The Simulator Community’s Go-To Repair Force

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Simaero's Champs observed that due to the long technological inertia in simulator technology it will take at least another decade before skills in electronics, hydraulics and mechanics (above) become a minority. Source: Simaero.

The global commercial airline industry’s continued recovery from the depths of the coronavirus pandemic and ability to meet the insatiable demand for new, qualified pilots depend in large part on the 24/7 availability of flight training systems, from full flight simulators (FFSs) to flight training devices (FTDs). When these systems defy the laws of physics, mechanics, electricity and other forces and cannot fully support training audiences, simulator technicians answer the call to restore the devices to full operational status.

One Training Enterprise Gold Standard

The lights remain on late at night and even overnight at many training enterprises around the globe, as aspiring and veteran pilots are in the que to complete simulator rides for their training continua. As such, training organizations continue to increase their operational requirements for flight training systems, with the needle approaching 100% ready-for-training status for FFSs  through fixed-base devices.

This message resonates loud and clear with the simulator industry. In this author’s off-the-record discussions with flight training system OEMs and their suppliers of motion systems, visual displays and other content, these teams are striving for ever-increasing reliability and related capabilities for their materiel. But yet, “stuff” happens. When it does, enter one group of often unsung heroes in the maintenance community – simulator technicians. Insights on this niche workforce that is in high demand were gained from two randomly selected companies with different, but expanding portfolios, Simaero and Havelsan.

Beyond recruiting is the retention challenge -- with Havelsan placing an emphasis on maintaining a skilled workforce (above), evident in their commitment to training and career development of their technicians. Source: Havelsan.

Expanding Training Device Capacity

First, an overview of the training device infrastructure supported by the two companies’ sim techs.

Simaero currently offers pilot training services on a fleet of 30 simulators: 18 full-flight simulators (FFSs) across four training centers: Paris CDG, Dinard (France), Johannesburg (South Africa), and Changsha (China). Julien Champs, Simaero Group Technical Manager, pointed out his company also has two strategic partnerships, one with HNCA in China to propose training opportunities on two FFSs in Zhengzhou, and one with Air France, offering training on ten of their FFSs in Paris CDG. “Simaero is set to open a second facility in Paris CDG in Q4 2024, featuring eight simulator bays. The facility will start with a brand-new A350 simulator, ready for training in January 2025,” the executive said and added, Simaero will open its first training center in Delhi in fourth quarter 2024, with A320 and B737 NG FFSs planned.

In addition to supporting airlines and training center operators with their pilot training requirements, Havelsan’s order book has it manufacturing up to 8 FFSs and 4 FTDs annually. Veysel Ataoğlu, Director of Product Development & Integrated Logistic Support, noted in one instance, Turkish Airlines has placed an order for a total of 11 FFSs and FTDs, underscoring Havelsan’s ability to deliver high-quality training solutions. “This robust production capability enables Havelsan to meet the growing demand for advanced pilot training solutions globally,” the executive added.

Supply and Demand Mismatch

Followers of CAT’s maintenance training department and attendees at our events' maintenance tracks, are aware of the recurring theme of workforce shortfalls in this community and the broader aviation industry well into this decade. Let’s include simulator technicians in the broader maintenance community’s forecast.

From Simaero’s global perspective, the pool of simulator technicians is a niche and tight labor market, with availability heavily dependent on the region. Three market data points supported the company’s position. In India, there is a robust pool of simulator technicians. “We anticipate finding experienced technical staff with backgrounds in the flight simulator niche market for our future Delhi training center,” Champs said and added, in China, while the supply is stable, the rapid growth of the simulator industry has created a shortage of maintenance personnel, with supply not meeting the community's increasing demand. Back in France, and more broadly in the European market, the supply viewed is stable, but the demand and competition to attract the best-experienced talents are high.

The availability of skilled simulator technicians also poses a significant challenge for Havelsan. Ataoğlu noted as the aviation sector grows, particularly in emerging markets, the demand for knowledgeable and experienced technicians outstrips supply. Havelsan addresses this challenge by recruiting and deploying its own specially trained personnel to provide support services not only domestically but also in various international regions. “We accept 1st and 2nd-year students from technical schools based on their school grades. They undergo a 3-day weekly work and training process,” he noted and continued, “At the end of the process, technicians who meet the criteria are incorporated into our team. This approach helps mitigate the impact of global shortages in skilled labor. For this, specially trained personnel within Havelsan provide maintenance support services to our customers abroad.”

As simulator technology evolves, and becomes more software-driven, the required skill set is slowly shifting to network-based and software-driven systems (above). Source: Simaero

Training Onus is on the Provider

Simaero’s Champs then significantly pointed out there are no specific training programs for full-flight simulator technicians in the company’s markets; existing school programs focus on either aircraft, industrial maintenance, or electronics technicians. “Aside from one technical school in France that combines electronics with basic aeronautics knowledge, most new recruits have a solid technical foundation but lack aviation-specific skills. We prefer recruiting individuals with a background in electronics, as it is easier to teach them aircraft systems than to teach aircraft technicians about electronics.”

