Concern over a future pilot shortage is bringing airlines and major training and simulation providers closer together and driving business in the training sector. New training partnerships, facility expansions and simulator sales in the last year signal a ramp-up to produce pilots.

Canada’s CAE reports an “unprecedented demand for professional pilots and a new urgency to develop better pilots faster.” It estimates there will be a population of more than 500,000 airline and business jet pilots by 2028, of which 300,000 will be new pilots.

Last year, CAE launched four new cadet training programs—with American Airlines, Aeromexico, AirAsia and Vueling—renewed two others and continued four programs dating to 2016-17. Over the past 18 months, it concluded 40 long-term pilot training agreements with airlines.

“Increased pilot demand is motivating fleet operators and training providers like CAE to work more closely together,” says Nick Leontidis, CAE group president for civil aviation training solutions. “Smarter pilot creation that helps cadets flourish earlier and improves the likelihood of success throughout a pilot’s career is a joint aspiration and mutual goal.”

In second-quarter fiscal 2019 results announced in mid-November, CAE reported C$393 million ($299 million) in revenue from its Civil Aviation Training Solutions business, up 24% from the same previous-year quarter. It signed training contracts valued at C$573 million and sold 16 full-flight simulators (FFS) built at its Montreal manufacturing site, bringing simulator sales to 34 for the first half of the year. Civil business backlog was a record C$4.3 billion. 

Acquiring Bombardier’s business aircraft training unit for $645 million, a sale announced Nov. 8 and expected to close in the second quarter, will increase the company’s recurring and wet-training revenue and expand its access to the training market for customers operating 4,800 in-service Bombardier business jets. The agreement comes with 12 installed or soon-to-be deployed business jet FFS. 

CAE has deployed 264 multimillion-dollar FFS across its civil training network and to joint-venture training centers and third-party customers. Of the 250 within its network, 60% are devices used for commercial aviation training and 40% for business aviation and helicopter training, the company says. It deployed 12 FFS last year—10 for airline training—including its latest CAE7000XR series Level D FFS equipped with Tropos 6000XR visual image generator. 

New York-based L3 Technologies entered the civil aviation training segment with its 2012 acquisition of Thales Training and Simulation, of Crawley, England. From around four FFS produced there annually, L3 says it now builds 30 or more RealitySeven Level D simulators. Since the acquisition, the commercial training solutions business expanded to provide fee-for-service training and pilot training academies, with locations in the UK; Hamilton, New Zealand; Sanford, Florida; and Ponte de Sor Airport, Portugal. 

In July, the parent company announced the combination of its avionics, airport security and pilot training units into L3 Commercial Aviation. This was followed in October by the official opening of an expanded multipurpose training center in Arlington, Texas, for fixed-wing, helicopter and unmanned aircraft systems pilots. The 40,000-ft.2 expansion doubles the size of the training center near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, adding room for six additional FFS, classrooms and other space. 

L3 has invested $100 million in a new London Training Center near Gatwick Airport, scheduled to officially open in the first quarter. The company is consolidating multiple facilities in the Crawley area into a 150,000-ft.2 training and manufacturing facility that will accommodate eight FFS, four high-fidelity flight training devices, eight flat-panel trainers and classrooms, as well as simulator manufacturing bays. 

EasyJet, Iceland’s WOW Air, Norwegian and charter carrier TUI Airways are among the airlines that have committed to using the center, which also will support L3’s cadet training programs. 

In the half-year after the company launched L3 Commercial Aviation, it announced pilot training agreements with Air France and TAP Air Portugal in Europe, with Qantas at Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport in Queensland, Australia, and with Icelandair—an agreement that calls for training 60 pilots over three years, with Icelandair covering 100% of the course costs. 

“Now we have much more interest from the major airlines domestically and internationally. They are doing everything they can to secure longer-term contracts for a very regular feed of pilots,” says Todd Gautier, L3 Technologies senior vice president and president, L3 Technologies electronic systems segment.

“Instead of just agreeing to provide future jobs for these pilots, we are seeing in many places that they are actually investing in these pilots and willing to sponsor them, sometimes by covering the cost of the training,” Gautier says. “What a lot of the airlines are willing to do to ensure a steady stream of pilots going forward has evolved significantly in just the last 12 months, and we are going to see that continuing, I believe.” 

L3 has announced recent contracts to supply training devices to several airlines, including four Chinese carriers. The company in November announced its first order from China’s Loong Air to deliver three Airbus A320 FFS and two flat-panel trainers for installation at Hangzhou within the next three years. 

In July, L3 announced contracts with Shenzhen Airlines to provide a Boeing 737-8 RealitySeven FFS in 2020; and with China Southern Airlines to provide two A320 and two Boeing 737 FFS within a year for its training centers in Zhuhai. Qingdao Airlines selected L3 to provide two A320 FFS and two flat-panel trainers for installation in 2019-20 in Longkou. 

Other contracts were signed with Air France for an Airbus A350 FFS and Qantas for a Boeing 787-9 FFS. Over recent history about 75% of FFS have been delivered to airlines and 25% to training centers, the company says. 

Business aircraft and regional airline training are core markets for New York-based FlightSafety International, representing 60-70% of annual gross revenue of the company’s commercial training operations, executives say. The balance is split between government training services and manufacturing operations.

FlightSafety designs and builds the FS1000 Level D FFS at a 375,000-ft.2 facility in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Another plant in St. Louis supplies the simulator’s VITAL 1100 visual system; a subordinate facility supplies rigid glass mirrors for the visual system.

