Simulation – A Safety Credit

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Have you ever flown a flight simulator . . . either for fun or as a dedicated training device to improve your  aviation skills and decision making? You may have merely sat in front of a computer and flown a version of Microsoft Sim or taken control of a vastly more expensive Level D full motion device.  Either way, you will have benefited from some sort of training. Aviation simulators go by many names, including full flight simulators (FFS), full mission simulators (FMS) flight training devices (FTD), advanced aviation training devices (AATD), basic aviation training devices (BATD) and many other variations.  Each type of device may have different uses, certifications, and applied regulations. Presently, international regulatory organizations use different means of identification, although you will see the generic term Flight Simulation Training Device (FSTD) being used to describe all these devices.  Here is a comparison of the current Helicopter FSTD Levels between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO): 

FAA  EASA  ICAO  Comments 
BATD AATD   FNPT I  Type I  EASA -Flight, Navigation, and Procedures Trainer FAA – Basic or Advanced Aviation Training Device FAA: All devices are approved by the Training and Simulation Group, AFS-280 
FTD 4       Part Task trainer only – does not simulate an aircraft, only a system 
FTD 5   FNPT II FTD 1  Type II  EASA and ICAO require visual systems.  FAA does not. 
FTD 6   FTD 2    Requires flight data and specific cockpit.  Does not require low speed (hover, etc.) data. Visual system is optional for FAA. 
FTD 7   FTD 3  Type III  Requires both low and high-speed flight data and high-level visual system.  FAA and ICAO require vibration system. 
FFS A   FFS A    Level A is not used in FAA.  Very few in EASA. 
FFS B   FFS B  Type IV  Requires motion, flight data and specific cockpit, Low speed flight data is not required by FAA and EASA but is required by ICAO. 
FFS C   FFS C  Type IV or V  Requires motion, both low and high-speed flight data and specific cockpit.  
FFS D   FFS D  Type V  Requires motion, both low and high-speed flight data, and specific cockpit.  Also required technical data for sound and vibration. 

Work is underway to try and re-align these definitions into a simpler and internationally acceptable naming convention but in the meantime, you will have to work with this. 

Are we giving flight simulators enough credit for their uses?  Level C and D high fidelity FFS devices get the regulatory maximum credits, but the lower fidelity devices are often only credited for certain types of training…such as instrument flying for example.  I would maintain that ALL simulators, despite their level of fidelity, have a use in any well-organized aviation training system and should be used accordingly and appropriately to improve safety and decision making, including in an emergency.  This simulation discussion is not a new one.  Back at the opening of the 2014 Heli-Expo Trade Show, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a safety alert entitled, “Safety Through Helicopter Simulators.”  They stated that there is evidence that helicopter pilots face significant risk in flight and are sometimes found to be insufficiently trained at handling certain problems that may occur while in flight.  The NTSB clearly states that many of these issues can be resolved or at the very least improved using helicopter simulation.  

The first interesting fact about this safety alert is its title, “Safety Through Helicopter Simulators.”  Notice that it does not say “flight simulators,”  but rather, uses the word “helicopter” specifically.  This was not a safety alert to say all pilots should use simulators for training, but an alert to helicopter owners, operators, and pilots that there is a problem that could be fixed by using “helicopter” simulators.    The NTSB was pointing their finger directly at the helicopter industry with this safety alert. 

The NTSB points out that the problems include improperly performed emergency procedures leading to accidents, training scenarios in the real aircraft limited in scope due to safety considerations, and the difficulty (in the actual aircraft) of trying to recreate the element of surprise and the realistic, complex scenarios that pilots may face.  Certainly, no helicopter pilot wishes to go out and actually crash during a training flight, but all helicopter pilots want to be ready to cope with emergencies that may arise.  Years ago, the only place to conduct high risk simulated emergencies was in the actual aircraft.  Today, there is a better way. 

The NTSB examined three major accidents that illustrate the lack of quality training and how that lack of training impacts safety. The first accident involved an emergency medical helicopter on a patient transfer that crashed just short of the airport from fuel starvation, killing all four occupants.  The second accident involved loss of situational awareness during a night flight while the pilots were wearing night vision goggles that resulted in a collision with the ground and three fatalities.  The third accident cited was a result of an inadvertent entry into the clouds.  In all 3 accidents, the NTSB suggested that these accidents may have been prevented if the pilot had previously experienced similar conditions using a simulator in a training environment. 

You can view the NTSB Safety Alert here: to include their recommendations.

…apply your own safety credit by graduating student or recurrent pilots who are well versed in aviation decision making in adverse situations and have already safely “learned from their mistakes” in the simulator.

I am advocating for aviation simulators and the safety benefit they bring to the helicopter industry. Don’t wait for our regulators to give you the credits you need to complete (or reduce the cost of) your training courses.  Find the right level of device to suit your operation and apply your own safety credit by graduating student or recurrent pilots who are well versed in aviation decision making in adverse situations and have already safely “learned from their mistakes” in the simulator.

Nick Mayhew
Emeritus, USHST Industry Co-Chair