Over the past months we have published several blogs and one thing they had in common is that they have been predominantly taking the FSTD operator’s perspective. To the extent that one Training Devices Manufacturer (TDM) is said to have taken umbrage to them; which is unfortunate and unintended. However, when we received an input from an ex-colleague with over forty years’ support experience in the industry we realised we needed to redress the balance a little. After all there are two sides to every story.
Why is your lack of planning my emergency?
Central to our ex-colleague’s point was that, instead of building ongoing relationships with the TDMs during the procurement phase; procurement tactics focus mainly on driving down the price to the lowest possible, leaving the TDMs with little room to invest in future support. He likened the behaviour of some of the operators to someone who waits until they are sixty-five before starting to plan for their pension and then blames everyone else when they have insufficient means to live. That is to say it is best to plan for lifetime support from day one.
So this week we are taking a look at areas where FSTD operators should perhaps look at themselves in the mirror a little.
It’s no secret that obsolescence is a major problem in our industry, any operator who buys an FSTD without thinking about long term spares provision is asking for problems. No TDM can possibly guarantee 100% that they will have every single part in stock for every single FSTD they build for the next twenty-five years and why would a TDM invest in resources when they don’t know there will be any future return. The operator who thinks otherwise is living in cloud cuckoo land. You need a policy; be it buying spares, regular updates or pooling with other operators - you need something, a through life operations strategy. We can tell you now that an operator raising an AoG service request for a replacement PC motherboard in 2046 for an FSTD built in 2021 is going to be very disappointed.
To Customise or to Standardise
Most of us at Sim Ops have been around a while, though perhaps not as long as our ex-colleague. Back in the day all Full Flight Simulators (FFS) and Flight Training Devices (FTDs) were designed and built to one specific aircraft’s configuration identified by a fleet tail number; indeed, to achieve FFS Level D you had no choice but to do so. Then came along Airbus G05 with their Airbus standards based on their fly by wire families of aeroplanes and their training experts determination of what was required to ensure the best common standards ; of course these were initially resisted at the time but now it seems the obvious way to go. However we still see some operators trying to over customise standard products; not only does this come at a premium price but it creates an ongoing overhead in maintenance, spares and support (particularly as the TDMs move increasingly to standard software loads). The question operators need to ask themselves is if they can achieve their training on a third party FSTD built to a standard and industry recognised configuration, do they really need to complicate matters and insist on customising their own FSTD?
In-house and On-site acceptance
In recent years the TDMs have all made efforts to reduce the time spent both in house and on-site going through acceptance, particularly the running of Acceptance Test Manuals (ATM) and, yes, for them this is partly a cost saving measure. But it is more than that. Running an ATM twice on a device that has a software load used on twenty already delivered FSTDs of the same type is pointless. FSTDs do need to be tested but the testing needs to be appropriate; what is needed for a first of type is of a different magnitude to what is needed on the twenty first device from the same TDM. Let TDMs run the ATMs and operators run the Operational Test Manual (OTM), that is go and use your lesson plans and the subjective tests you have included for the device in your quality system.
While talking about ATMs, a particular bug bear for the authors is the tendency for the operators to send staff to observe acceptance being run who have no idea how the system should work and instead just religiously follow the ATMs provided. All this proves is that the TDM has correctly coded the FSTD in accordance with their understanding of the system and as described in their ATM; right or wrong.
When the TDMs get the Aircraft Manufacturers data package there is, normally, a list of supported malfunctions giving cause and effect. These are hopefully derived from the failure modes analysis that is carried out during design and certification of the aircraft and in line with the abnormal and emergency procedures found in the aircraft’s Flight Crew Operating Manual or similar document. The TDMs implement these malfunctions in their baseline offerings.
But still the TDMs get demands for additional malfunctions for unproven scenarios, where there is little or no data, with questionable training value because Captain X wants to train this unique circumstance. Whereas a better solution may be adapting the training syllabus to determine the best practical method, possibly not even using the FSTD, to achieve the desired outcomes in more of a blended learning environment
Sadly it often becomes a numbers game. Don’t misunderstand us, we know how the additional requirements can come about and some of this fault can be self inflicted by the TDMs sales force. “Sure, you want twenty custom malfunctions, no problem”, “brand X is offering one hundred and fifty malfunctions, no problem, we will give you two hundred”, “you always have a malfunction for a coffee maker failure, no problem” - ok the last one is for effect, but you get the point.
The Instructors Operating Station (IOS) page review
At the outset let us just confirm that we get it; the IOS ergonomics, functionality and above all comfort are, given equal qualification standards, arguably the most important factors in an FSTDs usability.
One of the partners at Sim Ops once attended a design review where the operator stated categorically that they thought the proposed IOS layout was not fit for purpose and un-qualifiable; despite the fact was it was as specified in the device purchase agreement; their company already had an FSTD in service with the same IOS and multiple FSTDs from the TDM were in service with the same IOS.
Then there is the never-ending page by page review of the IOS pages. With; “I think that button should be on another page”, “that control is too small”, “that control ought to be a different colour” … Most TDMs now have a standard IOS software and page layouts with a configuration file that permits limited customisation where it can be quickly and easily implemented; if you want a designed from scratch non-standard product then be willing to get your cheque book out.
We have even once had industry initiatives to try and define a common IOS standard for optimised training and for TDMs to manufacture. Guess what happened…. nobody could agree as everyone thought their IOS was the right one, so industry abandoned the discussion.
The point being that no IOS layout in the world is going to be ideal for every instructor who will use it! Or, more bluntly, if you buy an Android phone you get an Android interface; if you want an iPhone interface buy an iPhone.
Given that the instructor demanding the changes will most likely only conduct 10% of the training on the device and only be in the company for a fraction of the time the device is in use, is customisation really worth the lifetime costs?
The TDM’s data void
Talk to any manager in one of the TDM’s support teams and ask them about Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF), Mean Time To Repair (MTTR), reliability, availability or in fact any ongoing monitoring data and watch them roll their eyes up to the sky in exasperation. There are a few exceptions but in general getting that data from operators, and yes it must come from the operators, is a nightmare. So, whilst it is common for operators to request guarantees on reliability during the procurement phase the TDM struggles to get the data from operators, often having to rely on data from their own operations. Does this matter, yes of course it does. How can the TDMs improve their offerings if they don’t get the data? With the advent of FSTDs utilising large amounts of Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) software, hardware, tools and utilities, that the operators then replace with locally bought spares, the TDMs are blind-sided.
The view from the TDM’s stands
The TDMs are under constant pressure to reduce prices, and we have all seen where that leads. So one way for them to do so is to standardise but this means the operators need to accept standard products. But more than that, to go back to our former colleague's point on an ongoing relationship, it needs to start at the very beginning and be mutual. The TDMs need to make a living, if they don’t they disappear and the choice available to operators is diminished. So next time you get your boss to beat-up the TDM’s management because of their failure to deliver you a spare for your twenty-year-old FSTD within twenty-four hours just pause a little to think.
How can Sim Ops Help
One of the strengths of Sim Ops is the depth and breadth of our network of experienced resources who have been through all the above, on both sides of the argument, from acceptance through to qualification and ongoing support. We are able to provide qualified personnel at reasonable rates in many of the countries in the world to support your business operations, so far we have always been to find the right people in the right country; if you want to get local, give us a call.