Flight Training in Asia Continues Growth Trajectory5 min read
Pilot training in Asia-Pacific and Indo-Asian countries is important not just to augment the ranks of nationals available to fly for a country’s own airlines and general aviation operators but also for their military forces.
On the general aviation (GA) side, where pilots without military backgrounds launch their flying careers, most aircraft in those regions serve training roles rather than as personal vehicles. According to consulting firm and aircraft broker Asian Sky Group (ASG), in China alone, 65 percent of the GA fleet serve flight training roles, and 52 percent of the 3,066 GA aircraft in China are piston-engine airplanes typically used for training. Civil Aviation Flight University of China ranked as the top turboprop and piston fixed-wing operator in China with some 280 aircraft, according to ASG.
With demand for pilots in Asia projected to grow dramatically, the need for pilot training infrastructure is significant, and training academies, flight schools, and flying clubs are becoming more prevalent. Travel restrictions because of the Covid pandemic might account for some of the phenomenon; such restrictions all but halted the ability of many countries to send students to the U.S., Australia, and other countries for flight training.
Companies such as Montreal-based CAE have set their sights on the resulting opportunities with a variety of programs and training equipment, including simulators and complete training systems. “CAE sees tremendous potential across the Indo-Pacific region to increase the adoption of digitally immersive solutions to be used throughout training and operational support,” said Matthew Sibree, CAE managing director, Indo-Pacific. CAE employs 350 people in the region consisting of software, hardware, and visual systems engineers, program managers, and flight instructors.
“Asia-Pacific will see the strongest growth in pilot demand as the region’s fleet of in-service aircraft is projected to significantly increase. Strong economic growth, an expanding middle class, new low-cost carriers, new routes, and increasing competition make Asia-Pacific the fastest-growing region for air travel,” said CAE’s latest Pilot Demand Outlook.
India and China will continue to be significant markets for air travel, spurred by growing middle-class passengers as well as “relaxing of regulations and new investments in airports and air traffic management systems,” CAE explained. “India’s recent implementation of less stringent foreign ownership rules may help stimulate air travel growth.”
One reason flight training programs in Asia have expanded centers on airlines’ desire to develop local sources of pilots, rather than relying on expatriate contract pilots. Thus, some airlines have also created cadet programs to attract young people to aviation careers, often in partnership with companies like CAE.
CAE maintains 11 joint ventures with airlines globally, and six in the Asia-Pacific region, including India. In 2018, Singapore Airlines and CAE formed the joint venture Singapore CAE Flight Training to provide training for the airline’s pilots and other Boeing operators in the region.
In its JV with Japan Airlines, the two companies train third-party customers as well as operate a multi-pilot license (MPL) program for new pilots.
At Clark International Airport in the Philippines, CAE and Cebu Pacific formed a JV in 2012 to provide training for Asia-Pacific airlines and Cebu Pacific. That facility houses three Airbus A320 full-flight simulators.
CAE’s JV with InterGlobe Enterprises—CAE New Delhi—ranks as the largest training facility in India. It trains more than 5,000 people per year.
Other countries with CAE simulators include Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia, South Korea, China (Hong Kong), and Thailand.
Demand for simulators is growing, according to Nick Leontidis, CAE group president, Civil Aviation Training Solutions. The company has seen “a significant increase this fiscal year in full-flight simulator demand,” he said. First-half fiscal year 2022 sales reached 14 full-flight simulators. “While we remain off our FY20 capacity, we have resumed and increased output to respond to recent orders,” he told AIN.
As the pandemic took hold in March 2020, CAE took advantage of the market disruption and raised $1.5 billion in equity to invest in growth opportunities. I secured or announced nine acquisitions since March 2020. “CAE has been carrying out a growth strategy with the intent to emerge from the pandemic a larger, more resilient, and more profitable company than ever before,” Leontidis said. “Today, CAE is going through a corporate transformation at the leading edge of digital immersion, providing solutions to make the world a safer place.”
The efforts to expand its digital ecosystem will bear fruit in the business aviation market, led by launch partner Innotech-Execaire Aviation Group. The charter and maintenance company will use CAE’s suite of digital services to improve efficiency.
CAE will also serve the nascent advanced air mobility market in a strategic partnership for pilot and maintenance training with Beta Technologies, developer of the Alia eVTOL aircraft.
Such digital services form part of CAE’s training management ecosystem, which the company designed to enhance the training process by more effectively using data collected during training sessions. That includes “the use of artificial intelligence [to] identify ways to better predict how successful a pilot can be,” according to CAE. “The system is designed to ensure that data is collected at every step of the training journey. This data provides valuable insights on how to gain efficiencies and build better, safer pilots consistently.”
Here at the Singapore Airshow, CAE is demonstrating its digitally immersive solutions for training and operational support, including its Immersive Maintenance Guide (IMG) +Tempo training product. The system helps enhance and accelerate maintenance training using interactive 3D graphics delivered on tablet computers or virtual reality headsets. IMG’s incorporation of technical orders and Interactive Electronic Technical Manual information allows technicians to better understand the application to real aircraft and access the information right when needed. “Benefits of IMG include accelerated skills acquisition, built-in performance feedback, rapid ingestion of updated technical order data, and reduced need for live assets, to name a few,” according to Matthew Sibree, CAE managing director, Indo-Pacific. During a test of IMG with CV-22 tiltrotor technicians, the training increased student overall proficiency and confidence by 42 percent, he explained.
Further CAE activity in military aircrew training in the Indo-Pacific region includes the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s recent acceptance of a CAE 700MR NH flight training device. CAE also supports the RNZAF SH-2 Seasprite helicopter and T-6C Texan II fixed-wing training programs. CAE simulators in Australia train crew on the Hawk Mk127 lead-in fighter, C-130J transport, KC-30A MRTT, MH-60R maritime helicopter, CH-47F medium-lift helicopter, and MRH-90 battlefield helicopter. Many of those programs include facilities management, courseware development, and in-flight training services. Hawk Mk127 pilots will also train using CAE’s biometric data and eye-tracking systems, in partnership with Seeing Machines. “Using data analytics, we hope to gain further insight into cognitive capacities and leverage this science of learning to optimize learning curriculum,” Sibree said.
The Republic of Singapore Air Force’s CH-47 Chinook simulator reached the final phase of an upgrade by CAE. The company also supports flight training services for the Royal Brunei Air Force and the country’s oil and gas sector. CAE is supporting the Indian Defence Forces on a variety of aircraft types. Meanwhile, under a subcontract with Boeing, CAE is developing simulators for Indian Navy and RNZAF P-8 maritime patrol aircraft.