities – 20 minutes from the airport at Vienna (Austria) and 35 minutes from Bratislava Airport (Slovakia). Some basics were established – COTS solutions as requested by the customer were chosen for motion platforms (Moog is presently fitted) and visual systems (upgrades to RSI projection systems have recently been completed).
The OEM performance package was used, but enhanced where appropriate. For instance the opportunity to employ Axis' own software skills was used to develop an improved and realistic simulation of the handling characteristics encountered during icing conditions especially in the ATR simulator. Legacy systems had simply had an On/Off switch for the icing function, but Axis recognised that there was much more training value in replicating the effects of progressive accumulations of ice on aircraft operation. The underlying design uses in-house manufactured panels (built-in LRUs for replacement and simple spares supply) such that, for instance, a recently-installed FFS can rapidly be changed from an ATR 42 to an ATR 72 configuration. Real-time monitoring of component operation allows online predictive maintenance to be used to complete change-outs before failure, thus delivering uninterrupted training time to the customer.
Partners The key to the Axis development is the relationship with training providers. Two locally-based companies address complimentary parts of the market, and the close proximity and strong bonds between all three illustrate a new paradigm in training provision. The facility and infrastructure were newly built in 2007 by a training provider, the Aviation Academy Austria (AAA). This organisation was set up by five pilots from Austrian Airlines in 2004, and established itself at Neusiedl where affordable hotels, access to a large pool of instructors and pleasant leisure facilities make the whole training package affordable and attractive. AAA now operates two Level D certified FFS built by Axis – the original Fokker 100 and a Cessna XLS, the latter operational since April 2013.
Given the range of countries operating the Cessna, this FFS has to have a large number of national approvals. The Type Rating training and the dry lease packages are not the only product on offer, as the AAA has an ab initio programme which uses Aquila A211GX, Diamond DA 40 and D42 aircraft, and works to a syllabus based on the EASA Part FCL Integrated ATP course.
The second organisation based at Neusiedl is the Farnair Training Center, which was born of the need for Farnair Switzerland AG, an airline which operates 17 ATR cargo aircraft and one ATR passenger aircraft, to complete its training close to base, rather than sending crews to more remote facilities. Axis manufactured the FFS in line with Farnair's specific requirements. It started operation in December 2012 with a dual-capable ATR FFS, and the device has delivered high reliability since then. The futuristic Forward Facing Instructor Operating Station operates intuitively and allows a full range of training scenarios. An Axis-produced FTD will provide the lead-in training from early 2014, and in-house CBT facilitates distance learning prior to the course. In September 2013 Austro Control re-certified the ATR 42 version to Level C (the highest level possible with the existing software release from the OEM) and the ATR 72 to Level D.
With 20% of the capacity required for their own operations, there is a good margin available to offer to third parties as dry or wet lease, and the take up by customers Avanti Air, UTAir and Baltic Aviation Academy has been very well received. One interesting innovation by Farnair is the Line Experience Pilot Program (LEP). Here the new pilot goes through an intensive selection process, and then completes a Type Rating on the ATR, followed by a guaranteed 12 months or a minimum of 500 hours with an airline at a reduced salary to build operational time.
New Pattern The scale of training demand is now such that new players are moving into the arena. On the one hand there are the M & As in which historic FTD manufacturers have been taken over by major defence players – L3 for the civil arm of Thales, Lockheed Martin for Sim Industries, and Textron for Mechtronix and Opinicus. These bring massive legacy knowledge with matching R&D budgets, and ultimately produce very effective training solutions
The counter balance to those large-scale operations is the emergence of either individual organisations or groups of smaller new entrants. As represented by the small Neusiedl cluster, these latter systems tend to be more proactive - the decision-making process is frequently more responsive and agile, so they can react quickly to the market or customer demand. In many ways it is a new paradigm which reflects other 21st century industries and contemporary approaches, where young teams and entrepreneurial enterprise can bring innovative and effective results.
Perhaps the sheer scale of global demand is such that there is room for both of these approaches – it will be interesting in the future to see where the balance lies.