WATS 2023 presented an opportunity for delegates to move beyond political vitriol and gain science-based insights on current and near-term weather pattern changes in and beyond the US. The commercial aviation training enterprise has the opportunity to harmonize its programs to meet these evolving climate changes and overcome cascading and compelling sustainability challenges.   

Dr. Jason Furtado, Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma, provided attention-getting facts to illustrate major, ongoing US climate changes. In one instance, he noted this was the warmest March in global history. Further, the academic authority said concurrent changes are occurring to the jet stream and accompanying wind shear, with alterations to wind speeds, wind direction and turbulence also the new norm across many regions. “These changes are often in the extreme,” with major implications for airline training, he emphasized. Additionally, increases in rain and thunderstorms are occurring in the US and contributing to more “extreme days.” Severe weather in the form of hail, tornadoes, and thunderstorms is also becoming more frequent in places such as the US Gulf Coast during winter. 

FlightSafety International is one S&T industry stakeholder helping training enterprises remain ahead of climate change patterns, in part, by introducing its next-gen VITAL visual system. Michael Vercio, Senior Vice President for Simulation Systems at FSI, pointed out this technology is designed to add higher fidelity (Level D) attributes to current and new FSI FFSs and Frasca FTDs. A FSI press release noted “every simulator FlightSafety currently manufactures for sale will be updated to next-generation VITAL. The first delivery of devices from Frasca, a FlightSafety company, are expected later this year. FlightSafety simulators with the new system are expected to be delivered in 2024. Previously built simulators may be upgraded to the new technology.” FlightSafety’s desired R&D outcomes for VITAL will provide improved methods for assessing runway micro-texturing and other outcomes in adverse environmental conditions. 


Eyeing Electric Aircraft     

Achieving sustainability through responsive training strategies is one focal point in the expanding US network of university aviation programs. Dr. Nick Wilson, Associate Professor of Aviation, University of North Dakota, provided compelling reasons to pursue sustainability. In one instance, he offered that a university aviation program student may use about 32,000lbs (14,515kg) of 100LL aviation gas during his or her flight training program. 

The aviation department is in the preliminary planning stages for introducing electric-powered aircraft into its aviation program’s fleet. Yet, the good intentions of this effort to support sustainability are meeting the laws of physics and other current constraints in the emerging electrical propulsion space. For instance, about 12% of current university training flights could be met with current state-of-the-art electrical aircraft. “That may increase to 48% of current flights as battery capacity increases,” the academic authority added. In another case, the duration of student flights is dependent on battery storage capacity. 

While ideally a university aviation program would be able to migrate to an all-electric-powered training aircraft fleet in one acquisition action, the reality is some programs may need to manage and schedule course work with a mixed fleet of piston- and electric-powered training aircraft.  

As battery technology needs to advance to better support training enterprise requirements, the FAA must also certify electric aircraft for Part 141.39 operations. Further, huge advances are required in airport infrastructures across the nation to support cross-country training flights with charging stations and other support for electric-powered aircraft.

Pipistrel, a Textron company, supplies the Velis Electro, a commercially available electric aircraft that has achieved EASA type-certification and UK CAA certification. The Velis Electro is one electric aircraft being eyed by training organizations to support their sustainability goals.