July 31, 2013
New certification rules for airline first officers—going live August 1—will put more pressure on flight-training providers to come up with more innovative and affordable solutions to building hours. Freshman first officers will be required to have at least 1,500 hr. flight time for an air transport pilot rating, up from 250 hr. in addition to a commercial rating, with fewer hours required for military pilots or those with an aviation degree.
Texas-based Redbird Flight Simulators, a provider of low-cost full-motion simulators, is betting that it has at least part of the solution for helping airlines meet the new standards. The company has launched an “experiment” to see if using older Cessna 172 Skyhawks, refurbished with new interiors, glass panels and turbo-diesel engines, and combined with time in the company’s flight simulators, will make professional flight training more affordable and at the same time more relevant.
The supply of aircraft that could be used is immense—33,000 Skyhawks are potentially available, though Redbird is ideally looking for “E” series models among the 5,000 already built that have “run-out” engines but good airframes. The number of flight schools that might be interested in equipping with the Redbirds, assuming the price is right, is significant as well—2,700 in the U.S. alone.
Charlie Gregoire, vice president of sales, marketing and services for Redbird, says new four-seat aircraft are too expensive for training, and two-seat light sport aircraft are too limited in capabilities.
The RedHawk program, which will get underway at the company’s Skyport flight school in San Marcos, Texas, starting in early August, will include training and operations experience with five refurbished 172s, with early results to be reported at the company’s annual “Red Bird Migration,” a two-day simulation and training conference in October. Skyport itself was an experiment the company launched in 2011 to create “more proficient pilots for less money,” says Gregoire. After two years, the program has a throughput of 160 pilots per year who get an average of 30 hr. in Redbird simulators and 35 hr. of flight time. The company has delivered approximately 900 simulators, ranging from desktop versions to full-motion King Air and Citation jet advanced aviation training devices (AATD). Gregoire says the FMX full-motion AATD is the most popular for flight schools. He notes that a portion of the students will use the five RedHawks starting in August, while the remainder will use new-model, $300,000 Cessna 172s equipped at the factory with Garmin G1000 avionics. RedHawk 1, on display at AirVenture, is a refurbished 2002 Cessna 172SP with 7,800 hr. on the airframe. He says the retrofit avionics for the RedHawks—Aspen Avionics displays and Bendix/King communications, navigation and surveillance equipment, will be much more affordable than the G1000, in part because Garmin does not have an STC for retrofit on the 172. RedHawks 2, 3 and 4 are now in production, and a fifth aircraft will be built up as well.
Greter savings come from changing out the Cessna’s avgas-powered 180-hp Lycoming engine with a 135-hp Continental Centurion 2.0 turbo-diesel engine. The Jet-A engine burns 4.8 gal. per hr. in cruise, down from 8-10 gal. per hr. for the Lycoming. For flight training, that should correspond to more than $3,000 in savings in total for a private pilot-training program, given the cost of Jet-A fuel today. Skyport today charges $9,900 for a fixed-price, fixed-schedule private pilot’s license.
Continental says more than 3,500 Centurion engines have been delivered to date, and the fleet has accumulated 3.5 million flight hours.