Simulation and training (S&T) industry suppliers, and their current and prospective customers are expanding the capabilities of flight simulation training devices (FSTDs). At the same time, one regulatory agency, EASA, is working on a new regulatory framework that will allow, in the case of helicopters, extended FSTD use. These developments point to the certainty of an increased presence of these devices in air training organization’s equipment inventories.    

This is another in a series of articles about training device developments in the commercial airline training enterprise. For this review FSTDs include non-motion training equipment – specifically flight simulation devices (FSDs) and flight and navigation procedures trainers (FNTPs). EASA and three S&T suppliers were randomly selected to contribute to this feature.   

New EASA Regulatory Framework   

Let’s first gain insights on an overarching, evolving regulatory framework shaping the FSTD sector. 

An EASA communications department spokesperson initially noted that under the current regulatory framework, fix-based flight simulation training devices can be used in ab-initio training for Private Pilot License (PPL) and Commercial Pilot License (CPL) training (up to 5 hours), for instrument rating training (up to 35 hours for single-engine aeroplanes and up to 40 hours for multi-engine aeroplanes and helicopters), and for Multi-Crew Cooperation (MCC) or Airline Pilot Standard (APS) MCC training (minimum of 20 hours or 40 hours respectively for modular courses and 15 hours or 35 hours for integrated courses). 

The EASA spokesperson then significantly revealed EASA is working on a new regulatory framework that will allow, in the case of helicopters, extended use of FSTDs for up to 5 hours for Light Aircraft Pilot License (Helicopter) (LAPL(H)) and for up to 10 hours for PPL(H), provided that the FSTD used is representative of the aircraft type which is used for the skill test.

Of further importance, concurrently, EASA is working on a new regulatory framework for the qualification and use of FSTDs based on the FSTD Capability Signature (FCS) and the task-to-tool concepts. “In essence, for type rating training, it will be possible to use FSTDs by ensuring that their technical capability meets or exceeds the technical capability required for a pilot to be proficient in the execution of a set of training tasks, depending on the desired level of proficiency that the pilot should have at well-determined points of the training course,” the spokesperson explained and continued, “This concept is believed to open to the possibility of using a variety of part-task training devices that are tailored to the training needs and to enhance the use of fix-based FSTDs.”

In order to achieve these purposes, a new CS-FSTD Initial Issue will be published and it will incorporate the requirements for aeroplanes and helicopters FSTDs in one single document. The spokesperson concluded, “At the same time, Regulation (EU) No 1178/2011 is being amended as needed.” 

Market Forces 

Below the regulatory framework, other FSTD market dynamics are at play. 

Nacho Navacerrada, Sales Director at Entrol, told CAT that in one instance, aircraft are getting more complex in terms of avionics and systems, so having a training device to learn how to manage these glass cockpits is critical. “For that purpose, non-motion devices play a significant role in the general aviation and rotorcraft industry.” But then there is the financial factor, again. The corporate executive added, due to the smaller size of their fleets, it is not easy to justify the investment in a FFS [full-flight simulator] and this is where FTDs [flight-training devices] and FNPTs become cost-efficient options. “For the airlines, considering the significant number of pilots and aircraft, I believe that FFSs will remain the standard training tool.”

To help better understand the 2024-era market, Entrol’s FNPT and FTDs, fixed-wing and helicopter, are mainly sold to flight schools and operators for their ATPL and MCC courses as well as Proficiency Checks and Type Rating programs. The executive explained, “Our FTDs are used by helicopter and general aviation operators who seek to optimize their costs and increase their pilot training. We do not offer airliners FTDs, so we do not have airline customers.”

A digital enabler in this sector is ProSim, with René Veerman, the company’s Chief Commercial Officer, telling CAT that his firm has an increasingly visible presence in the FSTD market by way of providing complete software solutions for all modern airliners. “This software is used by a variety of training device manufacturers who will deliver the non-motion devices to the customer.” 

For use in those non-motion devices ProSim delivers and qualifies Type-specific and Type- representative solutions for A320 ceo / neo and Boeing 737 NG and MAX platforms including OEM data licenses. The executive added, ProSim also offers flight management systems trainers and maintenance trainers for use on students’ laptops or iPads. The latest offering in this part of the portfolio is the Virtual Instruction XR tool (ViXR®).

