The qualification of flight simulators is always a difficult task. Not alone considering the simulators´ demanding qualification requirements, but also the difficult task of having all tasks resolved by the date of qualification.The process of course would be much easier, if it was not for meeting the tight time frames and budgets. So, what does the usual process look like?
Step 1: Customer orders FSTD after all decision-making processes have ended. Yes, of course, but usually the decision-making process is taking a lot longer than normally anticipated. As some manufacturers are not able to provide offers for their devices, especially when dealing with FFS, the time receiving an offer can easily take 3 months. According to our experience, there are even some fix-base FSTD providers (FNPTII or FTD) who will take ages to send out offers and making it impossible to have a comparison of offers on short-notice. Then, also inspecting those devices in the factory (which most often is not possible as devices are built just-in-time) or at a customers site (often not wished as competition is everywhere), the process takes a lot longer than desired.Problem is, when airlines or flight schools receive their aircraft they would also like to have the simulator at the same time. As FSTDs are usually not a serial product but most often a custom-built solution and customers are not familiar with the complicated processes of production and qualification here also, we experience a lot of pressure deriving from unrealistic desired delivery times. By the time negotiations start, normally FSTD manufacturers have enough time for production, but with all the delays, months of useful time are lost. We often hear customers saying:”But we need to start our course at that date!” We understand that, but usually it is not us delaying the process. So what else will happen to spoil a successful start of pilot training.
Step 2: Applying for FSTD qualification/ certification with your local CAA. According to most national aviation authorities an operator of a FSTD has to folow a strict protocol. You may apply for a so-called initial qualification several months prior to the desired date, but usually not earlier and also you can not rely on the desired date. Due to the high workload of the CAA inspectors, especially now as we face the transition to EASA, it can not be guqaranteed that desired dates can be achieved. Then most important, some CAAs will only accept apllications for FSTD qualification with “all” necessary documents sent in with the application. Two documents pose the most difficult problems. Usually, a quality system manual with FSTD procedures is needed, which is the duty of every operator. To produce such document according to EASA PART-FCL/ PART-ORA, customers need courses and a considerable time to produce this document. This process is often underestimated. The Qualification Test Guide – QTG, which is a document listing the performance data of the FSTD and which is specific to every device is usually a bigger problem. This document is huge and can only be produced once production of the respective FSTD has reached the terminal phase. So, here is the big problem! How to apply for an initial qualification 3 months before, when the decision making process has been long and a specific QTG can only be recorded 2 or 3 weeks before delivery? Some CAAs will accept a sample QTG document if comparable devices have been produced earlier. Some CAAs are just not willing to accept it. Ergo, sometimes the device is already delivered but the customer has still to wait for several months, which poses a huge problem for conducting cost-effective operations of a flight school or airline.
Step 3: Manufacturing processes & accepting FSTD at factory. We all know the problems even with small orders and repairs. You just can not influence them and for sure always something is going to happen. Parts are not delivered and more often…honestly, the attitude of some manufacturers and/ or their employees pose a big problem in meeting the deadlines. By not focusing on the processes and the quality or due to the lack of skilled personnel, by the time of acceptance, the device is in desolate condition. If the customer is not carefully inspecting the device, he will pay the bill as soon as it comes to qualification on-site! It is vital to check every aspect of the device and look into every detail carefully. But how to do that, if you have no experience with FSTDs at all? Some pilots might think:”Well, it just like the aircraft!” But it isn´t. FSTDs follow other regulatory rules and technical requirements. As we have seen the manufacturing processes over the years, we know about the typical problems. During acceptance, mostly a huge pile of problems is found which further delays the delivery.
Step 4: Shipping, customs and receiving devices on-site. Well, the shipping dates seem to be very reliable, just the decisions on air transport or by sea will show dramatic differences, but are always very easy to plan. Customs is a totally different problem. Usually, we anticipate customs periods of about 2 days to 7 days, but we have countless expamples where this process took about 2 months! After you pass the customs, even the delivery from final port to destination can be a problem. We had cases where the transport was robbed, the truck driver simply decided to come another day and where trucks and loading where damaged. This alone can spoil the whole delivery and installation process, especially when you planned it shortly before the actual qualification date.
Step 5: Installation & Testing with re-run of the QTGs. As we are all human, most customers will not read the requirments for the FSTD facilities cerafully. This often leads to a lot of problems during delivery. From small doors to not having simple crowbars or forklifts, we have seen it all. We had cases where we had to break up walls, and also we had an inexperienced crane-operator who flipped over a cockpit (we did not hire this guy, nor did we have the responsibility). Installing FSTDs is a very special process and not everybody can do it from start to the end. Once the device is installed, the whole retesting process starts and also parts of the QTG have to be re-run in order to ensure that performance of the FSTD has not changed. Here, again a lot of problems show up and once updates are done on the dvice, usually this is where you have even more problems.
Step 6: Judgement day! Day of the initial qualification! Assuming you have survived the process up to here, still there are a lot of possibilities to fail. Do you have all documents in available (Checklists, etc.)? Will the device operate reliably without any break-down? What type of character is the inspector? We had even seen problems with qualification once an operator started a huge verbal fight with an inspector and things got personal. You never know, what happens.
Final conclusion: It is recommended to have a professional partner to deal with every aspect of flight simulation! That is what we do and how we can help!