Flight training device OEMs are reporting attention-getting sales across the full spectrum of flight simulation training devices (FSTDs) – from full-flight simulators (FFSs) through flight training devices (FTDs) – with this increased demand projected well into early 2024. Beyond the business ledger, these equipment suppliers are introducing new devices and integrating AI, Big Data collection and processing, XR and other forward-leaning technologies into their systems. At the same time OEMs are strengthening their devices’ entire life cycle, expanding their business ecosystems and shifting their business models. Group Editor Marty Kauchak reports on these trends and activities by way of brief surveys from half a dozen FSTD providers.  

 The commercial aviation training enterprise continues to put the Covid pandemic in its rear-view mirror with sights set on supporting the broader commercial sector’s business uptick in business.

At L3Harris, Ben Swann, Vice President for Training Systems, Commercial Aviation Solutions, observed, “We’re seeing market activity in most regions returning to pre-Covid levels, starting with investments in the North American market, with China starting to think about it again and huge activity going on in India.” He continued, “We see a lot more investment going on. Airlines are certainly capitalizing on the freedom of movement that people have found themselves back in for holidays and business,” Indeed, L3Harris was on pace to manufacture 19 FFSs in 2023, primarily for the A320. “We have the Boeing 737 MAX and Boeing 787 in production as well. We’re very busy, as the demand for FFSs is hot at the moment.” 

The company executive looked to another part of the training device market, recalling L3Harris’ Covid-era decision to increase its investment in Level 5 and comparable-rated FTDs to primarily support A320, Boeing 737NG and Boeing 787 operators.

Another concurrent training enterprise trend has airlines and training organizations moving beyond using low-cost, low-quality devices to train pilots up to compliance standards, according to Philip Adrian, MPS CEO. He explained, “What you see right now is that connection between the training organization and airline evolving – it’s not only quality training but it’s also a higher level of device to ensure that the quality of training is aligned with future work, not just regulatory compliance. You are seeing much more vertical integration from the airlines all the way down in quality standards and in simulation.”

On cue, MPS is pivoting from a business model primarily based on providing training devices to also being a provider of consultant services and solutions on how to optimize training, safety, and operational trends. The expanded MPS business portfolio includes not only training device procurement and life cycle support, but “setting up training correctly with a blended approach with the right way to use technology. Rather than having the technology and finding a problem to solve with it, we identify to our customers’ ways to support what they see as important as well,” according to the community leader. 

MPS’s customer roster continues to expand to include international airlines. Adrian emphasized that now MPS “is not doing technology for technology’s sake but is looking at customer needs and trying to figure out how we can best serve them.”

Pacing its increase in customers, the MPS ecosystem of global partners continues to expand. Most recently MPS announced its teaming agreement with RSI Simulation for support in the US. Beyond the US, MPS is partnering with S&T companies in India and Asia. 


MPS's Adrian told CAT“What you see right now is that connection between the training organization and airline evolving a higher level of device to ensure that the quality of training is aligned with future work, not just regulatory compliance.”

Source: MPS

Converging forces are also shaping Alsim’s business model and product portfolio. Audrey Jeffroy, Sales Director, told CAT that in one case Alsim has heard the customers’ clarion call to have their aspiring pilots “be more ready to go into the full-flight simulator for advanced training.” She added, “They need to understand leadership, teamwork and other skills and be more acute on specific systems that will be on their aircraft.” At the same time, Alsim has watched the quickening pace of aircraft training enterprises embracing competency-based training. 

Enter Alsim’s latest offering, the Airliner device, which provides two interchangeable cockpit configurations, allowing the customer to adapt training to match market requirements. The Airliner permits training audiences the opportunity to learn and rehearse required skills and gain knowledge about specific aircraft systems. While the Airliner provides the platform to familiarize students with multi-crew operations, different aircraft and system operations, the device further supports higher-order training, including UPRT and preparation for more detailed aircraft assessment. The Alsim executive added that students completing instruction on the Airliner device may earn up to 40 EASA credit hours. 

The Airliner represents a progression of Alsim’s deliberate business decision to develop and maintain its portfolio of fixed-base training devices to best support ab initio and comparable training audiences, and not develop devices with motion bases.

Alsim is further expanding its ecosystem, in one case, collaborating with Capt. Andy O’ Shea and the Airline Pilot Club to develop a workbook to better enable the training organization customer staff to optimize the Alsim simulator experience.

Havelsan is another OEM reporting an expanding product portfolio and its response to the entire spectrum of a pilot’s training continuum. 

Emre Bilge, Director of Business Development, observed that after the Covid pandemic, larger airlines prefer to outsource type-rating training to training centers instead of conducting the training on their own due to the lack of time slots on simulators. “Therefore, training centers have been in need of simulators that can provide ab initio training, type-rating training on flight training device and full-flight simulator levels. Havelsan-provided solutions can cover all the possible needs in the field by offering all training solutions ranging from ab initio to FFS.”  

Havelsan has supplied a Boeing 737-800 NG simulator, and will deliver a mix of 11 A320 Current Engine Options and New Engine Options, Boeing 737 MAX FFS and FTD Simulators to Turkish Airlines. The Boeing 737 MAX FFS operated by Turkish Airlines achieved EASA Level D certification in April. The executive emphasized Havelsan’s ability to broaden its pilot training device and services portfolio’s attractiveness to airlines and training centers around the globe. 