From AMST’s perspective, in commercial aviation, non-motion flight simulation devices, including Flight Training Devices (FTDs) and Flight and Navigation Procedures Trainers (FNPTs), are gaining traction for specific training scenarios. Rainer Schluesselberger, Managing Director, provided another vital data point on this sector, first noting these devices are particularly useful for procedural training, familiarization with cockpit instruments, and initial phase training. “The lower cost, reduced space requirements, and operational flexibility of these systems make them an attractive option for many flight schools and airlines. Increasingly, training providers are opting to offload more portions of their training from Full Flight Simulators (FFS) to FTDs,” the corporate leader added and continued, “This shift not only optimizes training costs but also would free up FFS resources for more advanced training sessions where motion simulation is critical.”

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The latest offering in ProSim's portfolio is the Virtual Instruction XR tool (ViXR®). Source: ProSim.

Technology Insertions

Industry teams are increasing the capabilities of their FSTDs by way cutting-edge technology insertions. 

Entrol reported having integrated the following technology enhancements into its non-motion device capabilities: vibration system supplied by D-BOX; compact motion, with Kinnetek; VR/MR technology by way of Varjo models; high resolution mission scenarios and databases with Unreal Engine IG; and an NVG environment enabled by Norxe projectors. Navacerrada emphasized that due to these affordable technologies available in the market, these devices can fill the gap where training on FFS is not possible – without sacrificing the training quality.

Another vital perspective was provided by ProSim’s Veerman, who noted all new systems and functionalities introduced to flightdecks by the respective OEMs are offered as part of ProSim software solutions. Further, ProSim offers solutions for “bottlenecks” in the training industry such as the shortage of instructors. “With the introduction of XR technology and a HoloLens 2 head-mounted display, in combination with a procedures trainer with a ProSim Software aircraft simulation, we have been able to provide the initial training of normal and abnormal procedures without the use of an instructor. This allows the instructors to skip the standard step-by-step procedure work and concentrate on the parts of the training where human interaction is essential.” 

ProSim is also optimizing data and AI in its offerings. 

The corporate executive provided one example, noting ProSim can use the data generated in the non-motion device or the ViXR tool, to analyze the performance and provide instant feedback to the individual – enabling more efficient training with a more competent pilot as a result. ProSim’s blend of enabling technologies also includes AI, which is used in this process to give instructions for instant, remedial training as a result of the available data. Veerman continued, “Especially in the Competency-based Training and Assessment or Evidence-based Training type of training, the automated data collection and immediate remedial training abilities will prove to be a significant contributor to the increased level of pilot proficiency we are striving for as an industry.” 

Near-Term Forecast

Another take away from this sector review is the increasing focus on software. ProSim’s executive noted more training device manufacturers will realize the simulation software is a commodity like the motions system or visual systems, such as for those systems it does not make sense to develop and support their own software. “ProSim offers complete software solutions for TDMs including lifetime software support. In a marketplace that is increasingly competitive and a worldwide shortage of software development and support skills it will be music to the ears of their CFO’s and board of directors!”

This year, Entrol will install a new Bell 412 FTD 3 for Global Helicopter Service and a turboprop FTD 2 for a French operator. In both cases, they needed the FTD as a cost-efficient alternative to the FFS to provide their pilot and operator proficiency checks.

In the near-term, the Spain-based company will continue expanding its portfolio. “Our goal is for all the companies to be able to afford a high-end FSTD to train their pilots.”

For the remainder of 2024, AMST is looking to introduce significant updates to its simulation portfolio. A notable addition to non-motion devices is the AIRFOX Integrated Procedures Trainer, which features advanced touch panels and haptic controls, ideal for procedural training or transitioning pilots to different aircraft types. The device’s visual system is powered by AMST’s VISIM Image Generator which further enhances the training experience. “Additionally, we are in the process of developing a new type of rotary-wing FTD, equipped with a large and impressive visual system designed to provide an exceptionally realistic training experience. These developments underscore our commitment to providing state-of-the-art training devices that meet the diverse needs of today’s aviators,” Schluesselberger divulged.

Balance

AMST further provided an attention-getting comment, noting while the company expands and improves its offerings in non-motion devices, it advocates a balanced approach to pilot 

training. Schluesselberger concluded, “Motion-based simulators remain indispensable for comprehensive, scenario-based pilot training that non-motion devices alone cannot fully address. It is our belief that the most effective training programs will continue to leverage the strengths of both types of systems to produce competent, well-prepared pilots.” 

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