Flight simulator capacity, how well are simulators utilized?


In this article we compare the global flight simulator capacity with the demand for simulator training.

In May 2018 FlightGlobal estimated that the flight simulator market, as of 2017 consisted of 1,269 civil simulators in service, with 85% of these being Full Flight Simulators. If we Assume that every simulator could be utilized 20 hours a day that would equal 7,200 hours per year adding up to a total global flight simulator capacity of 9.3M hours every year.

Looking at the simulator user side, CAE Airline Pilot Demand Outlook 2017 suggest there are 290,000 commercial pilots. If we make the assumption that the average pilot needs 16 simulator hours per year (based on average amount for recurrent training, type ratings, Command upgrades, UPRT, and other simulator training), the total global demand for simulator hours equals 4.6M per year.

This would suggest a huge overcapacity of over 100% with 4.7M excess simulator hours every year, the equivalent of 650 simulators. Note that some of these simulators represent older, less used aircraft types. Another reason behind this low utilization is certifications, meaning one simulator certified in one country may not be recognized in another. EASA and FAA are working on mutually recognition of simulator certifications but are not there yet. Also travel costs and union requirements associated with the location of the simulator is to be considered before sharing.

Even with this taken into considerations it is safe to assume a considerable amount of excess flight simulator capacity. According to Airbus Market Forecast 2018 an 37,000 new aircraft are expecting to be delivered within the next 20 years. To account for this and for pilot retirements an 790,000 new pilots will be required.

Looking into the future, would simulator operator benefit from more transparency? Will new simulators be added with the same pilots to simulator ratio?