Updated: May 13
2020 is behind us but the pandemic and its problems continue to haunt us in 2021. The industry still seems to be predicting a 2023/2024 time frame before we get back to pre-Covid normals. In the meantime we at Sim Ops have been observing some interesting changes with the way business is conducted in our industry and discussing if these changes might well continue in the medium to long term as part of the “new normal”.
A conundrum of resources
Of the saddest things we have seen in simulation is the number of skilled people, from both Training Device Manufacturers (TDMs) and operators, who have lost their jobs over the past year. This has created a pool of highly skilled and experienced people looking for work. At the same time, we have seen a continued demand for people, see below regarding installations for example; but these people are often in the wrong places and with strict health and travel restrictions they are effectively unavailable.
New way for Device Installations
During the pandemic, while shipping of devices has continued as before, albeit at a much-reduced rate, the sending of TDM personnel to customers’ sites has gone from difficult to nearly impossible. Flight Simulator Training Device (FSTD) installations, particularly Full Flight Simulator (FFS) installations, have traditionally involved a large team of TDM personnel traveling to the customer’s site from the TDM’s home nation. That team has typically included installation fitters, hardware commissioning, software engineers and qualification specialists. The costs of sending and maintaining these resources on site can range from high to extremely high depending on the location of the installation. What we have seen in this crisis, born out of necessity, is an increased appetite with the TDMs to sub-contract this work to locally based contractors in the customer’s country or region; indeed, at Sim Ops we have ourselves carried out several installations on behalf of a TDM whose team were in lockdown, or where mandatory quarantines in the home and host countries proved prohibitively long and expensive. For the TDM this makes financial sense if the appropriate resources are available.
Do-It-Yourself OSA and Remote Qualifications
It doesn’t only stop at the physical installation of FSTDs; the same principles can and are being applied to the acceptance and qualification of FSTDs. We have heard of at least one TDM carrying out On Site Acceptance (OSA) remotely with their customer following installation; the end user conducting tests with appropriate personnel and then conducting remote nightly de-briefs with the TDM.
A frustration for us at Sim Ops is seeing the error that some acquirers of FSTDs make in expecting that it is the sole responsibility of the TDM to get the device qualified, making the TDM’s site team run the Qualification Test Guide (QTG) for authority submittal for the MQTG themselves. Great for obtaining the certificate but often leads to problems of quality control when it comes to repeatability checks to support recurrent qualification!
Some authorities around the world have also been conducting FSTD qualifications of devices by working remotely together with the TDMs and trusted operators personnel to appropriately conduct both objective and function subjective testing without actually getting in the FSTD on site.
In Sim Ops’ view the way it should be done in the future is with the customer taking full technical ownership of the device from installation onwards and establishing the device as part of its Compliance Management System (CMS), and all that it implies. Sim Ops’ partners have, over the years, seen several examples of poorly performed and supported OSAs by the operator’s team and the resulting avalanche of complaints from the instructors using the device post qualification.
What other Opportunities are there?
Well, several; for a start it is hard to imagine a quick return to in factory design reviews with Customers physically attending for some time yet. The pandemic has highlighted what a lot of people secretly knew already; meetings with presentations and “death by PowerPoint” are perfectly capable of being done virtually.
Then we have the training of simulator maintenance technicians. Long seen as a right of passage for an operator’s sim techs, the extended stay at the TDM’s facility with weekends to explore different countries/cities are off the table at present and liable to stay that way. If university degrees can be taught remotely so can FSTD technology and maintenance procedures. The increased availability and use of Virtual Reality technologies further support the possibility to interact with the FSTD virtually to learn and practice maintenance operations.
Industry Went Virtual
We discussed in a previous blog [see Goodbye and Good Riddance to 2020] how many industry conferences went virtual in 2020. This worked well but we at Sim Ops certainly hope and believe that this will be a temporary situation., However, it does seem likely that the many working groups these conferences initiate might well stay virtual, indeed an advantage would be more regular meetings and wider participation.
An Increased case for Locally based FSTDs
For many years now some of the TDMs have been pushing the case for smaller and emerging airlines to purchase their own FSTDs, indeed we have discussed this extensively in previous blogs [see The Case for Localised Training, Writing a Request For Proposal , and Designing Your Training Facility]. The pandemic serves both as a reminder of the case for local FSTDs and an additional reason for them. Those airlines that rely on FSTDs in other countries have been facing a nightmare of continually changing travel restrictions and quarantine rules; and who is to say that this will be the last throw of the dice for the virus, we have already seen mutations. This allied with the changing regulatory framework should, we believe, be cause for the dusting off of business cases and supporting the wider range of FSTDs available to, as one former TDM used to say, Train@Home enabling more training more often and not just the regulatory minimum.
Why would we change back?
The one thing for sure is that if, as a result of the pandemic, new ways of operating have been identified that save money, are they liable to stay? As with all traumatic events, be it in your own personal life or business, they usually result in a period of reflection. With that in mind we find it hard to believe TDMs will want to go back to more expensive ways of working if the new ways of working are seen to be effective. And for FSTD purchasers, in the likely post pandemic economic conditions, any savings are going to be most welcome.
How can Sim Ops Help
One of the strengths of Sim Ops is the depth and breadth of our network, we are able to provide qualified personnel at reasonable rates in many of the countries in the world, so far we have not been unable to find the right people in the right country; if you want to get local give us a call or contact us here .