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Buying a used Flight Simulation Training Device (FSTD)

Updated: May 18, 2021


Buying a used FSTD can be a cost-effective way to obtain training capability at a reduced cost and with reduced lead times. However, there are some potential pitfalls that need to be carefully navigated. This article introduces you to the topic, what needs to be considered and some practical steps to be taken.

What are the issues that need to be considered?

Regulatory Issues

When considering the purchase of used FSTDs careful attention needs to be paid to the need for re-qualification after it has been moved. Just because the device you are considering to purchase has a qualification to a particular standard does not automatically mean that, when installed in your facility, it will retain that level of qualification with your regulator. Regulations have changed frequently over the years so it is likely that any device you purchase would originally have been qualified under a now superseded standard, or a standard not acceptable to your current regulatory authority. Whilst the current operator will probably enjoy “grand-father” rights from their governing authority, allowing them to maintain the original level of qualification even though standards have changed, you may not. Particularly if the device is going to be moved between different jurisdictions. For this reason it is wise to consult with your authority at the very outset of the project, certainly before signing contracts.

Required Up-dates (Up-grades)

The likelihood is that whatever the device you buy it will need to have certain updates and/or upgrades (an upgrade being an update that increases qualification level and thus the training that may be carried out on the device). These need to be factored into the purchase price. It is hard to be definitive but common areas are the visual system Image Generator (IG) (even if the IG does not need replacing it is probable you will need new visual databases), projectors and the aircraft standard to which it is built (particularly for devices simulating Airbus aircraft types). It is also necessary to check that the device is up to date on training capabilities. For example, at the time of writing, it would be wise to check that the device had been updated for TCAS 7.1 and that Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) capabilities had been added. But, again, it is important to consult with your authority and your end users; they will probably insist that updates and upgrades comply to the current regulatory standards.

The last area to be considered is the flight deck configuration, even in these days of standardisation of simulator configurations there are options; engine types, thrust ratings, Flight Management Computer (FMC) types, Head up displays for example. It may well be that the device needs to be changed to meet your end user’s requirements for their training needs.

Once the work required has been scoped it is imperative to obtain firm quotations for the required updates before finalising the price.

Assessing the device

Prior to making a selection it is imperative that you carry-out both an objective and subjective assessment of the device. Both need to be diligently carried out. This is likely to be a two-phase exercise, especially if you have several devices to choose between. Firstly, an initial subjective assessment by a trusted pilot and instructor, preferably your Head of Training (HOT) and your quality manager or maintenance manager; a four-hour slot should suffice for this.

Once there is a serious interest in a device a further comprehensive assessment is required, this will likely take at least a day so neither you nor the vendor will want to do this until that time. For the subjective assessment we would recommend a two stage approach, first conduct a sample training session on the device using one of your own lesson plans. The next part of the subjective assessment should concentrate on finding the limitations of the device at the edges of the simulation. For this include items relevant to the training you plan to conduct such as:

  • Repositions – ground to air, air to ground, air to air

  • Flight plan copy and restore

  • UPRT scenarios

  • Wind-shear scenarios

  • TCAS scenarios

  • Important malfunctions from your training syllabus

  • Abnormal and emergency procedures

  • Single engine go-around

  • Turbulence/weather effects

This is an example list, however the important thing is to go into the session with a predefined list. Don’t forget to test ancillary systems, such as briefing and debriefing systems if they are fitted.

The objective assessment should not only consist of a structured inspection but also you should insist on witnessing the running of some QTGs, these should include items such as controls, sound, motion and transport delay. If the visual is not being replaced as a minimum check the brightness levels. As well as these checks carry out a thorough inspection of the device records, including:

  • Last two re-qualification reports

  • Current QTG status

  • Maintenance logs

  • Last two quality fly-out reports

  • Operating statistics over the last year including availability, interruption rates and training achieved

Carry out an inventory of the device and spares for inclusion in any subsequent sales contract.


You will need spare parts for the device, hopefully the current owner will be including these in the sale of the device but this is by no means certain. If the current owner has other devices of the same technology they may well want to retain the spares to support the retained devices. The other issue is ownership of the spares; these may be on consignment and the device manufacturer may own them. In any case it is prudent to discuss spares availability with the device manufacturer to ensure that parts are still available and that they retain a repair capability for rotable parts.

Data fees

The majority of FSTDs now have embedded in them Intellectual Property (IP) from the aircraft manufacturer and, in the case of re-host or re-target avionics, the avionics manufacturers. The licenses/end user agreements for these will need to be transferred and some of these IP owners will require transfer fees to be paid. The first challenge is to obtain a comprehensive list of these licences, in some cases the device owner may not be fully aware so the device manufacturer should also be consulted.

It is also the case that the device’s TDM may require you to sign a licence transfer and/or end user agreement. We have also heard of some requiring a fee to do so but these can normally be avoided if the TDM is engaged in either the move or updates. These agreements should be carefully checked, many FSTDs are sold with source code licenced to the original owner only, if you require source code make sure the rights are transferred and that it is physically on the device.

Moving the device

Inevitably the device will need to be moved. Fortunately there are a number of options available to accomplish this, the original TDM will be able to give you a quotation but they are unlikely to be competitive unless the move is bundled in with other services such as updates. However, there are a number of independent companies who have good track records in moving devices. When selecting one ensure that they have previous experience moving the type of FSTD involved and operating in the countries involved.

It is unlikely that the device will be still under warranty from the TDM, if it is there is a good chance that moving the device, without their involvement, will result in the warranty being voided.

Setting the Price

Agreeing a price is by no means easy, the simplistic view would be to look at the percentage of the device’s life left and apply that to the price of buying an equivalent new build device. This will however not be definitive. As with buying a new FSTD the first step is to complete a business case which will show the price point at which the purchase makes financial sense. For the cost side of the equation you will need to take into consideration all the factors discussed herein, including the following:

  • Purchase price of the device

  • Cost of relocating

  • Facility modifications if relevant

  • Cost of required up-dates/up-grades

  • Cost of spares

  • Data licence transfer fees

  • Cost of training staff

  • Regulatory authority fees

  • Taxes/duties

This will give the true cost of acquiring the device it will need to be compared with that of a new FSTD and the income/saving side of the business case.

Of course, there will be a “market rate” for the device, this will be hard to verify and the best advice is to exercise your network and ask people you know. That said if the business case works the price is good for you.

How Do I get started

As indicated above, the first item is to complete your business case, this will set a budget. Once this is established, consider how long you want to operate the device for. Chances are that if you are an airline you will primarily focus on the anticipated life of the aircraft type in the airline’s inventory. For a training centre you need to consider the likely life of the type in your region. This will give you a good indication of the remaining life required from any device purchased, FFS devices have a typical life of twenty years. It is then time to start the search for a device, there are a number of small companies who advertise available devices and they can assist for a fee.

How can Sim Ops Help?

At Sim Ops we have connections with many of the companies specialising in sourcing used devices and those moving such devices, this can simplify your search. We also have many years’ experience in the assessment of used devices; both in assessing the current condition and what updates will be required to have the device successfully re-qualified. We can help and/or lead you through the whole process or specific elements. Read more about our FSTD assessment and appraisal services.

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