New center expands US-based simulation training offerings for Airbus customers.
When veteran French helicopter pilot and training expert Jean-Charles de Troy informed his wife in 2018 that he was being sent to Texas to manage the launch of Helisim’s new training center at Airbus Helicopters’ North American headquarters, she laid down only one condition. “‘OK,’ she said, ‘but when we move to Texas, I want one thing: I want to drive a big red pickup truck,’” de Troy says, chuckling at the thought of his wife behind the wheel of the big red Ram truck she now drives like a home-grown Texas cowgirl.
Helisim (pronounced HEL-e-sim) was formed 19 years ago as a partnership between Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters), Thales (the European aerospace and defense system maker that makes, among other things, helicopter simulators), and Défense Conseil International, a company that provides technical training to the special forces of France and other nations.
Helisim already trains around 3,000 pilots of Airbus-made helicopters a year at its training center in Marignane, France. Now it’s taking over Airbus’s own in-house pilot training at the company’s North American headquarters and engineering and service centers in Grand Prairie, Texas. The facility also serves Airbus’s primary helicopter support center in the western hemisphere.
De Troy recently visited with ROTOR and shared his thoughts on the new venture.
What is Helisim’s role going to be here in Texas?
De Troy: Our job is to expand Airbus’s training capacity in the Americas to make purchasing Airbus helicopters here that much more attractive. Expanded training opportunities is a big sales point for Airbus Helicopters in North America. It has been training about 1,000 pilots a year here, with about 30% of them coming for their initial type ratings.
But many more pilots have had to travel to France each year for training because there hasn’t been enough simulator time available for them to get their training here in this country. That’s very expensive and time-consuming for them. Here, they can get six to eight hours in the sim, which can be done in a day or two, and do two or three days in the classroom and get back home and to work. They don’t have to spend two days traveling on either end for training in Marignane.
We also expect we’ll attract some Airbus helicopter pilots not only from North and South America but also from Japan and northeast Asia. This is a bit closer and an easier place for them to reach. It will make buying and operating Airbus helicopters in the Americas and in parts of Asia even more attractive.
What’s your plan for growth here?
With this center, we’re only catching up with demand for training in the Americas. We expect to begin training around 2,000 pilots a year immediately with the arrival of our first new simulator next year. Eventually, we’ll see that number rise to 3,000 or more when we’re fully engaged here, with both of our new simulators online. And though the decision hasn’t yet been made, we’re building our facility large enough to accommodate a third new simulator, an H175, that we think we’ll eventually want to add.
When will your first new simulator arrive and begin operating here?
We just got word that the first new simulator coming here, our new H145 simulator, is fully assembled in France. Now they’ll have to tear it down and ship it here. We expect to see it here probably in January. Then the technicians will reassemble it and make sure everything works as it should.
We expect to begin training pilots in our new H145 simulator in June. Our second new simulator, an H160, will arrive and enter operation sometime between 2022 and 2024.
How big of an economic impact will Helisim’s expanded operations have?
It’s very big. Within just a few years, we’ll be bringing maybe 3,000 pilots a year here for training and booking around 10,000 hotel room nights a year. And some of the pilots who train here will bring their spouses because it’s a fun place, the weather is good, it’s very easy to fly into and out of here, and travel here isn’t expensive. Plus, they’ll be eating in the restaurants and shopping. The local officials and businesses in this area are very happy about our growth plans and are being very supportive and helpful.