Use and Benefits of Simulators

Michel MASSON • 4 March 2021
in community Rotorcraft

Ari Vatanen is a former World Rally Champion. If there’s a person who knows how to control risks in a high performance environment it’s him. With his Helicopter type rating revalidation to do, his Type Rating Examiner proposes to do the training and checking flight in a in a Full Flight Simulator. Will the simulator be good enough so that he can learn something interesting and pass his revalidation proficiency check?


Statistics show that many accidents happen during training flights so how can you get the training and type rating revalidation or renewal checking you need but in a safe environment? Have you considered the advantages of simulators over real aircraft for training checking and testing? As a pilot you need experience in certain emergencies and simulators provide the opportunity for excellent training with lower operating costs and without the safety risk.

Use of simulators – a priority of the EASA Rotorcraft Safety Roadmap 

Over the past few years the number of EU-wide fatalities caused by rotorcraft accidents has stagnated. The EASA Rotorcraft Safety Roadmap aims to reduce the number of accidents and save lives. It was developed by a group of experts from the National Aviation Authorities and the European rotorcraft industry. It is focused on a wide range of transversal issues including training, operations, initial and continuing airworthiness, the environment and innovation.

The main objective of the Roadmap is to significantly improve the safety of European rotorcraft, with a more specific target of a 50% safety improvement over the next 10 years. Another important goal is to strengthen the helicopter industry, mainly the small operators, in a sustainable way.

The Roadmap primarily targets light rotorcraft and small operators. The vast majority (about 90%) of European helicopter operators have a fleet of 5 or less helicopters and most own only one aircraft. Helicopter operations is a tough day-to-day business, trying to earn enough money whilst also keeping helicopter(s) flying. The majority of these helicopters are lighter rotorcraft such as the Robinson R44, the Airbus A350 and the Robinson R22.  Most of these operators are flying leisure flights, special operations such as aerial work mountain rescue missions and training flights. Light helicopters are also those suffering the highest number and rate of accidents.

The roadmap focuses on transversal issues and includes training, operations, initial and continuing airworthiness and innovation. Training is a Roadmap’s priority.

Many in-flight accidents happen in training. Some training scenarios are known to carry a high level of risk: for example, training for a loss of hydraulic power in flight on some rotorcraft is risky. If the risk of training for a particular failure situation is higher than the risk of suffering that failure in operation, that in-flight training scenario should rather be conducted in a simulator.

Crew training and instructional aspects have been identified among the most wanted actions to increase helicopter flight safety. Training is considered both an opportunity and a risk as 15-20% of fatal accidents occur during training flights. Using simulators reduces the risk of flight training accidents. Use a simulator Instead – It might save your life!

Types of simulators 

The different types of helicopter Flight Simulation Training Devices (FSTDs) are defined in the EASA CS FSTD (H) (Certification Specifications (CSs) and Acceptable Means of Compliance (AMCs) for FSTD (H)). Here you find information about the definitions that include the technical minimum requirements or standards for each level of qualification or type as well as the AMCs to demonstrate compliance with the defined standards to ensure an equitable system of training credits based on device fidelity.

The FSTD qualification levels are:

  • Flight and Navigational Procedures Trainer - FNPT I, II, III. Fixed based generic systems generally representative of a class of helicopter (single engine, twin engine, …). 
  • Flight Training Device - FTD 1, 2, 3. Fixed based systems representative of a given helicopter type. 
  • Full Flight Simulator - FFS A, B, C, D. High fidelity motion-based systems. Amongst these different types of FSTDs, FNPT II and FNPT III, FTD 2 and FTD 3, and FFS B, C and D are the more used today.

Benefits of simulators 

The EHEST leaflet HE 6 - Advantages of Simulators (FSTDs) in Helicopter Flight Training identifies various benefits of FSTDs:


The first and obvious benefit of using an FSTD for training is the safety of the training operation itself. In the FSTD, the training environment is designed and controlled to avoid actual safety risks for the trainees and instructors. In this safe environment, a trainee can make mistakes and errors and learn from them, perform and repeat normal and abnormal procedures, which may not appropriate or safe when performed in a helicopter. You can crash in a simulator but you won’t crash for real!

Where an FSTD of any level is available, all pilots (single and multi‑crew), irrespective of experience, should consider the benefits of regular training sessions in order to maintain and further enhance their skills, knowledge and decision making.

For those who do not have the means or access to an FSTD, there are numerous proprietary software flight simulation packages available for use on desktop computers. Whilst the use of these also enhances knowledge and flight safety, provided that appropriate behaviours are trained, they cannot replace all the benefits of using an FSTD with a qualified instructor. 

Emergency and Procedure Training 

FSTD offers opportunity to further develop more complex scenarios and training certain emergency procedures. In addition to the procedures outlined in the flight manual, the FSTD with appropriate level of fidelity can be used to practice emergency procedures, various manoeuvres and flight regimes such as autorotation, Unanticipated Yaw, Vortex Ring, Degraded Visual Environment (DVE), dynamic roll‑over, etc.

Refer for instance to the EHEST Leaflet HE 11 - Training and Testing of Emergency and Abnormal Procedures. The NTSB has investigated numerous helicopter accidents in which training in approved simulators could have provided pilots with additional knowledge and skills to handle in-flight emergencies and avoid manoeuvring errors.

Experience of Realism

FSTD use allows the pilot to experience more realistic and effective training, which includes managing startle and surprise in the cockpit, practice  diagnostic process and  troubleshooting procedure in a safe environment that allows learning from the errors made.

