Executives from diverse simulation and training industry companies provided an upbeat forecast on their business prospects for 2019. Group Editor Marty Kauchak reports.

Senior leaders at four community simulation and training companies were asked: provide your forecast of S&T industry trends and developments in the civil aviation sector for 2019. Their diverse, revealing insights are provided below.

RSi Visual Systems (RSi)

RSi, as a “small but agile” sub-system supplier, is well positioned to meet the upswing for new pilots and, more significant, training devices to help enable their qualification. Alasdair MacPherson, the vice president of sales and marketing at RSi, explained, “When you talk to the simulator manufacturers, usually the pressure on them from their customer is not gaining their business, but how quickly can you get them an A320 or other simulator. That’s very good for a subsystem vendor like us. As a smaller company we can respond pretty quickly - we’re flexible.”

This is a market shift for visual display providers, according to the industry expert, who recalled that for the last 15-17 years, the discussion was more often about simulator upgrades, including the refreshment of visual displays, to extend the service lives of legacy fleets.

Alasdair MacPherson, vice president of sales and marketing at RSi Visual Systems. Image credit: RSi.
Alasdair MacPherson, vice president of sales and marketing at RSi Visual Systems. Image credit: RSi.

“Here in 2019, it’s more about new devices, rather than upgrading old devices - there seems to be more activity in the new simulator market segment,” he added. When the community expert first met with CAT on 29 November at 2018 IITSEC, there were no fewer than 30 visual display exhibitors, which prompted the question: is there enough civil aviation and adjacent business opportunities for all of these companies in the near future? MacPherson replied, “Yes, there is, but in the visual sector it is a ‘walled garden’, with only four or five suppliers having delivered Level D systems. That is not a technological barrier. You can’t be a Level D provider until a simulator owner says I will put your visual on my system – and that is a big risk to take with a new visual provider. This is a business barrier.”

Another barrier to entry for visual providers is the need for an extensive airport model library. “Nobody will buy a simulator if they can’t fly to the airport required for training. For a new company to enter this domain, it is essential to have a comprehensive airport model library to meet the needs of multiple customers. That is a cost-of-entry barrier for a new player to enter the field,” he added. RSi entered 2019 as a trendsetter in its sector with its Epic Prime visuals as a service model. For a fixed, monthly fee, the company provides a complete life cycle service with its Epic Visual System, including: delivery; free software updates; scheduled support visits; unlimited airport library access; certification support; installation; repairs and spares. In essence, the Epic Prime customer gains many benefits, ranging from financial (there are no capital expenses or unexpected costs) to eliminating obsolescence (obtaining the latest state-of-the-art visuals technology). In another contemporary trend, airlines are eyeing opportunities to migrate more training tasks from Level D full flight simulators to less expensive, but increasingly capable, higher order flight training devices (FTD). This development does not appear to be disruptive for the visual display sector. In the case of RSi, the company offers the same software for a Level D full flight simulator as for an FTD. “We offer a scaled-back image generator which can run the same content in the FTD as in the full flight simulator.” And closely related, RSi is the main provider of lower cost, collimated displays, which resonates well with customers of those higher end FTDs – just below full flight simulators in capability.

“This makes the FTD feel and look like the higher end training device,” MacPherson concluded. RSi has delivered about 50 collimated displays to the high end FTD space in the past two years.

RSi's Epic Prime customer gains many benefits, ranging from financial (there are no capital expenses or unexpected costs) to eliminating obsolescence (obtaining the latest state-of-the-art visuals technology (represented though the above screen capture of Dubai airport in 2018)). Image credit: RSi.
RSi's Epic Prime customer gains many benefits, ranging from financial (there are no capital expenses or unexpected costs) to eliminating obsolescence (obtaining the latest state-of-the-art visuals technology (represented though the above screen capture of Dubai airport in 2018)). Image credit: RSi.

E2M (an MTS Systems Corporation company)

Ton Stam, sales director, and Michiel Post van der Molen, senior program manager, at E2M have unique insights on the global civilian airline sector. Stam, based in The Netherlands and Post van der Molen, having an office in Emeryville, California, support a growing portfolio for their Netherlands-based E2M in a very dynamic sector – providing motion bases, control loaders and associated components to a wide array of training device manufacturers around the world.

While they note the S&T sector in the civil market has had sustained, annual growth through the last several decades, “I do expect exponential growth in the near term. As the demand for pilots continues to increase, so will the demand for training systems – and the need for motion,” Stam predicted.

