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A Rosy Picture for the Future: the 2015 World Civil Full Flight Simulator Census

Posted Thu 13th Aug 2015 | Airline

Ian Strachan presents an analysis of the 2015 World Civil Full Flight Simulator Census.

A recent Boeing forecast suggests that 38,050 new airliners are likely to be built over the next 20 years, nearly 2000 per year. For the same period it is predicted that nearly 27,000 new airline pilots will be required each year, adding to the pool of existing pilots and more than offsetting pilot retirements.

This year there is a clear shift in the world "centre of gravity" of airline activity from North America and Europe towards the Asia/Pacific region and the Middle East. This means that pilots need to be trained there rather than elsewhere. It is much easier to establish new simulation training centres than new flight schools. Flight schools need airfields away from the main transport hubs, airspace in which to train, and their flight instructors are subject to rigorous conditions for medical, age and flying skills. In contrast, simulation centres are normally close to hub airfields and this is convenient for pilots operating from them. Simulator instructors can be retired pilots or those who have lost their flight medical category but still have a wealth of experience to pass on. Of course, both flight schools and simulation centres are needed for initial pilot training.

However, the huge numbers quoted above make it likely that the only way such numbers can be trained is via the Multi-Crew Licence (MPL) system, because the MPL requires less real flying but much more simulation. On graduating, the aircraft-plus-simulator cockpit time is greater than for a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL), and also has the advantage of familiarity with the right-hand seat of an airliner through experience in one of the full flight simulators covered in this article and in the tables. In contrast, a CPL graduate is qualified to fly a light twin in the lower airspace, and needs quite a lot of extra training before flying in the co-pilot seat of an airliner, a position in which the MPL graduate is already familiar.

Table 1: Full Flight Simulators by Country at July 2015
Sims Country % Difference from 2014
553 USA 38.7 -6
127 China 8.9 16
89 UK 6.2 5
57 France 4 -8
48 Germany 3.4 1
47 Canada 3.3 4
44 UAE 3.1 9
34 Japan 2.4 3
31 Netherlands 2.2 1
29 Australia 2 -1
24 Singapore 1.7 4
21 S Korea 1.5 3
19 Indonesia 1.3 1
19 Russia 1.3 -2
18 Spain 1.3 1
18 Malaysia 1.3 -1
18 Brazil 1.3 -2
17 Thailand 1.2 2
16 Italy 1.1 -1
16 Turkey 1.1 2
15 India 1 -6
13 S Africa 0.9 -3
12 Taiwan 0.8 -1
12 Mexico 0.8 5
11 Sweden 0.8 0
10 New Zealand 0.7 0
154 46 others 10.5 17
1472 Totals 100 43


 Another dimension in the simulator picture is Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT). Procedures have been formulated by ICAO and regulatory authorities after stall-related accidents such as AF447 in the Atlantic and Colgan Air 3407 at Buffalo, New York State, and subsequent work by the International Committee for Aviation Training in Extended Envelopes (ICATEE. As a result of Colgan 3407, the US Congress has given the FAA and US-based airlines a real headache by imposing a 1500 flying hour requirement for new airline co-pilots, which is already causing difficulties on pilot supply in the USA. As well as some on-aircraft training (in manoeuvrable aircraft, not on airliners!), UPRT needs modern simulators with good motion and visual responses to unusual positions and high-alpha situations.

Aircraft manufacturers are now supplying more data to simulator manufacturers on high alpha and other areas of the flight envelope relevant to upset events, and simulator manufacturers are not only using this data but also using better programming to improve visual and motion cueing. The latter is critical because motion cues are received by the brain before visual cues, and are therefore essential for correctly simulating the "high gain" pilot control actions that are needed for recovery from upset events and other critical control tasks. In any case, there are few outside visual cues when flying in cloud and at night, and upset events in these conditions have to be trained. The result is that simulator cueing improvements are being made. As an example, CAE has a new UPRT module that has been qualified by EASA in Europe and the FAA in the USA. This can be retrofitted to existing simulators and is part of the build standard of its 7000XR Series. Also, FlightSafety International (FSI) has introduced a simulator design with built-in UPRT, and other manufacturers will follow. They will have to, because EASA and the FAA have announced new UPRT requirements based on ICAO standards, in turn derived from the work of ICATEE. In Europe, airlines and commercial business jet operators will be required to implement them by 2016.

Increasing Numbers

Turning to this year’s tables of full flight simulators (FFS), the increase in overall numbers continues. There are 43 more than in 2014 and there has been an average of 50 more each year over the last four years. At the other end of the simulator age range there were 52 retirements of simulators that were more than 10 years old.

