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McCarthy-Jan/Feb 06

Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing? - Not Exactly


September 27, 2007
By Drew McCarthy

Simulators, essential pilot skills and the widening training gap were
some of the key topics at the Air Transport Association of Canada
(ATAC) annual meeting in Montreal in November.

Industry
predictions point to a looming shortage of welltrained, experienced
pilots in Canada and elsewhere. ATAC has taken a strong leadership role
in addressing the issue.

One encouraging trend is the increasing
use of flight training devices, or simulators. The ATAC flight training
subcommittee set goals to develop a standard curriculum for using
simulators in private pilot training and to work with Transport Canada
to allow both students and instructors to gain more credits for
simulator time.

Joan Williams of Toronto Airways Ltd.
facilitated the ATAC discussion. Members also saw examples of advanced
visual imagery from several current simulation products. The key to
both the acceptance and effectiveness of VFR simulators lies in the
quality of the visuals. Technological advances focused on improving
both the panoramic and textural elements of screen images are starting
to make their mark.

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Williams says her interest in VFR sims
training goes back six or seven years. Her initial exposure helped
convince her of their value. “Here we had this gorgeous device,” she
says. “I thought, ‘it’ll just be a matter of telling everyone about it
and they will rush off to buy one.’ ” Not quite so, she discovered.

One
of the challenges to increasing VFR simulator use has to do with what
Williams calls the “training industry culture.” Because this culture
has served us quite well, operators need to see some real benefits
before committing to change. This, Williams believes, is simply a
question of time. There are a lot of stakeholders and many people don’t
yet understand the technology. Some operators say okay, but don’t
forget, we’re in the airplane business. And many instructors have been
reluctant to get into a simulator because they are not eligible for PIC
hours.

Nevertheless, Transport Canada is open to increasing the
current credit limitations and everyone was encouraged by the news that
ICAO has already done so.

The benefits of using VFR simulators
are palpable. Operating expenses decline. There’s no need for engine
parts, maintenance, fuel or even insurance. And it’s not just the
operating costs. Simulators are more efficient training tools. The
operator can change the weather as desired, freeze the situation for
student review, or jump to a training location instead of getting into
an airplane and flying out to one.

Then there’s the continuity.
It doesn’t matter if there’s freezing rain or if it’s nighttime,
students can still go in the simulator and maintain continuity between
lessons.

As Williams suggests, once more operators start to see
the benefits of VFR simulators, we will eventually reach the stage
where they become an integral part of all training programs.