Iñigo Hernandez, Business Manager at Entrol, said that, regarding fixed-wing training, “we are proud our en-1000x is keeping up with the sales pace it had last year,” as flight schools find the en-1000x “a must-have simulator for their initial training.” The spokesperson, based at corporate headquarters in Madrid, also pointed out Entrol has found an increasing interest in the Air Tractor simulator these past years. “Unfortunately, wildfires worldwide are increasing, so the means to extinguish those fires are getting popular.” Regarding helicopter training devices, the H145 is Entrol’s top requested simulator. Hernandez said Entrol has sold five units in a year and a half in Mexico, New Zealand, Japan, Italy, and Brazil. “We are confident the H145 D3 will be a widely used helicopter.” 

Entrol ended 2022 with record sales, having sold 9 fixed-wing and 10 helicopter simulators and considerably increasing its presence in Asia and Europe. The Entrol spokesperson added, “We are launching an expansion program in the US, focused on portfolio and maintenance. Portfolio-wise, we have launched two new AATDs (advanced aviation training devices) based on the Bell 505 and Cabri G2. Our line of AATDs is called the H1000, a new product created specifically for the American market.” Entrol’s recently opened Maintenance Center in Denver, Colorado is intended to better assist the company’s customers in the American and European time zones and increase its presence throughout a product life cycle in the Americas.

FlightSafety International is broadening its footprint in the commercial aviation device market in “a big way,” according to Nathan Speiser, Executive Vice President, Global Sales and Marketing. “That means producing more ‘whitetails,’” the executive said, and for amplification noted FSI is “in process of getting five B737 MAX [FFSs] out on the lines – Airbus 220s and 320s as well. That’s not something that we previously did. We’re here and present. We know there’s demand.” 

Yet, commercial airline training enterprises are telling FSI and other industry OEMs that they are seeking devices to permit their flight crews to train – with caveats. 

Speiser first pointed to FTDs, which he offered are becoming more sophisticated to allow aspiring pilots to complete more procedures training at lower-level prices. “All of that leads to the ‘prepared vs. proficient’ challenge, so you can become a much more prepared pilot if you’re new to the aircraft and you spent a lot of time in the FTD on procedures training. By the time you step into the FFS you are going to be that much more prepared to perform well. That is one trend we’re seeing.” 

On cue, Michael Vercio, FSI’s Executive Vice President, Simulation Systems, recalled his company’s acquisition of Frasca International in 2022. “As Nate alluded to FTDs, that’s why we acquired Frasca – they are very proficient in that market. In terms of customers’ demands we’re seeing a bifurcation. Some use a Level 6 or 7 FTD – big machines to qualify their pilots. But we’re seeing at our learning centers and elsewhere that some customers are gravitating towards Level 4 or 5 FTDs where you don’t need to pay for the qualification of that device.” 

Alsim's Airliner represents a progression of the company's portfolio of fixed-base training devices to support ab initio and comparable training audiences. 

Source: Alsim

Technology Insertions

As new, diverse devices populate training enterprises, simulation and training industry technologies are maturing at a quickening pace – offering training enablers from AI to XR to the integration of big data and beyond. 

FSI’s Vercio raised the powerful notion of a pilot transcript as another technology enabler for a pilot’s continuum of learning. The transcript is simply a compilation of flying habits from Day 1 to Current State, supported by all data extracted from learning devices. Indeed, FSI’s recent partnership with GE Data was envisioned to drastically advance this OEM’s Big Data sector capabilities.

Speiser then commented on the quick pace of discussions about AI in and adjacent to the commercial aviation training market. The executive placed a marker down, noting from FSI’s perspective, AI is a “more tailored, iterative data base – machine learning, I would say, to show qualification of the pilot as they move through that life cycle, to say, the pilot is getting better over time. If there are areas that need to be looked at, you are doing so in a localized setting. You simply can’t do that without Big Data and some type of machine learning.”

FSI’s ecosystem is also expanding in other S&T sectors. The OEM recently announced its agreement to upgrade its VITAL visual system through its partnership with Epic Games. Vercio concluded, “We’re looking to push out the VITAL for Frasca FTDs by the end of this year. That’s really aggressive but the Frasca team has done a fantastic job and will do it. You’re getting that top-notch visual in the lower-level training device. That will then be rolled out next year to all of our Level D FFSs.”       

L3Harris is concurrently focused on how its customers integrate virtual reality, gaming and other emerging enablers in the commercial aviation enterprise. Swann added that, in one technology thrust, “We’re looking at what we can do with virtual flight decks to improve the pilot’s learning. Also of importance is exploiting the data off the device and determining how does it inform the customer’s decision making.” 

At the high-end of the learning technology spectrum, MPS is focused on how easy it is for an organization to use the OEM’s simulators. In one instance, MPS has redesigned its instructor cabin for the better usage of the instructor and the training audience. Further down the learning continuum Big Data and AI have caught the attention of this industry executive. “If you do not have an ability to measure what is important, how can you change or even address the task? So, the data issue is much more important.” 

Havelsan’s Bilge pointed out that as an extended version of ab initio training, PRIME is offered to customers. The Ankara-based executive concluded, “Training will be executed with VR without the need for a display system or projectors. This will be an even more cost-effective solution for customers who need a mobile and compact system. Since Havelsan is a military-based company, AR/VR/AI solutions are already provided, and as long as the civil aviation regulations permit, transferring these technologies to our civil solutions is aimed and planned.”