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Aviation students at the University of South Australia will train in the cockpits of the world’s two most popular airliners in the future. UniSA is due to take delivery of its second simulator this year – the Airbus A320 – allowing aspiring pilots to experience a new cockpit, alongside the existing 737 full-flight simulator which is used for training undergraduate aviation students .

The aviation licensing program director said the state-of-the-art Airbus A320 simulator, made by a New Zealand company, is expected to be in place by mid-2022. He noted that for students, the ability to train on both Boeing 737 and Airbus 320 simulators is a very rare opportunity. To his knowledge, UniSA will be the only university in Australia to offer both Boeing and Airbus-based flight simulators as part of its undergraduate aviation experience.

Exposure to two very different simulators will give UniSA aviation graduates a competitive edge by aligning their skills with industry requirements. Although flying these planes won’t happen until later in their careers, the fact that they’ve been trained in two different cockpit environments will give them a definite edge.

In addition to training student pilots, the new simulator will also be used for research purposes, studying how fatigue, lack of movement and other aspects of human factors affect pilot performance.

UniSA also hopes to incorporate virtual and augmented reality into simulator training. The software components of the new simulator are similar to those of the Boeing 737, but the hardware is a fully enclosed hull structure with a 180 degree view range.

Approximately 100 Bachelor of Aviation (Pilot) students use the simulator in their third year, practicing the theory they have learned so far in aircraft systems, flight planning, aerodynamics and navigation. Simulators allow students to work as a team, exposing them to abnormal procedures including engine failures, harsh weather conditions, and other scenarios that might not be suitable for actual flight.

Simulators save lives and training costs, and with the addition of a second simulator, they will also give university students a wider range of aviation experiences that will serve them well in the real world. The idea that 100 pilots a year could leave university at a much higher level is great for the Australian aviation community, said the program director. While COVID-19 has temporarily grounded many pilots and forced some into early retirement, the airline crisis has a silver lining for new students, he added. Most pilots who quit or were fired during the height of the pandemic will not return, he predicts, providing plenty of job opportunities for newly trained pilots over the next few years.

According to a recently published paper by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, aviation is central to Australia’s economy and quality of life. Aviation is the backbone of Australian business: transporting workers, tourists and high-value cargo. The sector directly employed more than 90,000 people and contributed $20 billion to the economy before COVID-19. In addition, the sector indirectly enables the tourism, mining, manufacturing, and higher education sectors.

Aviation plays an important role in meeting the needs of regional and remote communities across Australia by providing and maintaining access to air services which include transport and cargo, medical care, search and rescue , social services and law enforcement and business/tourism travel.

Aviation is key to the tourism sector which accounts for around 6% of GDP and is Australia’s fourth largest export industry. Total international passenger traffic has increased by around 75% over the past 10 years to 2019.

The aviation sector acts as a crucial enabler in mining, construction, manufacturing and higher education. More than 60,000 people work more than 350 kilometers from their usual place of residence, the vast majority are likely to travel by plane. Thousands of fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) workers serve the mining, construction, oil and gas industry. A large majority (around 86%) of FIFO workers work in remote or very remote areas. Thus, training Australia’s future pilots is a necessary and important task.

Sam D. Gomez