Availability and Serviceability

FSTD are available 24/7. Compare to helicopter, FSTD also offers further benefits to a training organisation, such as: no delays due to traffic congestion, In flight conditions: VMC /IMC and Day/Night, icing condition, selection as required regardless of the prevailing conditions and recognised high average serviceability (typically around 96-98%).

Economic Benefits 

The savings made when compared with actual flight time can be quite significant for complex helicopter types in a multi‑crew environment. Training in an FSTD is more cost effective. Additionally, whilst training in an FSTD, the helicopter is available to be used for revenue generating flights.

Environmental Benefits

The environmental benefits of using an FSTD in place of a helicopter include lower emissions, a lower carbon footprint, zero noise pollution and minimal impact on the local area particularly during night time.

Types of training 

Private Pilot License (PPL)-H 

As safety analyses regularly point to General Aviation as being a contributor to the high number of incidents and accidents, the use of appropriate FSTDs should be encouraged for performing specific training, safety manoeuvres and demonstrations. FSTDs can be used to train performing safety-relevant manoeuvres, such as:

  • Autorotation
  • Flight in Degraded Visual Environment (DVE)
  • Vortex Ring State (VRS)
  • Unanticipated Yaw
  • Static & Dynamic Rollover
  • Situational Awareness
  • Use of checklists
  • Cockpit management
  • Emergency procedures, including coping with technical failures
  • Unexpected weather encounter
  • Unusual attitude recovery training

Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) / Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) and Type Rating Training

The use of FSTDs for CPL / ATPL and initial type rating training is well established.

Recurrent Training 

The use of an FSTD for recurrent training is also well‑established. All recurrent training and checking such as Operator Proficiency Check (OPC) and even Proficiency Check (PC) may be performed on an FSTD. Note that a motion system is generally required to perform Proficiency Checks on a FSTD.

FSTDs are perfect for such training as command course and recurrent training under Line Oriented Flight Training (LOFT) conditions. This is where an FSTD becomes an invaluable tool by combining real time events with complex abnormal and emergency conditions.

Instrument Rating (IR) Training

The benefits of using an FSTD for initial Instrument Rating (IR) training have been recognised, as evidenced by the large training credits available towards the rating issue. For initial training an Approved Training Organisation (ATO) would typically use an FNPT. There are also training credits available for other ratings where an element of instrument flying is involved, i.e. PPL, CPL and ATPL / IR. FSTDs are also widely used for recurrent training.

The renewal and revalidation of the IR may be carried out in some of the higher-level devices. For all these applications an FSTD is a very efficient tool due to its capacity to perform essential training independent of real weather conditions without compromising safety.

Multi-Crew Coordination (MCC) Training

The benefits of using an FSTD for MCC training have been recognised, as the entire course must be completed in an FSTD. Multi-Crew Coordination Instructor (MCCI) certificate renewal and revalidation can be carried out in FNPT ll/lll MCC or FTD 2/3 or FFS.

Role and operations specific training

Due to the potentially higher risks involved in certain specific roles like off‑shore transportation, Search and Rescue (SAR), Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) and some Special Operations (SPO) applications, the FSTD is an excellent tool that enhances safe training without exposure to the risks involved in these operations. This applies to both initial and recurrent crew training.

Simulator decision making and Threat and Error Management (TEM) training

Simulators allow training decision making and TEM in demanding high-stress high-workload situations or in situations with poor, incomplete or conflicting information. Training scenarios can easily be adapted to the trainees needs. Simulators provide a safe environment to explore poor decisions consequences without facing the risk of an accident. Refer for instance to the USHST Recommended Practice Simulation Training for Aviation Decision Making.

Additional considerations

Motion sickness 

FSTD sickness is slightly different from the usual airsickness. The most often reported symptoms are sweating, fatigue, dizziness, and vomiting. Some pilots, even those who never have any problems during flight, get a little unsteady on their feet following a FSTD training session.

It is recommended for those who do not have FSTD previous experience, do not fly, or even operate a vehicle, for a period of time after an extended session in an FSTD.

Motion sickness can occur in both fixed and motion based FSTD. To minimise FSTD motion sickness, avoid FSTD training if you are fatigued or have an upset stomach. Take light refreshments only and maintain hydration, ensure adequate ventilation and temperature control and avoid abrupt attitude changes. Maintain balanced flight and minimise head movement. Besides, regular exposure to FSTDs helps adaptation.

Good training practices

Perform pre- and post‑flight briefings, which should include at least FSTD - Helicopter differences, capabilities and limitations, scenario / lesson preparation and training objectives. Perform a thorough debrief utilising CRM facilitation and Threat and Error Management (TEM) techniques.

The important role of the instructor

Even if most of the training can be performed on a FSTD, the instructor has a key role and must be qualified as TRI (Type Rating Instructor) or SFI (Synthetic Flight Instructor) or STI (Synthetic Training Instructor) to train in a FSTD. Training in a FSTD is different than in a real helicopter and it requires specific instructional skills. Please refer to the EHEST Leaflet HE 10 – Teaching and Testing in Flight Simulation Training Devices (FSTD).  

A summary of the main points

FSTDs are great tools to improve training benefits and efficiency, while avoiding trainings accidents, manoeuvring errors during the simulation of flight emergencies and reduce the risks involved in helicopter operations. FSTDs present additional advantages such as extended training scope and special manoeuvres training capability, 24/7 availability, all weather conditions, and progressive learning. FSTDs are also cost‑effective and environmentally‑friendly. For your next refresher training and type rating revalidation or renewal, invite your helicopter Flight Instructor and Type Rating Examiner to do it in a simulator!

Safe (simulated) flights!

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