These days, there seems to be an obsession in the entertainment world with “reality” — or more accurately, simulated reality. Seeing how people respond to unusual situations can be interesting, even entertaining. But at American Airlines and American Eagle, simulation is serious business, and in fact, it is one of the cornerstones of the world-class training we provide our pilots. In this month’s column, I would like to tell you a little bit about the sophisticated flight simulators that have become our most valuable training tools.

By the time we hire them, most of our pilots have a college degree and have spent thousands of hours flying, either in the military or elsewhere. Once hired, they quickly learn that training is a way of life at our company. Each of our more than 9,000 active pilots spends at least two months in training before ever climbing into one of our cockpits. What’s more, we require every pilot to attend recurrent ground and flight training courses every nine months. Even more training takes place when pilots are promoted or switch from one aircraft type to another.

Recurrent training enables our pilots to polish their skills on our ever-changing technology, and gives them a chance to build proficiency at unusual environments and maneuvers. Our state-of-the-art simulators are the key to making that happen. Simulators, which cost up to $15 million, have revolutionized pilot training. In pre-simulator days, pilots who had finished ground school continued their training in actual cockpits. First came learning to use the systems and instrumentation, then gaining experience at actually flying the airplane. The system worked well enough, but it was very expensive and, because hazardous situations had to be avoided, training focused mostly on routine maneuvers under favorable conditions.

Today, instead of training in aircraft, we use our fleet of 33 full-motion simulators. During the last four decades, simulators have evolved, from near-stationary boxes that were little more than instrument trainers into hydraulically driven, full-motion machines that pitch, heave, and yaw, thus creating sensations simulating virtually every possible type of real-flight experience. Using the simulator’s automation software, an instructor can call up all manner of scenarios to test a pilot’s skill and proficiency.

Today’s modern simulators can create any number of unusual circumstances, from wind shear or ice accumulation to engine fires or failures. Dealing with these simulated emergencies, as well as with situations like abnormal aircraft positions at high altitude, gives pilots an opportunity to execute the recovery maneuvers that will prevent a bad outcome in the unlikely event they encounter similar problems while flying the line. Our simulators are also equipped with highly detailed visual displays that, from the pilots’ seats, look like the real thing. These visual capabilities are particularly helpful when pilots must be trained to execute special maneuvers to deal with unusual geographic factors at a particular airport. As a pilot myself, I can testify that the simulator experience is very realistic.

It takes a dedicated maintenance and engineering staff of nearly 125 highly skilled professionals to keep our simulators — which are in use 365 days a year — humming. Given the enormous investment it takes to own and maintain these machines, it’s not at all surprising that other airlines, as well as the military, come to us for help with their training.

I truly believe our pilots are the premier aviators in the business. We hire only the best, and we spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to make them even better. Thank you for flying with us today.

Picture of Gerard Arpey

President & CEO
American Airlines