Providing AMERICAN’S PILOTS with the best training around
AMERICAN AIRLINES’ flight-training center is home to more than 25 flight simulators — including a brand-new one.
One of the coolest things I’ve done in the airline industry is to fly a US Airways Airbus A320 in a flight simulator in Charlotte, N.C. So, when I had the chance to head over to the American Airlines flight-training center to see the new B787 simulator, I jumped at the opportunity.
Bill Elder, B787 Fleet Training Manager, sat down with me to explain the process of taking delivery of one of these massive machines. “There’s about an 18- to 24-month lead time for these,” he explains. “This one took about 19 months.”
Built in Montreal by CAE, the simulator is assembled from the ground up, including a raw data kit from Boeing, which allows the sim to be as close as possible to an actual B787. Once CAE has assembled the simulator, American sends a simulator-acceptance pilot to fly and test it to make sure everything is working properly.
After the pilot gives the “in-house acceptance,” the simulator is disassembled, packed into three semitrailer trucks and transported to American’s training center in Dallas/Fort Worth. “The trucks have to take a specific route while transporting the simulator,” Elder says. “It takes them about three weeks to drive it down and then roughly a month to reassemble it.”
Once reassembled, the sim is passed on to a systems engineer and a test engineer, who make sure all the software is working correctly to mimic the exact feel of flight. From takeoff to landing, a flight in a simulator looks and feels almost exactly as it does in an actual aircraft. An American test pilot also works alongside the engineers to ensure the simulator is properly set up for the most effective uses for the pilots and trainers. “We have specific training systems that we input into the simulator so that every pilot receives the same training,” Elder says. “With the training programs already installed, we’re also more efficient spending most all of our time flying the sims.”
The simulator pilot gives another in-house acceptance and approval, and the simulator is then rigorously tested by the FAA. Only upon FAA approval can the sim be used for pilot training.
American’s training center operates from 5:30 a.m. to midnight every day, and there are currently 28 sims throughout the complex. “We have plans to take a new 737, an Airbus A320 and another 787 simulator by July of next year,” Elder explains. “We look at the number of pilots who need training and the rate of new aircraft delivery to determine which simulators we may need.”
And while taking delivery of one of the machines is a massive undertaking, the rewards are even greater. “The economic benefits of training in a simulator versus training in an actual airplane are immense,” Elder says. “But there are even greater safety benefits. We can do so much more in a simulator than in an aircraft, so the result is a greater quality of pilots with a much better proficiency.”