Simulator Sales Boom

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New Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL) training standards recently adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) are causing an explosion in flight simulator sales as training organizations and airlines rush to implement the simulator-heavy training regimen. Under the new standards, a student can become a fully qualified first officer with as little as 40 hours of actual stick time and 200 hours in the sim (although real-world beta testing suggests 70 to 100 hours flight time and 330 in front of the screen is more realistic). The new standards cut training costs by as much as half and speed up the process but it won't sacrifice training standards, according to Jeff Roberts, of CAE Inc., one of the world's largest simulator makers. "With the capability and fidelity that exists in simulation today, it's pretty hard to argue that we cannot create a synthetic environment that is as realistic as any physical environment that you can encounter," Roberts told The Canadian Press.

The new standards are expected to greatly streamline the training process as airliners scramble to find people to fill the front seats of their planes. CAE's own MPL training system is expected to create freshly-minted first officers for A320s and Boeing 737s in 45 weeks and within a few years it could be training up to 3,000 cadets a year. So far, there are only four MPL graduates flying. They're Norwegians working for Sterling Airlines and early assessment of their abilities has been favorable. ICAO spokesman Henry Defalque said the new standards should produce pilots better suited to the modern airliner cockpit. "I believe the pilot will be better trained, will be better equipped to cope with the sophisticated environment of modern aircraft than the commercial pilot that has been flying around in a Cessna 150 for almost 200 hours," he said.