Halldale Group Editor Marty Kauchak interviewed FlightSafety International executives Patrick Coulter and Kelly Reich about FSI’s expanding Advanced Air Mobility portfolio.
FlightSafety International officially entered the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) market in March, signing a three-way memorandum of understanding with Lilium, German makers of a Ducted Electric Vectored Thrust (DEVT) jet, and fractional aircraft ownership provider NetJets. Under the agreement, FSI will provide products and services such as courseware, training devices and crew training to support Lilium jet operations.
While noting the new chapter this MOU begins for the 71-year old company, Patrick Coulter, Director, Business Development Commercial Training, emphasized FSI is very interested in – indeed, focused on – the entire Advanced Air Mobility market, including electric propulsion single-operator and multi-piloted aircraft, unmanned aircraft, and others. “FlightSafety is certainly focused on the AAM market, but we’re also very interested in the right partnerships with OEMs for eVTOL aircraft and their variants in the take-off and landing segment, and those in the remotely piloted segment – UAV, UAS and RPAS,” he explained.
The discussion then shifted to the vision of some in the commercial aviation community about the evolution of eVTOLs – initially from manned operation in the early tranches of vehicles to autonomously operated craft in later fleets. Coulter said the community also needs to think about what “autonomous” means. “This may be a part-pilot in the loop, a pilot over the loop or even completely autonomous, with no pilot input and the vehicle completely operating itself,” he said. “And while we’re a ways off for autonomous vehicles, we need to focus right now on the piloted.” Yet the executive also noted that Elroy Air (UAS OEM) and other companies in the RPAS and adjacent spaces “have fascinating vehicles that will fit in the autonomous space for cargo, medical transport and other missions. We’re also interested in those companies because they will also need training solutions which we can provide.”
FSI’s acquisition of Frasca, the company’s partnership with IBM and other efforts have strengthened this S&T company’s competencies: lower-level flight training devices, big data, AI and other technologies “are lending tremendously to the advanced air mobility market,” Coulter pointed out. Of interest, the FSI executive further noted S&T solutions being integrated in AAM programs will be a combination of “clean sheet” and enhanced, legacy-era designs, to which Coulter’s colleagues will be able to contribute with FSI’s product and services capabilities.
He continued, “What we’ll see is the current collection of training and delivery methods being used for the launch programs, and we certainly have our eyes on new ways to train in the advanced AAM space. The delivery outputs the eVTOL and other manufacturers are talking about, and therefore the pilot volumes, will simply not allow traditional methods to work. The emerging technologies – virtual, mixed and augmented reality products, machine learning and other developments – will lend themselves to new ways of delivering training for this community. And we all agree that the up and coming – the new generation of pilots – will simply not accept the training from this generation. We also have to develop training methodologies that will allow all of this to happen, with shorter and more efficient life cycles, on the new training devices we’ll also see.”
FSI’s emerging business model is focused on enabling companies in the emerging eVTOL and adjacent AAM sectors to gain initial certification and provide training “that makes sense for them, for pilots and maintainers.” And while traditional brick-and-mortar schoolhouses/training centers are one solution to help support the large numbers of operators needed in this market, Coulter recalled what FSI says to current OEMs, “and certainly Lilium: we’ll start with our current infrastructure, and on a case-by-case basis, we’ll determine if there are other training centers and locations needed for the program.” Coulter added, “With the new training methodologies and their delivery mechanisms, you’ll also see a lot more distance training from home, on the road – training delivered to any location in the world.” In short: customized training the way clients and customers want to learn.
Kelly Reich, Senior Vice President, Strategic Operations, noted the biggest opportunity in the AAM market from a training perspective is simply the diversity of OEMs and their industry team members. Yet, noting that regardless of whether some companies’ businesses are evolving from the manned segment to unmanned, while others start and remain in the unmanned market, one major challenge for the S&T industry is having AAM OEMs and their industry teams “fully define what their plans look like.”
The two industry executives affirmed FSI’s interest in supporting and delivering training for AAM sector maintainers, and emphasized with the electrification of vehicles, “there will be a million new ways to think about training.” While Coulter called attention to the shift from combustion-type engines to electric propulsion in the commercial market, Reich asked, “Where are all of these maintainers going to come from?” Much like the pilot community is looking at strategies to take aircrews from accession training into eVTOL cockpits, the commercial aviation industry will similarly need to develop strategies to recruit, train and bring maintenance personnel to levels required for electric-propulsion vehicles.
At this very early point of developing eVTOL industry maintenance learning models, Reich called attention to FSI’s extensive competencies in commercial maintenance training programs by way of e-learning. “When you look at basic fundamentals, a lot of time we are doing that in e-learning. From that standpoint, and this is general, not specific to an aircraft program, I think that is probably how we would approach a lot of that – much more generalist and from an e-learning perspective. That is really critical as we move forward,” Reich concluded.