Which simulators can save you money?

August 4, 2009

simLet’s say you are a flight school that wants to save customers some money by using simulators, but you failed to win the lottery this year. Which ones fit in your budget yet are FAA approved to replace hours in the air? Or maybe you just want a simulator for your home and would like to know which ones are good enough to win FAA approval? You won’t be able to work toward a rating or maintain instrument proficiency by yourself, since the rules say an instructor must be present. But you’ll know the practice you get is on an FAA-approved device, and if an instructor ever drops by the house, you’ll get loggable time.

AOPA has placed online a listing of the simulators that meet FAA requirements and six companies that make them. You can find the report online. You’ll find programs that run on a PC and won’t break your savings account, assuming you have several hundred dollars in the account. Simulators range from those costing tens of millions to what we are talking about today, personal computer-based aviation training devices (PCATD). There are now basic (B-ATD) and advanced (A-ATD) devices that while inexpensive, meet training and currency requirements.

Ten hours can be logged toward the instrument rating using a PCATD or B-ATD. Or 20 hours can be used if the simulator is an A-ATD or a flight training device (FTD), meaning a full-size replica of the actual cockpit and instruments.

“Students benefit from flying approaches first on the sim, where we can pause it and discuss the procedure as we fly it,” said Craig Brown, a CFII and senior aviation technical specialist in AOPA’s Pilot Information Center. “There are no distractions, and we can focus fully on the procedure, itself. Then we get in the airplane and fly it for real. Most of my students save money in their flight training because the practice on the sim results in paying for fewer flight hours.”

Even the private pilot certificate allows use of a simulator. Up to 2.5 hours can be logged to meet private pilot requirements using the more expensive FTD, or the more affordable B-ATD or A-ATD. In fact, if you used all allowable simulator time for every rating from private through ATP, you’d have saved nearly 100 hours of actual flight time.

Remember, an instructor has to be present and give the instruction. But we’re starting to get technical on you, and you can sort it out yourself using the AOPA report on flight training devices. Or call AOPA’s Pilot Information Center at 800/USA-AOPA (267-2672).

Al Marsh

Alton K. Marsh | "AOPA Pilot" Senior Editor, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.