The exponential demand for pilots, technicians and other aviation professionals is spawning more schools, more training device developers, and more scientific techniques. Rick Adams highlights some trends gaining traction.

The numbers just keep getting larger. Five years ago, Boeing forecast a need for 533,000 new commercial airline pilots across 20 years, as well as 584,000 new airline maintenance technicians.

This year, the Seattle-based manufacturer’s estimate through 2038 is now 804,000 new pilots and 769,000 techs, increases of 51% and 32% since 2014 respectively.

The crews are needed to fly the expanding global fleet which is expected to increase by 44,040 – 56% of that growth and the balance replacement of more than three-quarters of current aircraft. Boeing’s assumption is 4.6% annual traffic growth, or 2.5 times today’s market (similar to the pattern of the past 20 years).

(Since Boeing started publishing forecasts in 1961, passenger traffic has grown by a factor of nearly 70!)

Airbus, anticipating a slightly lower 4.4% trend, expects 37,400 new passenger and dedicated freighter aircraft across the next two decades.

CAE, which dominates the airline pilot training market, is not quite as gung-ho as Boeing, forecasting 255,000 new airline pilots over 10 years, or about 25,000 a year compared with the OEM’s 40,000.

Such crystal ball numbers, of course, come with multiple caveats. The global economy could slow. Public confidence in aviation could drop, as it surely has following the two 737 MAX crashes and the continuing revelations of the investigation. A major war would restrict air routes in the affected region.

And then there’s the ongoing conundrum of the pilot shortage, a combination of fleet growth, diminution of the once glamourous image of a pilot’s lifestyle to younger generations, and the US FAA 1500-hour rule which has made it more difficult to secure entry-level regional airline Flight Officer positions (while attempting to pay off significant flight school loans) and created an instructor shortage in the process.

Sim Sales Soaring

Correspondingly, the airline pilot training industry is also on a steep upward trajectory.

The most obvious indicator is full-flight simulator sales. In the past fiscal year (through March 2019), runaway market leader CAE sold an astounding 78 FFSs to airlines, other authorised training operators and their own joint venture training centres. In fiscal 2014, CAE had established a new industry record for 48 Level D sims – about as many as the entire industry typically churned out in any year prior. In 2016, CAE reached a new high at 53, followed by two years of 50 each until eclipsing all expectations this year.

Fully 28 of those simulator sales this cycle were in the fourth quarter (first calendar quarter of 2019) in which CAE signed training solutions contracts of 1.1 billion Canadian dollars. Overall, FY2019 civil revenue was 1.9 billion. Backlog is 5.0 billion – compared to 2.0 billion in FY2014.

Montrèal’s technology crown jewel is not the only simulator provider riding the rising-tide-raises-all-ships wave. In the past year and a half, Textron Aviation subsidiary TRU Simulation + Training, which did not exist as such until 2014, sold 33 FFSs. Of those, 17 went to customers in the Asia-Pacific region, which has 42% share of domestic passenger traffic and 30% of international boardings, according to ICAO.

L3Harris Commercial Training Solutions in July opened a new US$100-million training centre (see Chris Long’s report on page 41 of this issue) and another in Arlington, Texas, near Dallas. L3 does not necessarily announce all of its FFS sales, but has been in the 20+ territory in past years. In recent months they have revealed an A320 for Egyptair, 787-9s for KLM and Qantas, and seven RealitySeven FFSs for Chinese customers – four for Zhuhai Xiang Yi Aviation Technology, a China Southern Airlines Company (two A320, two 737), two A320s for Qingdao Airlines’ training centre in Longkou, and a 737-8 for Shenzhen Airlines.

FlightSafety International delivered nine commercial FFSs to external customers over the past 18 months, ranging from Embraer E2 regional jet to Airbus A350 XWB models and several (mostly business aircraft types) to its own learning centres. (See our feature on Embraer @50 on page 6 of this issue.)

Spanish manufacturer Indra will equip the GTA pilot training centre in Bogota, Colombia (in which it has a 35% equity stake) with a Level D A320.

Collins Aerospace, soon to be part of Raytheon Technologies, is another simulator and visual system provider keying on business in Asia. They signed a support memorandum of agreement with ACCEL Flight Simulation – a joint venture between Haite High-Tech and Collins with a training centre in Tianjin, China. Collins sold upwards of 100 simulation image generators globally the past year.

Texas-based RSi has introduced a unique Visuals-as-a-Service program, Epic Prime, providing Level D image generation and projection technology to training centres without capital investment.

Diamond’s FTDs are built with authentic aircraft parts, real avionics, Global Canvas image generator and OEM flight models. Image credit: Diamond Aircraft.
Diamond’s FTDs are built with authentic aircraft parts, real avionics, Global Canvas image generator and OEM flight models. Image credit: Diamond Aircraft.

High Fidelity at Low Cost

Whereas Level D full-flight simulators have essentially been commoditized with little differentiation between manufacturers, much of the innovation in the industry is coming from the so-called “low end” flight training devices (FTDs) and advanced aviation training devices (AATDs).

Alsim, based near Nantes, France, with satellites in Texas and China, has developed an AATD – traditionally a somewhat simplistic desktop device – to Level 5 FTD specifications: the AL172 is an exact replica of a Cessna 172SP Skyhawk NAV III aircraft equipped with the Garmin G1000 NXi avionics suite, high-fidelity visuals, and “authentic force feedback.” The AL172 was recently approved by the FAA for up to 20 hours toward an instrument rating and 50 hours for a CPL certificate.

