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A Dedicated Follower of Change - Keeping up-to-date

In June 2014 the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) flight simulation group held a conference in London entitled “Keeping Flight Simulators Current & Capable”. At this conference one of the Sim Ops partners presented a paper; now, nearly ten years on, we thought it a good time to take another look at this topic.

There are many aspects that need to be considered but we think they are best looked at in three categories, first of all;

Things you have to Keep-Up-To-Date (KUTD) regularly

There are some things that you have little choice but to KUTD, either due to regulations or to keep your FSTD aligned with the operators’ charts and manuals. Within this category there are three main types.

Aircraft systems databases; this used to be largely limited to the Flight Management System (FMS) database, released on a 28-day cycle. However, depending on the aircraft type, there are now more databases to be considered including terrain and obstacle databases. For these a well-conceived FSTD will be able to utilise the aircraft fleets/operators update cycle treating each FSTD as another aircraft (just make sure your licences with the suppliers of these permit you to do so).

Ground Station Databases; these are often confused with the aircraft FMS databases, largely as the data format and content is, and should be, fundamentally the same. This is the data that populates the simulated environment and ensures navigation aids and IOS show beacons and glidescopes in the right places and the right frequencies. This will need a separate contract to receive the data (normally in Arinc 424 format), unless you choose to manually update, an option on many FSTDs, based on NOTAMs or crew reports.

Airworthiness Directives (ADs) and TDM service bulletins; certainly under EASA regulations you will have an obligation to monitor service bulletins, particularly Airworthiness Directives, on a regular basis and assess if they affect training thus need to be incorporated into the FSTD. For an airline operator access to the aircraft manufacturer’s Service Bulletins is easy, for an independent training centre you will need specific arrangements in place to access them. This is where things can start to be complicated (i.e. expensive).

The next category is;

Things you really ought to KUTD regularly

This mainly means:

Visual databases/models. Unfortunately for our industry, airports across the world have a pesky habit of doing things like changing taxiways, adding runways, building new terminals etc. So your models will over time need changing. In some cases this could be because runways have been re-designated due to shifting magnetic north, leading to a mismatch between navigation databases and visual models. Of course you could wait until you get an authority write-up but not the best way to manage things, remember that the requirements or the Primary Reference Document will be that the models accurately reflect the airports you are using. 

Finally there are longer time-cycle things;

Things you should be managing

The whole aim of FSTDs is to train crews, in the case of type-specific devices, to train them on that specific type. Unfortunately over time the aircraft fleets get modified. We noted above that EASA operators are obliged to have robust processes in place to monitor service bulletins. Unfortunately it's not quite so easy; whilst databases and visual models are just a case of setting up subscriptions and paying money. Implementing updates to incorporate ADs can be another story. First hurdle to overcome is getting the data to do it, now that a lot of FSTDs are based on the aircraft manufacturers defined standards you may have to wait for the modification being released as part of a future new standard. Then of course you need to wait until your TDM has implemented the new standard.

All to say that in addition to monitoring SBs and ADs you need to follow the evolution of the aircraft manufacturers standards. The decision on whether or not to implement a given aircraft standard is anything but easy. Firstly there are the costs involved, with operators being at the mercy of the TDMs costs to implement them in addition to any fees required by the aircraft manufacturer. But then there is the issue of a new standard introducing many features not on the aircraft the FSTD is used to train, so introducing the need for differences training if implemented. Fortunately the aircraft manufacturers do support some stand-alone updates but not all. There may well come a point whereby you are forced to either replace the FSTD or go to the latest standard.

Another source of changes are where training requirements change, we saw this over the last decade with the introduction of UPRT training and the knock-on requirements on FSTDs.

Lastly, with the move towards product loads by some of the TDMs (see our Blog on this topic “Product Loads - the good the bad and the ugly”) on popular aircraft types you may need to keep abreast of the evolution of these; and again may need a subscription.

So that’s all easy then, nothing to see here, right? 

What it all comes down to is putting in place contracts and processes for the things you can predict will change, so need to be kept up to date, and have a robust process in place to stay abreast of what is going on within the industry. Adding this topic to your monthly FSTD monitoring meetings is the first step followed by active engagement with your TDM, the aircraft manufacturer and Operational Sustainability Data (OSD) updates.

And remember that any changes you make to a qualified FSTD, under EASA supervision, will need to be assessed to decide if it is a major change.

How Can SIM OPS help?

At SIM OPS the partners have the scars to prove they have managed these issues many times over the years; if you need help navigating the issues involved contact us.

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