By Graham Warwick in Washington, DC

Demand from Asian, Middle Eastern and Chinese airlines is expected to keep the commercial flight simulators market busy

Asian airlines and large regional jets drove demand for commercial flight simulators in 2005, and airlines and training providers from China to India are expected to be major buyers again this year.

Data provided by Stan Garst & Associates, compiled into Flight International's annual census of civil simulators showed that Asia is providing much of the growth in the sector.  “Asia carried the day, and a little bit of Middle East,” says Nick Leontidis, executive vice-president sales, marketing and business development for simulator manufacturer CAE. “It is going to be the same in 2006 – a lot of demand from Asia and India and nothing unusual in North America and Europe. Asia will carry the industry.”

Simulator A380 W445
© Thales

Only one A380 simulator was ordered in 2005, down from four in 2004

Sales of several simulators for the Embraer 170/190 large regional-jet family in 2005 were “a pleasant surprise”, Leontidis says, but initial needs have now been met “and we are anxious to see them sell more aircraft”. The 50-seat regional jet market, meanwhile, is as dead for simulators as it is for aircraft.

Last year’s big prize was Boeing subsidiary Alteon Training’s requirement to support introduction of the 787 and it went to Thales, which won a contract to equip six sites with training suites including full-flight simulators and flight training devices (FTD). Evans & Sutherland won the visuals deal and Thales is also supplying an engineering simulator to Boeing.

Locations so far announced for 787 training are at launch customer All Nippon Airways’ Tokyo, Japan training base, Alteon’s centres at London Gatwick in the UK and Seattle in the USA and a site in China, possibly Alteon’s Kunming location. All six sites are to be operational before delivery of the first aircraft in 2008. But Alteon will not meet all demand for 787 training and airline customers are expected to begin ordering their own simulators this year, says Leontidis.

Manufacturer-supplied data indicates that orders for 35 Level D-standard full-flight simulators were placed by external customers last year, up from 24 in 2004, with similar sales expected this year. CAE lists 20 orders in 2005, plus a 737 Next Generation maintenance training simulator; Thales lists 12 new orders, plus the 787 engineering simulator.

Of the orders, 26 were for Airbus and Boeing types, up from 22 in 2004. Buoyed by the six-simulator 787 deal and eight Next Generation 737 machines, Boeing types accounted for 15 of the orders. Airbus types accounted for 11 orders, including six for the A320 and four for the A330/A340. Orders for A320 and 737NG machines were up over 2004, but only single A380 and 777 simulators were ordered, down from four of each a year earlier.

Asian and Indian customers accounted for 16, and Middle East carriers three, of the orders placed in 2005 – highlighting the importance of these high-growth markets. CAE customers included Japan Airlines (three 737NGs), Malaysia’s AirAsia (two A320s) and Etihad Airways of the United Arab Emirates (two A330/A340s). Thales customers included China’s Shanghai Airlines (two 737NGs).

Growth in China and India has benefited the training providers but, increasingly, airlines are buying their own equipment. In October, Alteon will open a Singapore training centre equipped with A320, 737-300 and Fokker 100 simulators, with a 777 and 747-400 to be added by year-end and a 737NG by mid-2007.

Zuhai Flight Training, CAE’s 50:50 joint venture with China Southern Airlines, has ordered an additional A320, its first A330 and two more 737NG simulators for delivery this year and next. Air China and China Eastern also bought A320 machines, but airlines outside China’s “big three” are now buying their own equipment, with Shanghai following Hainan and Shenzen in ordering 737NGs.

India’s rapidly growing low-cost carriers are training initially with providers such as Dubai-based Emirates-CAE Flight Training, which has agreements with Kingfisher, Spicejet and others, and CAE is looking at the possibility of opening a training centre in India, says Leontidis. Meanwhile, Air Deccan is to open its own centre early in 2007 equipped with two simulators it plans to order from the Canadian manufacturer.

Asian vanguard

“India is just starting,” says Leontidis. “We are serving most of them out of Dubai while they are in their contractual training cycle. Then there will be an evolution to equipment procurement or a local solution.” China, where the growth is even higher, is buying both equipment and training. “They are being served initially by training providers, but they will evolve into their own training,” he says.

Outside Asia, India and the Middle East there were relatively few sales in 2005 once Alteon’s 787 package and an Airbus order for two A330/A340 simulators are factored out. With the exception of an A320 machine for Lufthansa Flight Training’s third-party business, orders from European and North American customers were to support the introduction of new aircraft types, including a 777-300ER for Air France.

Embraer’s 170/190 accounted for five of last year’s orders, and CAE has now sold 10 simulators for these large regional jets. Finnair and Saudi Arabian Airlines ordered E-170 simulators, while Air Canada purchased an E-170 and an E-190 and JetBlue Airways bought its third E-190 machine. Training company FlightSafety International also announced plans to build two E-170/190 simulators for its own use, but these are not included in the total.

Initial requirements for E-170/190 simulators have now been met, Leontidis says, and further orders will depend on Embraer selling more of the large regional jets. No more simulator orders for the Bombardier CRJ or Embraer ERJ 50-seat families are expected, but the Canadian manufacturer booked a single order for a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 regional turboprop simulator, from ANA.

Rounding out 2005 orders were two simulators for the Cessna Citation CJ1 business jet sold by Mechtronix to the Civil Aviation Flight University of China and one for the Eclipse 500 very light jet to be built by Opinicus for Eclipse Aviation and its training partner United Services. FlightSafety was selected to provide training for Cessna’s Citation Mustang VLJ, and steady, if unspectacular, demand for business aircraft simulators is expected to continue.

Market share

The visual system market was tied closely to full-flight simulator sales last year, with relatively little independent upgrade business. The market was divided evenly between CAE and Evans & Sutherland (E&S), which is being purchased by simulator manufacturer Rockwell Collins. How that will affect Thales, whose simulators more often than not have an E&S visual, is expected to become clear when the sale closes.

Of the simulators ordered in 2005, 15 – all of them CAE-built – have the Canadian company’s Tropos visual, and 14 – 10 from Thales and four from CAE – have E&S’s EP-1000CT visual, while four remain to be announced. The Mechtronix-built Citation CJ1s have Redifun Simulation Raster/Flite visuals.

Most simulator sales now include companion training devices. Thales’s 787 package for Alteon includes six flat-panel virtual trainers and more than 200 classroom flight and maintenance training devices. CAE says it sold four Level 5 FTDs in 2005, plus 13 other three-dimensional devices. Mechtronix delivered a suite of devices to the ATR Training Centre in late 2005, including a Level 6-equivalent ATR 42/72 trainer.

Technology trends that emerged over the last year include the move to electric motion bases, which require less power and less maintenance than hydraulic systems and are easier to install, with fewer environmental concerns. Thales’ A380 and 787 simulators are the first with its eM2K motion system, which combines electric actuation with hydraulic mass compensation and power transmission for smoothness and dynamic performance. Japan Airlines is launch customer for CAE’s all-electric electro-mechanical motion system, which will equip three 737NG machines, and FlightSafety is delivering electric motion-equipped simulators to its training centres.

CAE launched an effort last year to reduce the manufacturing cycle time on simulators to 14 months, from 16-18 months, has achieved the goal first on A320 machines.

“Bids today will not exceed 14 months,” says Leontidis, crediting changes to the company’s approach to sourcing, including working with Airbus and Boeing on long-lead items to shorten the cycle. FlightSafety, meanwhile, will deliver its ninth 737NG simulator for Alteon within 12 months.

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Source: Flight International