What type of simulator do you need?

Full-flight simulators have revolutionised advanced pilot-training. Simulators are expensive but the hourly cost of simulator training is a fraction of the cost of operating a jet aircraft. Simulators allow the training environment to be controlled, meaning that manoeuvres such as cross-wind landings or low-visibility approaches can be trained ‘on demand’ without needing to wait for the right weather conditions. Despite the progress made there is still potential to make huge savings on pilot training costs by smarter use of flight simulators.

A variety of Flight Simulation Training Devices (FSTD) are now available, ranging from flat-panel trainers to the level ‘D’ full-flight simulators (FFS) that are used for ‘Zero-Flight Time’ Training. Most airlines use FFS for all pilot training even though there are only a few manoeuvres that require the full capabilities of an FFS. When we teach instrument flying we need the trainee to learn to disregard the visual and motion cues and to rely only on the aircraft instruments, so a simulator needs to reproduce the avionics and flight characteristics of the aircraft. If we are teaching pilots how to manage the technical systems on the aircraft (e.g. hydraulics or electrics) then we need a device that models these systems. Only when we are teaching manoeuvres like take-off and landing or upset recovery do we need the simulator to provide visual and motion cueing. Modern fixed-base simulators provide the necessary ‘fidelity’ to accommodate a lot of training that is currently delivered on FFS at a fraction of the cost.

The regulations for training don’t always stipulate what type of simulator is required. Very often the regulations will only say that ‘an FSTD’ is required. It’s up to the training organisation or aircraft operator to decide what type of FSTD should be used. Some training organisations and aircraft operators may not be aware of the capabilities of different FSTDs and may opt for an FFS by default. The Competent Authority (e.g. the CAA) has to approve the use of particular FSTDs; inspectors at some Authorities are reluctant to approve anything other than an FFS, especially if they are not presented with a compelling justification for the use of a ‘lower level’ device.

EASA are working on new guidance on the selection of FSTDs but the regulations already provide a lot of flexibility to design training around the capabilities of a range of different FSTDs. Taking advantage of this flexibility could save a significant proportion of an operator’s annual training budget but it requires the operator to make a detailed analysis of training requirements, to map these onto capabilities of the selected FSTD(s) and to design a programme accordingly. For a discussion about how McKechnie Aviation could assist with this please get in touch.