The new L3Harris, with its combined revenues of around $17 billion, may tower over CAE in terms of size, but in the reasonably new area of pilot training for the US defence systems giant it comes in significantly behind the Canadian market leader. However, the company's impressive London training centre – opened officially on 10 July by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales – illustrates the ambitions of L3Harris Commercial Aviation to become a powerful player in the sector, both in terms of the manufacture of simulators and providing training services.

The facility in Crawley, near Gatwick airport, employs 350 people and comprises two buildings – one with eight full-flight simulator bays, as well as flat-panel trainers and briefing rooms, and the other a production hall with a capacity of 35 full-flight devices per year. The centre combines elements of three businesses that the former L3 has acquired over the past seven years to establish itself in commercial pilot training as a rival to CAE, which dominates both the equipment and training services elements of the market.

L3’s foray into training began with its acquisition in 2012 of the simulator manufacturing business of Thales, also based on Crawley's Manor Royal estate. Until the opening of the new centre, L3 – as it was until the merger with Harris completed at the end of June – had leased the former Thales facility. The acquisition of Southampton-based flight school CTC in 2015 added flight instruction – in particular the training of cadet pilots on behalf of airlines. Another flight school in Portugal was added in 2017. The purchase of Minneapolis-based manufacturer Aerosim in 2016 gave it a capability in fixed training devices.

Pilot training forms around one-third of a larger commercial aviation solutions segment for L3Harris that includes avionics – largely the ACSS transponders joint venture with Thales – as well as an airport security business offering scanning and other passenger-tracking technologies. As with much of L3 – a company founded in the mid-1990s to buy surplus enterprises from Lockheed Martin – the commercial aviation solutions portfolio has been created largely by acquisitions.

However, there has been considerable organic growth too. When L3 entered the training services sector four years ago, CTC was training 300 cadets a year. In 2019, this will be around 1,700, says commercial aviation president Alan Crawford. This month, L3Harris added a new cadet centre at the UK’s Cranfield airport able to train 50 new pilots. The manufacturing side has also expanded. The former Thales operation produced five full-flight simulators in 2012, says Crawford. Last year, L3 produced 28 of its RealitySeven range, most of which were sold to third parties.

Crawford describes the new centre as a "flagship training experience for our airline customers”. While the former CTC premises in Bournemouth, Southampton and New Zealand will continue to specialise in cadet training, L3Harris hopes to focus more on recurrent and type training for experienced pilots at Crawley. Some 15 airlines are already using the centre, which currently has two RealitySeven Airbus A320ceo simulators and one A330 device, alongside two for Boeing 737NGs and one, still to be certificated, for the 737 Max. Two bays are vacant and L3Harris will take a decision on future equipment "in due course".

Crawford believes one of L3Harris Commercial Training's unique selling points will become its ability to provide customers with detailed data analysis on their pilots' performance, not just in the simulator, but – in co-operation with airlines – from their day-to-day line operations. L3Harris can then customise training for each of its clients around this evidence. The company recently acquired a data services company in the UK that specialises in establishing patterns in flightcrew behaviour.


"By bolting this data on to artificial intelligence [AI] capabilities we can create anonymised data that helps us to identity safety and operational trends, like whether pilots use too much thrust on take-off," says Crawford. "Using data for evidence-based training is a major trend in the industry, and in future we think it will become more about real-time analytics, where the pilot can be debriefed on his or her performance as soon as he leaves the cockpit."

L3Harris has also been at the forefront when it comes to addressing the gender imbalance on the flightdeck, with women making up only an estimated 6% of commercial airline pilots. Earlier this year, the company launched 10 female-only scholarships on its airline transport pilot licence training programme, and during the visit of Prince Charles, announced the first two recipients after, as Robin Glover-Faure, president of commercial training solutions puts it, being "overwhelmed" with applications.

The company has also been working with customers such as EasyJet, which has its own initiative to increase the female proportion of its cadet intake to 20% by 2020. Glover-Faure says the issue goes beyond one of equality of opportunity and, with the industry needing to recruit 30,000 pilots per year for the next five years, comes down to hard economics. "We don't just believe it's the right thing to do," he says. "It's essential to maintain the talent levels to operate the aircraft airlines will be flying in the near future. When women make up just 6% of the pilot workforce, it is simply a waste of talent."

Source: Flight International