Concurrently, Post van der Molen recalled that while discussions continue about alternatives to motion systems in the form of more capable flight training devices, one E2M customer recently sought to add a smaller, custom motion system to its non-motion devices, to add training tasks to the device. While OEMs and their airline customers continue to change the mix of fielded models including the new Airbus A220-100, Stam observed, “Our customers are involved in that decision. Motion is a generic item and can be used for any aircraft. We take accelerations as inputs. Whether it is an acceleration for a new Airbus or new Boeing Dreamliner, it’s equal to us. The motion system will remain the same.”

Stam also offered that he sees changes on the horizon for software algorithms, driven primarily by the velocity of simple changes in technology. “It’s possible to make a better use of the available motion envelope by having very smart motion-cueing algorithms which take into account the human perception level.” Resultant changes in software algorithms would result in fewer false motion cues and increased fidelity through the flight envelope.

Of particular interest to Stam, is the outcomes from the migration and conformance of full flight simulators to new regulatory agencies’ rules, designed to make simulator training and testing more accurate and realistic in scenarios involving stalls, upset recognition and recovery techniques, maneuvers in icing conditions and other events. “This puts a huge demand on the motion system. I foresee some changes in the hardware and software required for these training scenarios. While the motion system is designed to withstand a lot of wear and tear, everything above the motion system may have a much lower life expectancy because of the UPRT [upset prevention and recovery training]. You have a much longer, sustained vibration cue that is ‘very violent’. In fact, we think flight simulator manufacturers may have to rethink their structural design.”

With respect to E2M’s business model, Post van der Molen emphasized the early 2018 opening of the company’s US office in Orlando, Florida to expand its presence in the nation, and the company’s acquisition announced on 26 November 2018 by MTS Systems Corporation (of Eden Prairie, Minnesota).

Randy Gawenda - business development manager at Frasca. Image credit: Frasca.
Randy Gawenda - business development manager at Frasca. Image credit: Frasca.

Frasca International, Inc.

2019 will “certainly be a growth environment for this community, with airlines looking to hire pilots in substantial numbers,” Randy Gawenda, business development manager, at Frasca told CAT. Beyond growth, the Urbana, Illinois-based community expert highlighted other trends we’ll likely see in 2019, including small airlines beginning to open their own flight academies.

He continued, “This is an international trend, permitting them to have their own internal supply and ‘pipeline’. While our customer list has always included training organizations, we’re seeing a few more come on the market – affiliated with airlines and not established as independent flight schools.”

One of the requirements trends Frasca will continue to respond to when delivering training devices into and beyond 2019, is the persistent advancement in avionics and other on-board sub-systems – to provide concurrency and a high-fidelity training environment. Also, in 2019, Frasca expects its new Frasca RTD™ (Reconfigurable Training Device) to gain traction. The RTD is able to achieve different configurations within the same device, including a single, a twin, or both. Gawenda added, “This is aimed at academies with a mix of aircraft, or a particular kind of aircraft. This is our entry level product that is very cost-effective for training organizations.”

When Gawenda spoke with CAT last 29 November, the RTD was completing FAA evaluation and certification. American Flyers Flight School and Metropolitan State University of Denver are the first two RTD customers. Beyond RTD, Frasca is also studying several new platforms for this sector, “more for regional jets and business jets, for use as a capstone event for the US (ATP-CTP) Airline Transport Pilot Certification Training Program rule.”

In addition to deliveries of new training devices, this OEM’s portfolio in 2019 will also include device upgrades, supplying new avionics, visual displays and other content. Frasca will continue to use best-of-breed suppliers instead of having a preferred supplier list for its training devices. Garmin, Rockwell Collins, Universal Avionics are three of the many companies in Frasca’s supply chain. While seeking to help the suppliers of qualified pilots meet this surging demand more efficiently, Frasca is bolstering its internal R&D efforts, exploring the state-of-the possible with virtual reality, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies.

“We’re examining whatever we can do to increase the throughput and make the pipeline more efficient. Everything is on the table,” Gawenda declared. The industry expert was also quick to point out any discussion about pilot shortages should include efforts to increase accessions to meet the increasing demand for aviators in the civilian helicopter community – which is factored into Frasca’s business development strategy. When the interview was conducted, Frasca’s civil sector market share was split about 50%-50% between domestic and international markets, with the company’s products in service in more than 70 nations. Overseas markets of interest to Frasca in 2019 include Asia Pacific and others.