As usual, the USA has a massive lead in FFS numbers with over 550. This is slightly less than last year and is followed by China with 127, an increase of 16. Of the other leading nations there have been increases in Canada, Germany, Japan, UAE and UK, and small decreases in Australia, France and Russia. There are now 72 nations with FFS, new ones this year being Azerbaijan, Croatia, Iceland, Nigeria, Oman, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Within the USA, as in previous years, Texas is the leading State with 142 simulators, 15 more than the whole of China. The US States are followed by Florida with 105, then a large reduction to Georgia with 60, Kansas with 30, Colorado with 30, about 20 for Tennessee, Missouri and New Jersey, then 16 other States.

Looking at regions, North America is well in the lead with 600, followed by Europe with 335, similar to last year. The Asia/Pacific region is catching up fast with 320, an increase of about 30. This is followed by the Middle East with 125, an increase of 15. Other regional figures include 50 in South America, Africa 30 and Russia with about 20. Since all but three of the simulators in Russia are in the Moscow or St Petersburg areas, taking Russia-in-Europe as west of the Urals, this boosts the total in the general European area to about 350.

Looking at the simulator manufacturers, as usual CAE is well in the lead, with about 645 manufactured in Montreal and about 15 at their US facility in Tampa, Florida, that mainly deals with the military. In numbers, CAE is followed by FSI Simulation at Broken Arrow near Tulsa, then Link UK which took over civil simulator manufacturing from Thales at their site at Crawley near London’s Gatwick airport, originally the base of Rediffusion. Thales still make military simulators at Crawley, also helicopter simulators both civil and military. Relatively new companies are Lockheed Martin Commercial Flight Training (LMCFT, ex Sim-Industries) in the Netherlands, and Textron's TRU S+T (ex Mechtronix, Canada, and Opinicus, USA). These each have more simulators listed than traditional simulator manufacturers such as Indra in Spain, Link USA in Texas, Transas in St Petersburg, and Rockwell Collins in the USA. Perhaps Lockheed Martin and Textron have realised the future world potential of Level D simulator sales and are applying resources to exploit this growing market sector. Another significant development is the formation of a new company in China, ACCEL Flight Simulation, which is a joint venture between Beijing Bluesky and Rockwell Collins, and we expect to see simulators from ACCEL in next year’s Census.

Table 2: Full Flight Simulators by Manufacturer at July 2015
FFS Sim Manufacturer
659 CAE
331 FSI
261 L-3 Link UK (ex Thales civil)
54 LMCFT (ex Sim-Industries)
46 TRU S+T (ex Mechtronix & Opinicus)
21 L-3 Link USA
19 Indra
13 Thales
10 Transas
9 Groups of manufacturers
8 Rockwell Collins
8 SimCom
7 Frasca
5 Axis FTS
21 12 others
1472 26 Manufacturers

In terms of regulatory levels, level D (the highest level) is now the norm with nearly 1200, an increase of over 80 since last year due to a combination of new builds and upgrades. In new simulators, electric motion has almost completely taken over from hydraulic. Not only does it avoid the need for noisy hydraulic pumps, it gives quicker response times to control inputs, a vital factor when handling fidelity in critical control tasks is needed, for instance for UPRT as mentioned earlier.

In visual systems, three channel systems are most common with nearly 1,200, but for the 90 or so helicopter simulators two lower "chin" windows are often fitted to give cues in the hover. The two extra chin windows turn the classic three horizontal channel layout into five, or a five horizontal channel layout into seven. For some helicopter simulators, partial domes are used to obtain more field-of-view.

Image generation systems are constantly being improved and the latest models of CAE's Tropos series and FlightSafety's Vital 1100 are significant improvements on earlier systems. This year there are new systems from aXion in Montreal and Avia in the Ukraine.

The overall picture painted above is one of increasing numbers and of further improvement in simulator characteristics. A combination of the latest visual systems, improved motion platforms, better simulator programming and extending the aircraft flight envelope that is simulated, produce the best synthetic training aids that we have ever had.

This process started in 1982 when Ed Boothe and his team in the flight simulation group of the US FAA in Atlanta defined what became the world full flight simulator standard. We should be proud of them and they would be proud of the achievements of the world flight simulator industry, under the guidance of ICAO and civil aviation regulatory bodies worldwide.

And the future? In next year’s CAT, I expect to see a larger increase in level Ds, more simulators in the Middle and Far East, more simulator-based MPL training and more training centres near the centres of airline activity. As the title of this article suggests, the future for world flight simulation is indeed rosy.

This article first appeared in CAT Magazine issue 4-2015

The latest Civil Full Flight Simulator Census can be downloaded as an Excel spreadsheet at (you will need to be logged in to this website to see the page). To read and use the spreadsheet you will need to be a subscriber (US$1200/year).

Authored by Mr. Ian Macholl
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