Low-cost competition is set to shake up the simulation market.

Graham Warwick/Atlanta

Consolidation has left the flight-simulation industry smaller, but possibly stronger, as the market shows signs of beginning to recover. The airline recession and defence-budget cuts have made customers more cost-conscious, however, and low-cost simulation technologies are coming to the fore - bringing many new competitors into the field.

CAE has capped an eventful past few months with the acquisition of Inverton Simulated Systems in the UK. The Canadian company already has operations in Germany and Australia (the latter acquired from British Aerospace in 1994), through which it is pursuing local opportunities.

Inverton is expected to assume a role in CAE's contract to supply training systems to prime-contractor Loral for the Royal Navy's EH Industries EH101 Merlin anti-submarine helicopter. A UK presence will also strengthen CAE's hand against Thomson Training and Simulation (TTS), which combines former UK simulation rivals Link-Miles and Rediffusion.

CAE Electronics has dominated recent sales of commercial flight-simulators, but TTS is expected to fight back strongly in 1995, as its efforts to combine the marketing strengths of Link-Miles, Rediffusion and Thomson-CSF take effect.

The French-owned company, has had a strong start to 1995 in the military arena, having been selected by Lockheed Martin, to supply all the training devices, for the F-16 mid-life update (MLU) programme. The four European air forces updating 301 F-16A/Bs under the MLU programme, are expected to require two full-mission simulators and up to 14 unit-level trainers.

The decision was a blow for Hughes Training, which acquired Link from CAE early in 1995, only to see the company lose the MLU competition to TTS. Overall, however, it could be argued that the Hughes/Link combination has created the most powerful company in the US military flight-simulation market, with expertise in simulating the F-16, McDonnell Douglas F-18 and AH-64 and Sikorsky UH-60 - key aircraft on the international market.

TTS has broken into the F-16 market based on its combined experience in simulating European aircraft such as the British Aerospace Hawk, Dassault Mirage 2000 and Panavia Tornado. Future key training-system procurements include the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter EF2000, Eurocopter Tiger and NH90, and the UK and Netherlands attack-helicopter programmes.

Loral is strengthening its European presence and is likely to compete for combat-aircraft simulation contracts based on its experience with the Saab JAS 39 Gripen in Sweden and the McDonnell Douglas F-15E in the USA. Reflectone is also eyeing the European military market through its UK subsidiary, acquired from British Aerospace, which will play a leading role in the US parent-company's contract to supply training-systems for the UK Royal Air Force's Lockheed C-130J Hercules 2 transports.

In the civil sector, attention is focused on pending regulations, which will require US regional airlines to train to the same standards as the major carriers. This will require increased use of simulation and manufacturers are waiting to see whether airlines will buy their own devices or make increased use of simulators operated by training companies.

Regional-airliner manufacturers are already major providers of simulation training. ATR bought three ATR 42/72 simulators from TTS in 1994 for its French training centre and Jetstream Aircraft has Jetstream 41 simulators based with their manufacturer, Reflectone, at two US sites. Bombardier is expanding its training capability for the Canadair Regional Jet by acquiring more simulators from CAE.

Most regionals are unable to afford a full-flight simulator costing $10 million or more and, instead, are carefully watching industry efforts to develop low-cost flight-training devices (FTDs). While not all training, required can be performed in an FTD, it is expected to reduce the amount of time needed in the aircraft or simulator, so reducing training costs.

Canadian FTD manufacturer Atlantis Aerospace and visual supplier IVEX are sponsoring a scientific trial to determine the training benefits of a visual-equipped FTD. The results of this study are likely to influence regional-airline thinking.

Source: Flight International