Australian company SimJet Training Systems has spent the past 10 years listening to the aviation industry's requests for affordable pilot training devices. The result was formally launched earlier this year in the form of a range of devices from procedural trainers to fixed-base training devices designed to bridge the gap between entry-level procedural trainers and full-flight simulators.
The Brisbane-based company, set up by former pilot Nicholas Kranenburg, has developed procedural trainers and fixed-base devices for the Airbus A320 and Boeing Next Generation 737, 747 and 777. Also under development is a Boeing 787 product.
SimJet's devices are priced in the region of flat panel training devices - starting from A$465,000 ($400,000) - but are a "quantum leap" in technology and capability compared with what has been available to date, according to Kranenburg. They feature increased fidelity, voice-activated air traffic control, a high visual database - down to 7cm (2.8in) at some airports - as well as seat motion.
The procedural trainers feature complete replica hardware (no flat panels), flight controls, an instructor station, worldwide airport and navigation database, a PC-based Windows environment, and a curved and blended visual system in a fully enclosed cabin. All aircraft systems are simulated accurately to ensure maximum transfer of learning to subsequent training in a level D simulator or aircraft, says SimJet. The devices are based on low-cost, off-the-shelf technology.
The A320 procedural trainer was displayed at the World Training Symposium in Orlando, Florida in April, and "caused quite a stir", according to Kranenburg, with a number of airlines asking for quotes. In particular, carriers in Asia and the USA have expressed interest, with Kranenburg believing the company is close to an order from a major carrier in Japan.
The company's first device - a 737-800 fixed-base trainer - has been operating with Queensland's largest flight training provider Flight Training Australia at Archerfield airport in Brisbane for multi-crew co-operation and jet transition courses for more than a year. That system, which features SimJet's in-house developed satellite visual database and a Christie Digital projection system, is also used for demonstrations and is the subject of constant research and development, says Kranenburg.
The technology has been under development for 10 years and is more necessary than ever, Kranenburg believes, with the accident rate increasing and the industry training to the minimum requirement. "The [accident] statistics are pretty worrying," he says, adding that 88% of accidents are a result of human error. "That's because people are missing out on the basics," he suggests. "If you train to the minimum that's a recipe for disaster," he adds.
And with airlines being increasingly finance driven, SimJet's low-cost training solutions allow training to be transferred from big, expensive full-flight simulators, he suggests, which is exactly what the industry is asking for. Kranenburg points to comments made by Boeing Commercial Airplanes training and flight services vice-president Sherry Carbary, for example, who has said that airlines need to rethink what training is done by full-flight simulators and what can be done more efficiently using a fixed-base device.
"We've produced the product," says Kranenburg. "We needed the technology to come down in price so people didn't have to question the cost and now it has. We can deliver significant increases in the competency of crews," he says.
Kranenburg says while it has been hard to enter the market, the company has had "an amazing response" to date and hopes to build on this. He also believes that SimJet has a head start on any potential competitors and the low-cost nature of the company - it employs just eight people but is looking to take on more - has allowed it to focus on low-cost products.
SimJet is looking at further development of its training devices. It is talking to Adacel, for example, which produces the voice-activated air traffic control module for its systems, on development of a complete mission trainer. The partners are looking to develop the trainer in time for the Asia-Pacific airline training symposium, scheduled for Bangkok in mid-September, to be followed by a demonstration tour.
"We will always be pushing ahead and constantly improving our products," says Kranenburg, listening to requirements from the industry and the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
Next is a possible move into defence simulation and training following attendance at the Australian SimTect simulation and training show, held in Brisbane in early June.
"We can see real military applications for our products," says Kranenburg, pointing to taking high-risk training out of aircraft and expensive full-flight simulators into SimJet's lower cost devices. "There's no reason to use A$10-20 million training solutions all of the time," he says, adding that he foresees a move into the local defence training market by the end of the year.