Boeing is taking advantage of a lull in demand for 787 pilot training to relocate all of its full flight simulator (FFS) bays from Seattle to Miami.

The relocation is set to begin next week when the first 787 simulator is shipped by truck to the company’s training facility at Miami International Airport. This starts a consolidation of the company’s pilot training activities to Miami that is expected to finish by the end of the year.

Maintenance training for all but the 787 will remain in Seattle. Maintenance crews for 787s will relocate to Miami.

Eight FFSs—two 787s, two 737 Next Generation, and one each for Boeing’s 777, 767, 747-8 and 717 models—are involved in the move to Miami. Boeing also has a 757 simulator in Seattle that is inactive; Boeing offers 757 pilot training at other locations, including Miami.

“This is about getting close to our customers,” says VP Sherry Carbary, head of Boeing Flight Services. She says Miami is a preferred location because it is closer to European and Latin American customers.

Flight Services has more than 500 employees, of which 400 will remain in Seattle in supporting roles, such as training development, regulatory teams and curriculum. Less than 100 personnel directly involved in simulator training and support services are expected to be asked to relocate. A Boeing official said no decision has been made on what happens to those employees who do not make the move.

The decision caught many at Boeing off guard. Although Boeing first announced that it would locate 787 training in Miami at the 2008 Farnborough air show, no action had been made. The grounding of the 787 fleet because of battery issues, however, prompted Flight Services to take advantage the dip in demand for pilot training, and that decision prompted the broader move to consolidate all flight training in Miami.

Boeing says the consolidation will save it money, but Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, which represents simulation training pilots, is skeptical. “There are about 200 pilots and sim [simulator] instructors in Seattle who rely upon those sims to keep their currency [pilot licenses valid] who will either have to be flown to Miami, move to Miami, or lose their jobs,” he says.

“The engineers use the sims all the time to test things out and they will now have to skip those tests or fly to Miami to conduct them.”

FFSs, which are worth $30-40 million each, fully replicate the view of airports, runways, sounds and sense of motion that pilots experience in flight. Major carriers typically own their own simulators and often offer training services to other carriers to limit costs.

The Miami facility opened in 2000 when Boeing operated it with Flight Safety International. Now operated solely by Boeing, it has become the company’s primary aviation training hub. The center has 16 FFS bays, and currently provides training on two 737 Classic simulators, one 737 NG, one 757, one 767, one 777 and one MD-11. The facility currently has nine empty simulator bays.

Boeing also operates its own pilot training facilities in London, Shanghai and Singapore as well as partner sites with airline customers in 15 other locations in the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.