How flight simulators enhance safety
Business aviation pilots must be ready for everything from bad weather to air-traffic-control problems to the failure of onboard computers. But training in an airplane to handle such situations can be both expensive and dangerous-hence the need for flight simulators.
While early simulators were relatively unsophisticated, the ones in use today mimic an aircraft's sounds, movements and visual effects so accurately that some crews break into a sweat while training, having completely forgotten that they've never left the ground. When a pilot pushes the control wheel on a simulator forward, he feels as if he truly is in an aircraft that's diving toward the Earth. On "takeoff," he hears all the sounds he'd hear if he were really beginning a flight.
Simulators offer the opportunity to practice maneuvers that are too dangerous to try in the sky, such as handling an inadvertent thrust-reverser deployment that could flip an aircraft if the pilot were caught unprepared close to the ground after takeoff. Pilots can experience not only a simulated electrical failure but also how computerized aircraft systems attempt to diagnose and solve the problem. There's also simulator training for specific airports-for example, to help pilots learn to fly an unusually steep descent into London City's short runway near Canary Wharf.
When a Qantas A380 airliner suffered an engine failure last November, one reason the pilots handled it well was that they'd learned in their simulator training how the aircraft would behave when a motor quit as well as what the cockpit indicators would look like and what other systems would be affected. Business aircraft training works the same way. So when an emergency situation happens, crews who have trained with a simulator know exactly what to expect.
While this costs much less than it would to train in the air and at airports, full-motion simulators can easily cost as much as the aircraft they mimic, which means small flight departments can't afford their own simulators and must rely on the services of flight-training companies. One such company, New York-based FlightSafety International, operates in some 40 locations around the globe. Canada-based CAE offers training in more than 50 aircraft models.