Updated: May 18
In July we took an overview of accepting your Flight Simulation Training Device (FSTD), this week we take a more detailed look at Factory Acceptance. Successfully completing the Factory Acceptance of your brand new or pre-owned FSTD, or devices, is a major undertaking in the programme and it is absolutely essential for everybody involved to get it right. Many of the decisions taken during this critical phase both by you, the customer, and by the Training Device Manufacturer (TDM) team will greatly influence future aspects of the programme. This paper introduces you to the topic, many of the aspects of Factory Acceptance (FA) that need to be taken into consideration and some hard-won experience that is worth sharing here.
What issues need to be considered?
Do I actually need to carry-out Factory Acceptance?
For the TDM FA is an expensive irritation, they want to get the FSTD out of the factory and on the way to your site as soon as possible. It is probable that during the procurement they will try to persuade you to forego FA, this will probably be by means of offering discounts or incentives to ship the device directly to site. They might also offer a reduced FA, for example on a Full Flight Simulator (FFS) they may offer FA without motion.
This is a decision not to be taken lightly, remember when discrepancies are found in factory the full resources of the TDM are on hand to correct them, be they hardware or software. The TDM can also be obliged to correct them prior to shipment and receiving the sizable stage payment normally associated with shipment. That said if you are purchasing a repeat order from the same TDM and trust them it may be appropriate for you; our advice though would be caveat emptor.
Roles and Responsibilities
FA represents a major milestone in the programme and as noted above it usually has several contractual key events attached to it, such as a significant payment due to the TDM on its successful completion, commencement of breakdown, packing and shipping of the equipment to site and so forth.
Aside from all the technical aspects of testing, checking and evaluating the FSTD simulated aircraft systems, and all the non-aircraft simulator-specific systems like sound, motion and visual, it carries important legal implications for both parties. Consequently it is critical that all those involved in the process from both sides understand their roles and responsibilities.
From the customer’s point of view, the scope, the output and content of FA will form part of the body of evidence which will ultimately show to any outside observer that due diligence has been completed. For their part, the TDM must be absolutely transparent in disclosing to the customer all the inhouse testing that has been carried out prior to the start of FA. No false assumptions or misunderstandings can form the basis of any testing subsequently carried out during factory or site acceptance.
Negotiation and some give and take is to be expected as part of the ongoing acceptance process and pragmatic programme management by both parties should find a successful path through the issues as they arise.
FA is the first real opportunity for the customer’s acceptance team to spend any significant time working together with the TDM’s team using the actual equipment. It is often surprising just how different the professional experience of a pilot is compared to that of a simulator engineer, even when they genuinely believe they both share a detailed knowledge of the same aircraft. The working relationship they form during this phase of the programme will heavily influence the following programme stages like site acceptance, its ultimate outcome and even future FSTD procurement decisions down the line.
Who Should be In Your Factory Acceptance Team?
Your Simulator Manager may well be your nominated team leader but he/she should ideally be accompanied by a very senior pilot who is both type-rated and very well experienced on the specific aircraft being simulated. This person might be your Head of Training, a Senior Instructor/Check Pilot or someone else you trust that you have brought in specifically for the task in hand. Ideally the team leader should be made available for the duration of FA such that one individual has sight of and is responsible for overseeing all key decisions made during acceptance.
Your team leader will have to be accompanied by one or more pilot colleagues as the workload is high and FA testing usually lasts for several weeks. Your acceptance team size will ultimately depend on the scope and nature of the FSTD equipment being accepted, and the number of shifts worked per day/per week that FA is scheduled across.
In addition to pilots, it is strongly recommended that your acceptance team includes a senior engineer familiar with simulator technologies; that is someone who understands how the various computers, avionics, motion, visual, sound and control loading systems work. These simulator-specific systems cannot replicate the aircraft behaviour in all aspects and so compromises have to be made and this person becomes critical in advising the pilots and helping the team to make the right decisions.
Both parties must prepare thoroughly in the run up to commencement of FA. All participants should be familiar with design decisions and any/all customer options that were selected at previous programme design reviews, so that everyone shares a common set of objectives and outcomes. FA testing is the first real opportunity for you to use the FSTD that will ultimately provide the pilot training and testing you need.
Your FA team members, their start and end dates, their accommodation and travel arrangements and so much more besides all needs careful planning well in advance.
The TDM must ensure all third parties needed to participate in the acceptance process, such as visual or motion system suppliers, have been planned in too.
Effective communication at all times between your team and the TDM’s people is fundamental to success. The nature of FA means people are often working long shifts around the clock, during weeks and over weekends and so keeping in touch, maintaining shared objectives and a set of defined priorities can be difficult. Daily pre-briefings and debriefings on either side of FA sessions are a common and effective way to exchange information.
What Sort of Testing Should We Do During FA?
You might be surprised to find that there is not a standard answer to this question. The type and scope of testing to be conducted during factory and site acceptance phases is open to customer preference to some degree, accepting of course that everything and anything required by the regulatory authority(s) is mandatory. Ultimately the responsibility lies with you, the operator of the FSTD, to prove and to demonstrate to the outside world that your acceptance team has done everything humanly possible to test, check, verify, quantify, evaluate and qualify the performance of the training equipment you provide.
The scope and nature of testing for FA should always be discussed and agreed with the TDM at the various programme design reviews which occur well before the start of FA. Typically it comprises running combinations of Aircraft Systems Acceptance Test Manuals, Operational Flight Profiles, Customer Lesson Plans, Freeplay Scenarios, continuous snag or defect checking as well as running some/all available tests from the Qualification Test Guide (as applicable).
Problem Recording and Tracking
The TDM will provide you with a database system to record and subsequently track all problems identified during FA in sufficient detail to allow everyone to understand the problem, to follow the diagnosis and then to jointly accept the solution. The database will come with a Human Machine Interface (HMI) and sufficient apps capable of extracting metrics and measuring progress. To work properly, these databases must be accurate in content and kept updated daily.
Software and Hardware Configuration Control
Unfortunately the pace of the modern world does not allow development and testing phases to happen serially. These activities are forced to run in parallel, such that FA testing often happens all day long and then bugs are found, reported and hopefully fixed overnight. Problems can multiply exponentially if the same software load is being shared across several FSTDs in build and test at the same time. Multiple development and testing loads are required in order to do this parallel working successfully and the only way this can be maintained is through effective configuration control.
Remember to Have Some Fun
In amongst all these very serious topics, it is important to try and make FA enjoyable for all participants. Some light-hearted humour, injected at appropriate times, does wonders to oil the wheels of the machine and, providing professionalism is never compromised and it does not become a distraction, a little humour can often make the difference between a miserable, dull and drawn-out process of box ticking or alternatively a great, enjoyable shared experience where everyone learns something new.
How can Sim Ops Help?
Between all of us, the Sim Ops team have literally thousands of hours of amassed experience of running and participating in Factory Acceptances all around the world, across every type of FSTD imaginable. We have seen many examples of best (and worst) practice in the industry so our team can help guide you safely through the minefield and avoid many of the pitfalls that await those that simply rush in without careful forethought and planning. Read more about our FSTD assessment and appraisal services.