Due to the lack of external training programs, Simaero provides extensive in-house training to equip its technicians with aviation-specific knowledge and technological know-how. “Given the significant investment in full-flight simulators, technology is more inert, requiring young talents to learn how to handle various generations of technologies,” and as such, Simaero highly values the transmission of knowledge within its team, fostering collaboration between experienced and young talents across different countries. Significantly, the training process for a new recruit takes between two and three years for technicians to become fully autonomous.

Upon training completion, Simaero’s technicians become multidisciplinary professionals who can work on various aspects of a simulator while specializing in specific fields such as visual systems or mechanics. Champs continued, “This versatility is particularly crucial at Simaero, where we operate an extremely diverse fleet of simulators across different types, generations, and manufacturers.”

Similarly at Havelsan, the company places a strong emphasis on the continuous training and development of its technicians. Upon hiring, technicians, often freshly graduated from technical schools, enter a rigorous training program that evolves with technological advancements and operational requirements. Ataoğlu explained this program includes both theoretical and hands-on components, ensuring that technicians are well-prepared to manage and maintain sophisticated simulation technologies. “Havelsan aims to train its proactive approach to career-long learning, helping technicians keep trends and technological developments in the simulation technology field.”

Community Training Deep Dive

Simaero’s training is hands-on, combining theoretical instruction with practical, on-site operations to ensure technicians understand the equipment inside and out. Champs noted the company is exploring VR (virtual reality) as a potential tool to simulate crucial maintenance operations without risk to the actual devices. He offered that VR could significantly enhance technicians' reactivity and assist in quick issue diagnosis. “However, while some aspects of VR training could be generic, most of it would require customization to suit specific systems. This high level of customization makes VR training development more suitable for simulator manufacturers, who produce consistent systems, whereas our fleet is extremely diverse.” Of little surprise, Simaero will also integrate AI into its training processes to support technicians in diagnostics, but with the caveat, “human oversight will remain irreplaceable due to the highly customized nature of maintenance tasks.”

To enhance its training, Haveslan incorporates cutting-edge technologies such as Extended Reality (XR), AI, and data-driven analytics with Ataoğlu pointing out these tools are employed to create realistic, immersive training environments that simulate real-world challenges and scenarios. “Such advanced technologies not only improve the effectiveness of the training but also ensure that technicians are familiar with the latest tools and methods used in simulator maintenance and troubleshooting.”

Shifting Skill Sets for a Robust Market

The insatiable demand for civil aviation community pilots around the globe through this decade are creating huge forcing functions on the demand curve for simulator technicians.

Havelsan expects this labor market to remain robust, driven by continuous advancements in simulation technologies and the expanding scope of global aviation training needs. Ataoğlu anticipates that future technicians will require a diverse set of skills, including expertise in software, cybersecurity, and data analysis, alongside traditional mechanical and electronic skills. The executive continued, “Technicians at Havelsan need a mix of mechanical, electronic, software, and cybersecurity skills to maintain and upgrade advanced flight simulators. The market's health looks robust, driven by ongoing technological advancements and increased demand across both civil and military sectors.”

Similarly, Simaero’s Champs said the simulator technician market will increasingly demand IT and software skills. He explained that as simulator technology evolves and becomes more software-driven, the required skill set is slowly shifting from traditional electronics to more network-based and software-driven systems. “Our workforce will need to adapt to these new skills,” he added and emphasized, “However, due to the long technological inertia in simulator technology, it will take at least another decade before skills in electronics, hydraulics, and mechanics become a minority.”

Recruiting Pitches

This sector will compete for accessions with other technology fields in and beyond aviation through this decade.

Simaero’s Champs built the case for joining this career field, noting that while a simulator technician's weekly routine may include demanding night and weekend shifts, it also offers rare flexibility. He concluded, “For technology-passionate people, the role is dynamic and diverse, providing continuous learning opportunities and exposure to various technologies. At Simaero, we aim to foster this passion and attract experienced technical talents to ensure a robust talent pipeline, considering the rapid growth in both our company and the market. We also offer distinctly unique career development opportunities to our technical team through our in-house engineering division (a division of Simaero Group).”

Havelsan also places a high emphasis on maintaining a skilled workforce, evident in their commitment to training and career development for their technicians, Ataoğlu said. The executive highlighted the company's in-depth experience in simulation technologies positions it as a leader in the field, capable of meeting the high expectations of flight schools, airlines, and military training programs. “Many of Havelsan's technicians bring valuable experience from the air force or are retired civil aviation maintenance technicians, enriching the company's capability to offer expert maintenance and support,” the executive concluded.

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