At WATS 2014 a new company, TRU Simulation +Training, was introduced to the community. About one year later, Jim Takats, TRU’s chief executive officer, recapped the quick pace of activities which have established his company as an emerging global provider of training and simulation products and services, throughout the entire learning continuum. Group Editor Marty Kauchak provides the content of his discussion at WATS 2015 with TRU’s corporate leader.
CAT: Thanks for taking time to meet with us at another busy WATS. In the one year since we last met, TRU Simulation + Training appears to have quickly established a broad portfolio, from training devices to a flight training center, to provide the community’s continuum of learning.
Jim Takats: When we announced the brand here at WATS a year ago, we had a vision. Expanding our product and service mix to include pilot training was a big part of it. As I look back over the year, we have really achieved a lot of the strategic goals that we set for the business, including acquiring ProFlight [of Carlsbad, California]. That was key for us. It not only brought us the Part 142 certification capability, but also a great business and a very differentiated training system - one that is very revolutionary and includes a great learning management system. One of TRU’s founding legacy companies, OPINICUS, was a key part of the ProFlight strategy. As ProFlight was building its business, at OPINICUS we were providing the training devices and working closely with them. We knew the business very well. It’s what we really wanted.
CAT: And you have focused on other areas.
JT: Yes, we met all of our targets in the air transport business and we are expanding in the maintenance area, which is something that people often forget. We are building a maintenance training center in Wichita, Kansas. We’re also in the helicopter business. We have several helicopters in production on the simulation side for two customers - Bell Helicopter and our own training business. We are building a Bell 429 full flight simulator for our training center in Valencia, Spain. The Bell 525 and the 505 full flight simulators are both going to the Bell Training Center in Texas.
CAT: You mentioned Bell and it appears you are also taking some of the best-of-breed solutions from “Big Textron’s” military side and migrating them to the civil sector.
JT: Yes. In the legacy business, we were part of the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey team that provided devices. We were working with some of the other subcontractors to Bell. So we were very familiar with what was going on at Bell. That knowledge base, today, is helping us form a strong partnership with Bell as we build helicopter training devices. There is a work share and knowledge exchange being done by both parties. We are melding together a lot of significant legacy experience - the modeling that Bell has done based on its flight test data, the engineering simulator modeling that Bell already has in its business and the simulator technologies that we have at TRU with Bell’s helicopter know-how. Here’s a prime example. We are part of the Bell Helicopter V-280 Valor program. As part of that joint project, we recently unveiled the V-280 cockpit simulator at the Army Aviation Association of America tradeshow. It has the actual V-280 fly-by-wire control laws; it wasn’t just a demonstration device. It has today’s latest technology - all fly-by-wire. The success of that unveiling - the reception we received from military customers - is evidence of how well we’re working together.
CAT: Looking at broader industry requirements, how has TRU responded to recent trends - the continued popularity of narrow body, single aisle aircraft and the apparent, temporary pause in A380 orders for starters.
JT: From the narrow body perspective, one of the first things that we did after the acquisition was to pursue building “green tails” or “white tails” as you call them. Very early on, one month after our formation, we had corporate approval and the investment to build narrow bodies [training devices]. We have narrow bodies [training devices] in production now.
In the wide body market, which we watch closely, we’re not certain where the A380 is going as an aircraft platform. So we’re not diving into that. However, we feel very strongly that the A350 is a future candidate for growth, so we have received approval to start new platforms, for the Airbus XWB 350. We’re building a white tail for that. We’re also looking at the B777X. It’s in our strategic plan to build a white tail for it as well.
The way we’re set up, we have one business that is focused on the air transport market. We have another that is focused on helicopters and business aviation. Another business focuses on maintenance, and yet another only on pilot training. We’re always looking at the business aviation market. Textron Business Aviation did quite well last year and we’re hoping for another strong year there. The commercial helicopter market overall was down which surprised everybody a bit. The good news story there is that Bell’s market share was up. We are aggressively looking to support OEM businesses with training systems globally. We have global expansion plans for the training business in helicopters and business aircraft.
CAT: Your assessment on the fiscal health of the civil aviation simulation and training market.
JT: I think it is very healthy. The area a lot of people are talking about and are concerned about is the number of competitors that have entered the market.
CAT: Will all the current competitors survive financially?
JT: Competition is good for the marketplace, but I think it may be difficult for everyone to survive in that market. There are some tough competitors out there - some good businesses. There are a lot of businesses in the market with legacy businesses that are quite good. Some of the newcomers may be able to differentiate themselves, but it will be tough for everyone to survive.
CAT: Do you see any imminent mergers or acquisitions on the community’s close in horizon?
JT: The “big guys” are established. There’s a “pack” of the larger businesses out there. So I would be very surprised if anyone else wanted to dive into the market right now with so many competitors.
CAT: You’ve mentioned the increasing pace of your international business share. Your brief insights please, on any offset and partnering agreements TRU may have with business entities in nations where you are doing business.
JT: One advantage of being part of Textron is that Textron is a large defense contractor for helicopters and other aircraft. Textron Systems has a lot of experience with the offset program. We leverage their experience and work closely with them to satisfy offsets. We satisfy offsets as a group, not as an individual company. That being said, utilizing a training center to satisfy offsets brings real value to the foreign entity. It is not just spending money on an offset, but is bringing real technology, value and employment, and adding to aviation safety in that foreign country. This is an excellent way to spend offset dollars.
CAT: We’ve also discussed technology - are there any technology innovations anywhere in the community that caught your attention in the last year?
JT: A lot of it is in the visual area - projectors keep improving. There’s also been a lot of work done around instructor stations and this is an area that I think can be improved. It’s an area that can be differentiated between businesses. Instructor feedback is a very, very important piece of the training program. It is something ProFlight has been very proactive in developing and incorporating into its training tools. As a simulator provider to ProFlight, we are working closely with them to develop value-added training feedback tools that work on the instructor station and provide real-time feedback to the instructor.
CAT: A final question. What can we look for from TRU with respect to announcements and other news for the remainder of 2015?
JT: We are working in all the different market segments, growing and expanding the business. We had a great first year. We’re integrating the businesses, gaining more efficiencies. We’re here to stay. There’s more goodness coming. We are - and I have put this out there before as a “teaser” of sorts - also working on what we have code-named the TRU “Super-Sim.” It will embody the best of the businesses. We’re not setting a timeline and we’re not rushing it. We’re looking at a lot of technologies across the business and how we can make improvements. We’re not necessarily saying any one of the business segments has the best possible solution either. There may be a combination of technologies and then further improvements as well. Textron as a business and TRU as a business believe we need to have the best products and best services out there. We’re investing heavily in R&D across the businesses. For the maintenance group, there’s a lot of innovation in virtual technology. For the helicopter group, in one of the WATS sessions, I just presented our secondary motion platform. We’re investing there, too, in our fixed wing technology. So stay tuned. There is a lot more in our story to unfold.