FAR Part 142 simulator training facilities are looking for ways to make recurrent training more valuable for pilots. Now some are starting to embrace concepts pioneered by the airlines about two decades ago. At that time, the airlines began to use FAA's Advanced Qualification Program, a pilot proficiency system that encourages innovative recurrent training methods and data-driven processes for creating and maintaining an effective training curriculum. About ten years ago, the airlines started to use computer-based distance learning in lieu of some ground school sessions to reduce the number of hours pilots spend out of the cockpit and in ground school classrooms.

The business aircraft community has been slow to embrace distance learning. Many pilots still enjoy sitting in the classroom for several days during which they share in detail their operational problems with instructors and classmates. Now, though, the concept of the virtual ground school is gaining popularity with some pilots.

“Ten years ago, we couldn't give away our virtual ground school program,” says Robert Tyler, CAE's chief learning officer. “Then about three years ago, we saw a change the NBAA convention. Some of our bigger customers signed on last year and now we're experiencing a ground swell.”

The 16-hr. Gulfstream G550 recurrent training syllabus features what CAE's touts as the first FAA approved, Web-based “Virtual Ground School.” It covers all the course topics presented in CAE's legacy ground school classes in interactive, self-paced, learning modules. Quizzes are given at the end of each training module, thus clients can track progress and review or repeat topics as needed to boost proficiency. When the client arrives for sim training, the required ground school time can be reduced by as much as half.

The remote training may be started months in advance of recurrent training. But to ensure that the client is up to date in preparation for sim training, the quiz modules must be completed no earlier than 60 days prior to arrival.

Not all flight departments and sim training centers have embraced Web-based training as a replacement for ground school. Reeves, for example, noted that sim centers don't provide discounts for spending less time in their classrooms. Moreover, he believes the cross pollination of ideas and exchange of operational problems between students provides an enriched learning experience.

Bombardier Aerospace's business aircraft recurrent pilot training programs do not use virtual ground school as a replacement for classroom instruction in large part because their customers don't want it, says Botteron. However, he sees a trend toward distance learning, so he expects the firm to start offering such programs in the next 12 months. Meanwhile, Bombardier Aerospace aircraft training continues to offer a large variety of non-model specific enrichment courses at its website.

SimCom training centers also plan on introducing at least six web-based recurrent ground school programs for business jets in 2012. FlightSafety, in contrast, is taking a go-slow approach to offering distance learning systems, according to McGowan.

“Five to seven years ago, we started a distance learning program for Gulfstream GIV,” he recalled. “We had mixed results. Most clients still wanted the interaction of the ground school environment.”

McGowan said that FlightSafety is taking a market driven approach to web-based virtual ground schools. While the firm offers many enrichment courses on line, it doesn't offer model specific distance learning courses.

“The airlines use these systems, but they have a controlled group of pilots, all the same aircraft configurations and time proven AQP systems,” he said. “General aviation Part 91 and 135 operators are heterogeneous groups that operate different aircraft configurations within the same make and model. It's much tougher for us to get our arms around this challenge.”