The company builds simulators for aircraft types from major manufacturers. It was negotiating with a customer to supply its first Airbus A220 simulator, according to executives.

FlightSafety officially opened its newest flight training facility in Denver in late 2016. The Denver Learning Center trains SkyWest Airlines pilots, supported by one Bombardier CRJ200, one CRJ700 and three Embraer E170 simulators. The facility also trains helicopter pilots for air medical services provider Air Methods in a separate wing, supported by Level D simulators for the Bell 407 and Airbus Helicopters H125, H130 and H135 rotary-wing aircraft.

The company says 500 students were undergoing primary flight training at its ab initio academy at Vero Beach Regional Airport, Florida, where it has programmed a “pathway” method for pilots to land jobs with airlines. In July, Delta Air Lines named the FlightSafety Academy and ATP Flight School as training providers for its Propel Pilot Career Path program to help recruit and train the 8,000 pilots it expects to hire in the next decade. 

“We’ve got packages today for students to come in at different levels, whether they’re just starting, whether they’re private or commercial or instrument-[rated], and we will work with them to get their additional ratings,” says Steve Gross, FlightSafety senior vice president, commercial. “You have to get 1,500 [flight] hours to be employable today. We will put you into the instructor pool and have you do training.” 

FlightSafety provides an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certification Training Program that prepares candidates who already have a commercial pilot certificate with instrument and multiengine ratings to take the FAA’s ATP written exam. The program’s ground training segment bridges the gap between a commercial pilot’s knowledge level and what is expected of an ATP certificate holder, focusing on aerodynamics, automation, adverse weather conditions, turbine engines and transport-category aircraft performance. Simulator training takes place on CRJ, Embraer 145, Embraer 170, ATR 72, Bombardier Q400 and other platforms at various U.S. locations. 

In addition to helping airlines recruit and develop new pilots, training providers say simulators enhanced with new technologies and approaches—augmented reality, mixed reality, data analytics, artificial intelligence—can move students more efficiently and at lower cost through the training pipeline. 

At an FAA-sponsored aviation workforce symposium last September, Roger Sharp, representing Redbird Flight Simulations of Austin, Texas, argued that simulator technology is evolving faster than regulations that govern it. Already, he said, FAA Part 141 flight schools have the flexibility to incorporate training devices with new capabilities in their courses. 

Under Part 141.57, “Special curricula,” a flight school “may apply for approval to conduct a special course of airman training . . . if the applicant shows that the training course contains features that could achieve a level of pilot proficiency equivalent to that achieved by a [prescribed] training course,” according to the regulation. 

“Part 141 providers can put together whatever concept of technology and training programs they would like right now and [if approved] it can be done tomorrow. This is the place where advanced technology can be at its best,” says Sharp. 

“I think the FAA needs to start with a clean-sheet approach to this and allow industry in, and talk about what we’re trying to do with [a] particular device,” Sharp adds. “If we do so, we can create a device that is far better than a current Level D simulator at a fraction of the cost.” 

Scott Goodwin, vice president simulation with FlightSafety, says simulator manufacturers are exploring technologies that would help speed students through the training regimen. “You really get two options,” he says. “You either try to increase the size of the pilot pipeline [by] growing capacity—more centers, more simulators—or you try to increase the velocity through the pipe, to shorten the training time. 

“That’s something that everybody is looking at right now,” says Goodwin. “What are the new technologies that can be applied in different ways that accelerate the training process? You still have the experience requirement of 1,500 [flight] hours, but can you get them through a six-week course in four weeks instead?” 

Gautier says L3 is looking into training optimization that more closely aligns with the proficiency levels of different individuals. More effective training using various media, including devices with lower fidelity than full-motion simulators, can save airlines money, he explains. 

“The current modus operandi is to train to the least common denominator,” says Gautier. “If you could create a dynamic, optimized training curriculum that allows you to train and promote-forward individuals as they demonstrate the proficiency in certain tasks and capabilities, you’d be able to much more effectively train an individual and dramatically reduce the cost of training overall from an enterprise perspective.” 

“Many of the airlines we’re talking to are extremely excited about the economic benefits of creating individualized training curriculum so that people are trained in an optimal manner, which would reduce the training time across an enterprise,” Gautier adds. “There’s no sense flying somebody three times in something once they’ve already mastered that skill or task.” 

In March 2016, the FAA issued new standards for extended envelope and adverse weather training of airline pilots on full-flight simulators under its Part 60 Change 2 regulation. As of March 2019, simulators must support five additional training tasks: recognition of and recovery from a full stall; upset prevention and recovery; engine and airframe icing; takeoff and landing with gusting crosswinds; and recovery from a bounced landing. Directive 2 of the rule requires that previously qualified simulators be modified. 

Simulator manufacturers are rolling out newly capable devices. “In almost every single case it requires a modification to the existing software because the flight models on the simulators don’t include the necessary data to model particular regimes of flight,” says Goodwin. “Every new simulator that we deliver out of a facility, basically for about the last year, is compliant with those new requirements. We are in the process of going back and doing all of the upgrades to all the existing fleet. That is progressing on schedule.” 

CAE says it has qualified Boeing simulator types for extended envelope and adverse weather training, and in April qualified the first 7000XR series Level D simulator for the Airbus A320. 

Editor's Note: This article was corrected to indicate CAE fiscal results as Canadian dollars.