Alsim has been on a fast-track, selling more than 40 training devices in 2018, their 25th anniversary year, and now has more than 400 devices and 300 clients in over 50 countries. This year, they have made sales to Avialpes, a French flight training school; long-time customer, the Civil Aviation Academy of Kazakhstan; Aeroclube de Goias, their first Brazilian customer; European Flyers in Madrid, Spain; EuroPilot Center in Antwerp, Belgium; the University of Dubuque (Iowa, US); KLM Flight Academy; Absolute Aviation in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada; Airbus Flight Academy; first South American customer Solent Freight Services – and 13 others since January.

America’s heartland-headquartered Frasca International is offering a Reconfigurable Training Device (RTD), an AATD that the company claims is “dollar for dollar … the most immersive flight training experience available.” It too features real Garmin G1000 NXi avionics software, a three-screen visual display, and a browser-based instructor/operator station that can be used on a tablet, desktop or smartphone to control such variables as wind, temperature, time of day and to initiate simulated failures.

Frasca, too, has made numerous AATD and FTD sales to China recently, as well as Japan Civil Aviation College (five Cirrus SR22 FTDs with Garmin and TruVision visual), SimCom, Moody Aviation, and the University of North Dakota.

MPS Simulations, based near Utrecht, The Netherlands, is incorporating new capabilities into its fixed-base simulators – the Quadrant INTERACT Simulated ATC Environment (SATCE) – and is collaborating with IDT to integrate the UPRight Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) instructor feedback tool to graphically illustrate to the pilot, for example, the importance of reducing the angle of attack during an upset condition or stall event. Captain Philip Adrian, CEO of MPS and former Boeing Chief Pilot, Regulatory Strategy, said, “Our customers worldwide will be able to simply enable this feature, connected through the simulator’s Wi-Fi network.”

Virtual reality has established a foothold in aircraft maintenance training and has aspirations for pilot training. Image credit: A Doumenjo/Airbus.
Virtual reality has established a foothold in aircraft maintenance training and has aspirations for pilot training. Image credit: A Doumenjo/Airbus.

Academies Proliferating

The customer base for these new devices are the ever-expanding roster of flight training schools, which seem to be popping up in every country which has a few days of reasonable flying weather.

One example is Avenger Flight Group, founded in 2012 by Pedro Sors, who previously created Pan Am International Flight Academy in Florida. Avenger now operates “boutique” flight crew training centres with a mixed fleet of A320, B737NG, B787 and EMB 170 FFSs in Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Las Vegas, Dallas, Mexico City, Cancun and Monterrey, Mexico, and soon Medellin, Colombia.

The UK’s new Skyborne Airline Academy, Gloucestershire, also adopting the “boutique” branding, is touting its “Progressive Continuous Learning,” an incremental approach to learning which integrates theoretical knowledge with practical flight training from the beginning stages.

Republic Airways, which is hiring 600 pilots a year (expected to increase to 900) created its own Leadership In Flight Training (LIFT) Academy to train future pilots, and claims to be the only regional airline to operate its own classroom-to-cockpit path for its students. Cost: $65,000.

CAE, with its business model of joint venture training agreements with airlines and an aggressive posture of acquiring competing training centres and flight academies, is the undisputed leader with more than 280 full flight simulators in its network. The past year, they claim to have “delivered over one million hours of aviation training” via 55+ centres.

But are there enough slots in enough schools to satisfy the projected demand? In Europe alone, where Boeing anticipates a need of 148,000 over 20 years, or 7,400 per year, commercial flight schools are graduating only about 4,000 annually. And with a third of those seeking jobs outside the EU, that leaves well less than half of cockpit seats empty.

Moreover, according to some airline heads of training, fully half of the graduates of ab initio flight programmes are not yet qualified to occupy the right seat of a passenger-carrying aircraft. They would like to see that number exceed 90%, which argues for better training methodologies and acceleration of competency-based training & assessment (CBTA) and evidence-based training (EBT) approaches.

Data to the Rescue?

One of the promising trends, in its formative stages, is applying sophisticated data analytics to assist instructors with what CAE calls “real-time supplementary objective pilot assessments.” The CAE Rise tool can automatically analyze the metrics of numerous data points as selected by the instructor (and specified by the airline customer): landing off centreline, failure to raise the landing gear in a timely fashion, the time it takes to shut down an engine on fire, etc.

By offloading such data-tracking, the instructor is freed up to observe crew behaviour and assess their communication, coordination and situational awareness skills.

CAE is trialling Rise with AirAsia and expects to have a couple more customers come online soon. A subject expert team is looking at the initial reports, but eventually they hope to automate the process.

L3Harris is not far behind in its own data capture scheme, which includes as one component eye-tracking technology from Seeing Machines (Canberra, Australia). They’re also looking further out to “deep analytics” using artificial intelligence to spot trends and recognize patterns in performance sufficient to predict what will happen under certain conditions.

Austria-based FTD manufacturer AXIS Simulation is working on a new briefing and debriefing solution that addresses evidence-based training (EBT) concepts. “The new solution provides instructors and trainees with detailed manual and automatically generated insights into the performance, reducing the workload for the instructor and allowing him/her to focus on the training session,” said Jean-Luc Laydevant, managing director for AXIS Switzerland.

Another solution to the pilot shortage being bandied about is a transition to single-pilot or even no-pilot aircraft, but the concept does not yet resonate with the flying public, who are too often reminded of the shortcomings of software.  

1800+ FFSs and Counting

More than 100 new full flight simulators added in the past year. To order a copy of the CAT Simulator Census, contact: simulator@halldale.com

Published in CAT issue 4/2019