George Karam, vice president and general manager of TRU Simulation + Training's Air Transport division. Image credit: TRU Simulation+Training.
George Karam, vice president and general manager of TRU Simulation + Training's Air Transport division. Image credit: TRU Simulation+Training.

TRU Simulation + Training

George Karam, vice president and general manager of TRU’s Air Transport division told CAT, “TRU has emerged as a key player across the commercial flight simulation sector – here is an overview of some of our notable and recent milestones, ongoing deliveries and development projects. Our customers include respected names across the aviation industry and holds a unique position as the exclusive supplier to Boeing for its 737 MAX and 777X training suites – for starters. On this note in 2018, TRU delivered on a series of industry-first milestones for Boeing’s 737 MAX, having updated all four full flight simulators (FFS) (the first-ever installed in the world) located at Boeing Flight Services Centers to Level-D status: one FAA-conformant FFS level D in May to the Boeing Miami, Florida location; an ICAO-compliant Type VII device in June to the Boeing Singapore Campus; a CS FSTD A Issue 2 level D, UK CAA-conformant in August at London-Gatwick location; and finally, one CAAC-compliant Level D in October 2018 to Boeing Shanghai Campus. Elsewhere around the globe, TRU qualified: a 737 MAX FFS for Icelandair to support the airlines growing operations; one 737 NG FFS to Qantas Airlines; and a 737 MAX FFS for Boeing Flight Services in Gatwick – there are now two 737 MAX FFS provided by TRU in this location. In 2019, TRU will provide a sixth 737 MAX FFS to Boeing - Istanbul, Turkey location and will begin delivery of its 777X FFS to Boeing Flight Services Training centers. As an approved supplier to Airbus, TRU provides world-class flight simulation devices to Airbus’ customers, training centers and affiliates worldwide. Last year we delivered an A320 FFS qualified device to Airbus Asia Training Center, Singapore; one A320 FFS Qualified device for Hua-Ou Aviation Training Company, Beijing, which achieved CAAC CCAR-60 FFS level D status last May.

This year, TRU will deliver one A320 FFS to Airbus India Training Center (the first A320 FFS to be delivered to an OEM in the region); an additional A320 FFS later this year to the Airbus India Training Center; and TRU’s A350 FFS will also deliver to Airbus Hua-Ou in 2019. As significant, TRU continues to support airlines and independent training centers across the globe with their total training solutions.

In 2018, TRU signed: a purchase agreement with TAP (the flag carrier of Portugal) for an A320 FFS that will be delivered to the airline in 2019; two purchase agreements to provide several 737 MAX FFS to airlines - Oman Air (Middle-East) for one 737 MAX FFS and Shandong Airlines (China) for two 737 MAX FFS. In another part of our portfolio, TRU qualified the following FFSs for Ansett Aviation Training Centers located across the globe: a CL-415 FFS – Ansett Aviation Training Milan, Italy; one ATR 72-600 FFS – Ansett Aviation Training Taiwan; and an ATR 72-600 FFS – Ansett Aviation Training Brisbane, Australia.

Further, TRU qualified an A320 FFS for Avenger Flight Group and signed an agreement to provide Avenger Flight Group with an additional A320 FFS in 2019. Also in China, TRU qualified a CRJ 900 FFS and an A320 FFS for China Express Airlines to support the airlines growing operations in the region. Finally, in 2019, TRU will deliver one 737-MAX 9 FFS to COPA Airlines. Of note, the airline already has several TRU FFSs already in operation since the airline adopted TRU’s “Train@Home model” in 2006.

TRU will continue listening to our growing customer base, tailoring our total training solutions to their specific requirements powered by highly innovative technology. Our customers come from a range of market segments in all areas of the globe: airlines; OEMs; independent training centers - so having all the “building blocks” and then tailoring the right solution with a range of scalable products and selectable services is what we are looking to contribute to their ongoing success. We will continue to invest heavily to enhance our complete product offering and customer support services.

At this early part of 2019, TRU will continue to develop and integrate training system applications in our FFS, that will support airlines in carrying out their training operations more effectively and efficiently. These systems will fully support and integrate new training paradigm principles your readers are familiar with (evidence-based training and competency-based training), and result in improved areas of simulation, such as the external environment (weather and ATC) and the internal environment (aircraft threats). In addition, we will continue to support the capabilities of collecting data throughout the training process as well as airline operations to guide evidence-based training.” 

Published in CAT issue 1/2019