Updated: Aug 5, 2020
When operating Flight Simulation Training Devices (FSTD), particularly higher level devices like Full Flight Simulators (FFS), it will be necessary to have an on-site maintenance team. This article introduces a first time operator to the topic, what needs to be taken into consideration and some practical steps to be taken.
What are the issues that need to be considered?
What needs to be done?
Compared to devices from twenty years ago the tasks required to be performed by your maintenance team are much reduced; no matter which Training Device Manufacturer (TDM) you obtain your FSTD(s) from you can now expect a minimum of 99% availability. But the 1% still needs to be catered for and there are regular routine activities that need to be carried out. At the top level these activities fall into two categories:
Scheduled activities, including
Between session turn-arounds
Customer configuration changes
Qualification Test Guide (QTG) re-runs
Un-scheduled activities, including
Correction of defects arising
Liaison with TDM on deficiency fixes
Applying TDM Field Service Bulletins
With modern FSTDs the routine, scheduled, activities are not onerous, the Daily Readiness consists of a short serviceability check and fly-out. Between sessions a quick inspection is required, reset of the IOS but sanitising the cockpit and headsets has taken on a new meaning these days. The scheduled maintenance and QTG runs will take less than one session per day.
Technicians or Engineers
In the recent past, and still existing in some traditional operators’ facilities, there were both Technicians and Engineers employed. While the Technicians took care of day-to-day operations the Engineers were employed to develop and install small up-dates to the FSTDs or to triage discrepancies. Times have changed and today most of the TDMs are supplying devices with product software loads that the operator cannot modify. Even if the operator has access to the TDMs source code they will not have access to the Aircraft Manufacturers’ models that form an increasingly large part of the simulator software.
As a start-up operation it is most unlikely that you will be able to afford to employ both teams, even if you wanted to.
One of the big dangers in recruiting a team of recent graduate engineers is that they will, naturally, expect a career progression that, unless you have a rapid expansion, you will not be able to offer them. Also, as noted above, the modern FFS needs almost no on-site engineering.
Hence the trend now is to recruit the majority of the team at a diploma level, not graduates, and employ technicians.
Where do I get them from?
The likelihood is that if you are setting up an operation in an area where there are no existing training facilities there will be limited pre-trained staff available for recruitment; even if there were, a premium would need to be paid to entice them to move to your company. That said it is always wise to have at least one of the team who has a minimum five years’ experience at team leader level. There are normally ex-Field Service staff coming to the end of their careers who are ideal for this role and can be found through agencies and advertising. For the rest, a popular way is to team with a local college/university to recruit trainees.
How many do I need
The costs of employing the Simulator Technicians is, for most operations, their highest recurring cost. So, there is naturally a pressure to reduce the number of employees to a minimum needed to maintain operations. Remember that you have a quality management and oversight obligation that is reviewed by the regulator with regard especially to FSTD performance metrics and staffing or resource levels.
There are two driving factors for this, the first is the number of days per week and hours that the centre will be open for. In reality most new ventures do not start with 7,000 hours training per FSTD per year booked; hence there can be a gradual build up of the team. The table below shows a typical profile, this of course depends on the local employment legislation regarding statutory rest days for shift workers and hours worked per week.
You will see that once the threshold of 5,000 hours a year is exceeded a 24/7 operation is required.
The second factor is harder to enumerate, this is your tolerance to fix times and your instructors willingness/capabilities to undertake simple actions. Sim Ops knows of one single FFS operation where they carry-out approximately 3,000 hours training per year and have only one maintenance technician. At this location the instructors are all able to start/stop the FFS. They are able as well to carry out a simulation re-load and complete their own turn-arounds and daily readiness when the technician is not on site. This operator has taken the view that at 3,000 hours they have enough spare capacity to reschedule in the event of a more complex issue. At 7,000 hours this is more difficult to imagine.
How do I train them?
The TDMs all offer technician training courses as part of their FSTD sales (either as standard or as costed options). These courses are of varying quality, but it has to be said that taking a newly recruited person, however talented, and putting them through these courses will not result in a fully operational simulator technician. These courses are good for existing simulator technicians, familiar with other FSTDs and the general principles but not for green recruits. Incidentally one of the worst things to do with a TDMs course is to send a mixture of new recruits and seasoned simulator technicians; the instructor will have great problems in bringing the whole class with him without the content going over the heads of some and being too slow for others. What should be considered is requesting two courses from the TDM; the first just before Ready For Training (RFT) and the second around eighteen months after RFT. It is important to remember that once the device goes into training it is very difficult to release the maintenance staff for formal 8hr/day training while they also are having to provide cover and maintenance for the device
For the basic simulator knowledge the team leader/manager can undertake a lot of this effort and it may also be possible to place staff at other operators sites for experience.
Another approach is to discuss in advance with the TDM to deliver the course as “Structured On the Job Training” where the course is less formal and on a varying calendar depending on crew training requirements. This can be delivered by a Field Service Representative (FSR) ensuring the FSR is chosen as having some instructor teaching experience. We have found this to be a very valuable solution for some customers and comes as an extension to the existing FSR role with the customer.
Each employee will require an individual training plan and this should cover both simulation general principles and the aircraft simulated (the airline General Familiarisation, Gen-Fam, courses and Type Rating Computer Based Training (CBT) courses are useful for this).
How Do I get started
The first task is to consider how many staff you will require; this should already have been considered when the business case for the operation was completed, as stated above this is probably the highest recurring cost. From here a recruitment and training plan can be put in place and implemented.
The first recruitment should be the experienced person destined to be the team leader/manager. They can then play a lead role in the remaining recruitment and training.
How can Sim Ops Help?
Sim Ops are well placed to help you through this process both in establishing the team and in supporting you while your team gains experience and becomes self-sufficient. Initially we can assist you in writing job specifications, interviewing candidates and establishing a training programme. Through our extensive network we can arrange for experienced staff to assist in the early months, or longer, including an experienced manager. Read more about how we can help with your Complete center operation.